Go Forth and Conquer the Fear of Maps Online
Wait, whoa. Digital Humanities involves the application of computer technology to explore issues and questions in the humanities. but when I think of historical maps my initial reaction is how long the process will take to download the map and will the scan be a quality one. But this week’s module not only changed my thinking about the prospect of integrating maps for the Internet but I was enthused about GIS Storymaps. Even GIS as a program seemed daunting from my time working at a non-profit focused on land conservation and the basic maps I created for a watershed project, but the sleek functionality of this version emboldened me to think, “I can do this!”
Exploring History With Digital Maps
Again, wow. The creativity of historians in how technology is combined with antiquities for a user-friendly experience online by researchers deserves hyperbole or maybe I just don’t get out much anymore due to the pandemic. My first adventure with digital maps was the New York Public Library Digital Map Gallery and I could hear Dr. Cebula’s voice – when he’s not muted – gently chasten, “Explore lightly!”
My online journey took me to maps of the Arctic Circle with early works to 1800. Only two maps were available to few with one from 1695 and the other from 1732. What struck me about the maps was the hand-written detail for each one and how this alone deserves meditation on the skills required to be a cartographer. Now with this access, online browsers like myself can marvel over the lettering of Greenland.
While I was intrigued about how the maps were available for viewing and interaction from a modern researcher, The World in 1812 and 2013 combined the past and present with a spyglass you can move from your mouse to see how things have changed from 200 years ago. The 1812 map was engraved on two sheets and colored by hand. It was part of a “modern atlas, from the latest and best authorities, exhibiting the various divisions of the world, with its chief empires, kingdoms and states”. The spyglass can zoom in to view detail including explorers’ routes. And as the website noted, “lack of detail in Africa and Australia reflects the poor state of knowledge by Europeans of the time.” Another example from American history also offered insight into past events was the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. Here the abilities of StoryMaps on ArcGIS begin to announce how powerful of a tool it can be in our Week Nine learning materials and what it can do in our future careers as public historians.
Another adventure in Digital Humanities was ledgers, another antiquated format brought to life online to analyze online, They Came on Waves of Ink: Pacific Northwest Maritime Trade at the Dawn of American Settlement, 1851-1861. What most struck me was Sean Fraga’s assertion of how, “Mapping and visualizing data is a means of doing research.” And this made sense because the argument he cited by Richard Wright on how spatial history does not change to how historians research or write but offers a different way to view and present time and space. As Wright stated, “I think that what we are doing is different, but we are not announcing the end of history as you know it or the extinction of the text or the narrative.”
Story Maps to Amaze
What, no way. The Story Maps and the Digital Humanities gallery was practically an art gallery of what can be accomplished with computer technology, hours of research and some pluck. My personal favorite was the ArcGIS Storymaps of Arts and Culture. Some favorite examples from this site were The Voices of the Grand Canyon, Exploring New York’s Vibrant Street Art Scene, and The American Experience in 737 Novels. But while the stories are great, the how to use the platform is even better.
The training demonstrated how interactive and accessible the site is to the user with the ease of the following attributes: how to add quotes, images, direct upload of clips, composition of map directly in the storybuilder in ARCGis, scene layers can be added, images can be moved for better focal point, interactive web content, design customization, 37 languages available and mobile friendly design. The common thread is their success in harnessing the power of Story Maps to combine maps, digital narratives and geographic data with text and rich multimedia. There is a free 21-day if you are tempted.