A Brief History of Concept Maps and its Evolution of Uses



In this lab, we were asked to create a timeline based on a topic within the field information visualization. The most interesting aspect of information visualization is how different visualizations came about and what purpose they served to make information more easily digested and understood. After looking at different styles of visualizations, one that stuck out the most was the concept map. 

A concept map consists of a main idea, which then branches to other ideas with connecting words. Each connection forms a different concept, which can be connected to others throughout the map to show the organization of knowledge of a particular topic. Concept maps are a multi-functional tool that are used to help describe different topics and how they are correlated with each other with the use of arrows and word labels. Typical concept maps can be seen in educational textbooks to help students see important connections between topics, and can even be used by individuals to help them organize their own thoughts. 

A few questions that were asked in the development of the timeline included:

  1. What inspired this type of information visualization?
  2. How were concept maps initially created?
  3. How have the uses for concept maps changed over time?

Materials and Method

The timeline was generated through a website called Timeline.js by knight lab. Timeline.js has a google sheets template which allows you to input your own data points and media to create a personalized timeline. The information for the data points were taken from various research articles, including those written by Joseph Novak, Alberto Cañas, and other partners within IHMC. These scholarly articles gave key dates, explanations, as well as concept map visualizations from different experiments. With these materials, a proper timeline could be created. 

Before the creation of the timeline, it was crucial to do research that informed each data point and create a list of chronological events that would be added to the timeline template. After this list was created with each important moment, they were then added to a google sheet template provided by timeline.js. After inputting the information, it had to be published to the web and copied as a link that would then be inputted into the software to create the visualization. This timeline features various historical events that led to the creation of modern concept maps and the evolution of its uses. The development of key educational theories are included in the timeline as well, to highlight the value this form of information visualization brings. 

Results and Reflection 

A link to the timeline can be found down below. 

The final timeline features eight different historical events that are important to the development and evolution of the concept map. Each historical event works to reinforce the idea that concept maps worked as a multi-functional tool whether it be for educational purposes, public service, or organizing information for various fields like anthropology. 

In order to answer the initial questions asked for this project, the timeline included a wide variety of historical events in relation to concept maps, rather than a specific focus in the field of concept maps. In a critique session with fellow classmates, it was pointed out that the topic chosen was quite broad, leaving a lot of room for interpretation on the historical points included. Some challenges faced with choosing such a broad topic included not knowing exactly which points to include in order to fully encapsulate the history of the topic, and being unsure that the information chosen was actually crucial to the development of concept maps. Despite the critique, I chose to keep this timeline with a broad topic in order to fully encapsulate the entire history of the creation of concept maps. If there was time for improvement, I would have chosen a more specific topic within the field of concept maps whether it was specifically the software development or more modern uses. 

As the uses of concept maps expand, it will be interesting to see how they connect to the development of AI and machine learning. The concept map has a very similar structure to decision trees in different coding languages, which could mean that concept maps have the potential to be used in machine learning in the near future.


Novak, J. D., & Cañas, A. J. (2006, 04 10). The Origins of the Concept Mapping Tool and the Continuing evolution of the tool. researchgate.net. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Alberto_Canas/publication/220586592_The_Origins_of_the_Concept_Mapping_Tool_and_the_Continuing_Evolution_of_the_Tool/links/55ba4b0d08aed621de0acc77.pdf

Cañas, A. J., & Novak, J. D. (2009, August 28). Cmap Software. Cmap | Cmap Software. Retrieved September 13, 2022, from https://cmap.ihmc.us/docs/origins.php

Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. (2004, 9 14). Home. thomaseskridge.com. Retrieved September 13, 2022, from https://thomaseskridge.com/assets/pdf/Canas-2004.pdf

Åhlberg, M. (2004, April 26). Concept Maps: Theory, Methodology, Technology. Proceedings of the 1st Int. Conference on Concept Mapping. Concept Mapping Conference. Retrieved September 13, 2022, from http://cmc.ihmc.us/cmc2004Proceedings/cmc2004%20-%20Vol%201.pdf

Novak, J. D., & Cañas, A. J. (2007, 11 1). Theoretical Origins of Concept Maps, How to Construct Them, and Uses in Education 1. InformationTamers. Retrieved September 13, 2022, from https://www.informationtamers.com/PDF/Theoretical_origins_of_concept_maps,_how_to_construct_them,_and_uses_in_education.pdf

“Novak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas, The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and 1 How to Construct and Use Them, Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2008”, available at: http://cmap.ihmc.us/docs/pdf/TheoryUnderlyingConceptMaps.pdf