Ian’s Research Interests

Richard Edes Harrison Map Coffee Mug
My curiosity in solving geographic problems has evolved throughout my academic career. Even as an undergraduate student, I was torn between research in the sub-disciplines of human geography and geovisualization. I incorporated both into my 50-page undergraduate thesis on the Hungarian diaspora residing in southern Slovakia – spending hours on electoral maps to help bolster my paper’s theoretical argument. While working on my Masters degree at the Pennsylvania State University, I became fascinated with world-systems theory, political economy, network warfare, geographies of resistance, and mapping cyberspace. These interests culminated in a well-cited thesis on the implication of hackers on US hegemonic power and extraterritoriality. Though my primary focus at Penn State was political geography, I still found the time to take courses on geovisualization and dynamic cartography. These split research interests eventually coalesced at the University of Minnesota, a place where I arrived specializing in Hungarian geopolitics. Although I published on the geopolitics of Hungary’s accession into NATO, during my doctoral studies I refocused my energy toward the geospatial sciences and began publishing on cartographic visualization (please see my CV for details).

Argumentative Mapping: How to Make People See What You Want

The US is going to be crushed.My current research interests can be broken down into two broad themes. The first theme is how maps are used as rhetorical devices. I am interested in how maps can be constructed to help a map producer convincingly frame arguments – not merely show data accurately or clearly. I am really interested in the analysis of maps as political tools – i.e., technologies for control and public opinion coercion. I am not only interested in how maps communicate and help us explore data, but in how they are used by different groups within society at large to achieve particular goals. This includes map use in political resistance and suppression, terrorism, surveillance, and location-based services. In essence, I am interested in maps as social weapons.

Web Map Design

Web Cartography: Map Design for Interactive and Mobile DevicesMy second research theme deals with effective map design for dynamic and Web cartography. My primary interest is in online and map app (or mapp) aesthetics. I am interested in map design for both compelling argumentation and accurate data interpretation. I have a textbook on Web map design coming out by CRC Press. It focuses on Web map design for those making the shift from paper to Web map design, IT professionals with little-to-no cartography background, and for contemporary students of Web GIS and mapping.

I am also excited to be working with Dr. Bernhard and Dr. Helen Jenny from Oregon State University on developing automated flow mapping software for the Web. Though this research is in its fledgling stages, I will be involved in conducting a map user survey, eye-tracking study, and user-testing the effectiveness of dynamic flow maps.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

I am increasingly interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Though in my opinion some of the SoTL research out there is of dubious merit and quality, I am very enthused by how insightful and helpful much of it is in the classroom. I am increasingly experimenting with SoTL projects in my classes to assess learning outcomes. For example, I have taken to heart Kirkland’s (1997, pp. 4-5) argument that students are more inclined to read syllabi written in a newsletter format over the traditional style. Even if they aren’t, it is a hell of a lot more fun to design and present to the class on the opening day than the traditional ones! :-)


Though my primary duties at UW-La Crosse consist of teaching four courses a semester, I love doing research! My main areas of research interest are:

  1. designing compelling persuasive maps (i.e., maps that change people’s opinions and beliefs);
  2. map aesthetics and rhetoric (i.e., designing maps that tug at people’s emotional heart strings);
  3. Web map design (not so much the technology as much as designing effective maps for the Web); and
  4. the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) dealing with GIS and geovisualization instruction for undergraduates.

If any of these topics are of interest to you, I am always game for collaborating or sharing information. Please do not hesitate to contact me to talk shop… (or to discuss Radiohead’s increasingly disparate discography!).