“Mapitas,” Geografías Visualizadas and the Editorial Piedra Santa: A Mission to Democratize Cartographic Literacy in Guatemala

Jordana Dym

In the 1940s, Guatemala was in the midst of its Ten Years of Spring, and school teachers were enthusiastically creating materials to teach new generations of schoolchildren about their Guatemalan past, present, and future. One model was the Geografía elemental de Guatemala (1936) written by Argentine-trained educator and future president Juan José Arévalo. But Arévalo’s book, while filled with interesting maps and cutting-edge statistics and encouraging teachers to engage students with hands-on exercises, was both expensive and perhaps too demanding. Enter high school teachers Julio and Oralia Piedra Santa, who began selling 1-cent “mapitas” to schoolchildren in 1947. Arévalo’s book is now a rarity and poorly known. The Editorial Piedra Santa, run today by their daughter and granddaughter, is a thriving publishing business which still sells mapitas in its store in downtown Guatemala City. It’s also been a pioneer in a range of school materials, and since the 1950s has been selling geography and other schoolbooks, including since 1976 the Geografía Visualizada series. This essay looks at the mapmaking traditions of Don Julio and his successors, and how the publications of the Editorial Piedra Santa consistently seek to enhance geographic knowledge of Guatemala and beyond at all ages and levels of society.

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