George Raad, ‘12
Major: Industrial Engineering & Mathematical Sciences
Project: Late Medieval to Renaissance Cartography.
The project is a comparative study of the late medieval and Renaissance maps aimed at understanding what features of maps have changed during the transitional time period.
Why I chose this project:
Maps hide truths about the current state of a society as perceived by the cartography. Unraveling these truths, by its own right, is an exciting endeavor. Coupling this excitement with my fascination in the societal transformation during the Renaissance justified my decision to pursue this project.
What I learned from this project:
Based on the insights from both cartography researchers and personal observations, the conclusions reveal several dimensions in which maps have evolved during the transitional time period. For example, medieval maps tend to have an eastward orientation, whereas Renaissance maps have a northward one. Probing into the reasons underlying this difference reveals a transformation in the political paradigm. Indeed, the eastward orientation has a religious significance, for Jerusalem is oriented to the East relative to Europe. Renaissance cartographers, in stark contrast, were more concerned with depicting the geography accurately, which mirrors the interest in the sciences undertaken by Europe’s scholars.
How I have benefitted from this experience as a person and a student:
The project was an interesting mix of team work and personal research. In industry, work is typically conducted in a similar fashion. Therefore, while this project had an academic orientation, it helped me develop skills that are doubtlessly useful after WPI. These range from managing various opinions to preparing captivating presentations.
How this experience made me stronger in my field:
The critical ability to analyze a document beyond what the author claims, whether it be a map or a journal article, is an important skill in any field. This is particularly true today in a world where information has become so abundant.
Additional comments about the project system in general at WPI:
The Inquiry Seminar at WPI offers the freedom of choosing a research topic. However, this opportunity is only offered following five other HUA courses chosen by the student and designed to provide the necessary foundation to mature as a researcher. Moreover, these foundation courses allow the student to first move within HUA disciplines (Breadth Courses) in order to establish what subject entices the student. Thereafter, the student must complete additional advanced courses in that specific chosen subject (Depth Courses) in order to develop the appropriate skills and knowledge useful to be successful in the Inquiry Seminar.
The HUA experience culminates during the Inquiry Seminar, at which point the student is typically expected to choose a problem to work on. The task of choosing the problem is grand, and is arguably as important as finding the solution. The structure of the HUA experience prepares students to not only choose significant problems, but also prepares them to be successful in finding a solution.