Mapping and Spatial Visualization

I found myself torn between my two selves during this weeks readings. I have a very established identity as a geographer. I invested the years into the major for my undergraduate and have developed ways of thinking, analyzing and approaching problems as a geographer. In turn, I have my identity as a historian. It is not as developed but is the focus of my PhD studies. As I worked through the readings, I found myself drifting back into my identity as a geographer. This dichotomy within myself is both interesting and, at times, frustrating. Thus my reactions to the readings may tend to be more geographic in nature…

It is because of these two realms, I enjoyed reading Tim Hitchcock’s article “Place and the Politics of the Past.” His over arching argument was that greater discussion or dialogue should exist between the fields of history and geography. I unequivocally sustain and agree with his assertion. During my time as BYU as an undergraduate, I straddled my time between the geography department and the history department. However I kept the two worlds separate from each other. My GIS and Cartography professor even published a book that bridged the divide between these two disciplines. Brandon Plewe published Mapping Mormonism which maps out the history of Mormonism as well as aspects of its current self. Yet he would not necessarily define it as digital history but moreover historical GIS work. I am left to ponder on my own state. Having received a degree in Geography and now enrolled in a graduate program in history, how can I bridge the divide? How I can bring together these two worlds? I can begin,as Hitchcock articulates, by bringing together the education I have received in both. I really liked that he said that not only must we, as historians, learn the tools of geography but we need to learn to the discipline. We must learn to think as geographers in order to best utilize the tools in our historical research.

Trevor Harris, John Corrigan and David Bodenhamer’s peice “Challenges for the Spatial Humanities: Toward a Research Agenda” was both interesting and difficult to work through.They definitely were not using easy language in their discussion. I wonder then, since I have a background in GIS, how the rest of the class who is not as familiar with GIS did with this article. One point that I liked was their identification of the difference of intent. They articulate that there is an ontological difference which creates issues for the use of GIS in the Humanities. In simpler terms, the way GIS is made to function does not lend itself to the way the humanities operates. I found this to be a very important point and issue. A lot of the work I did in my GIS classes at BYU were very analytical and real world scenarios. I never had to deal with “incomplete data, silences in the data, and structural knowledge distortion[s]” on the level the humanities deals with. While i am still young in the field of GIS I am even younger in my experience with the spatial humanities. It interests my greatly but I am very much a novice in how to apply fully what i learned in my undergraduate to historical analysis and work.

I enjoyed working through the three different mapping projects (Visualizing Emancipation, ORBIS, Digital Harlem.) They all offered varied ways to approach historical issues, questions and topics. Each project used different base maps, mapping techniques and user interfaces. Each one becomes incredibly valuable in the pedagogy of their topics and in the research opportunities they provide. As I played with each one, I was critiquing their cartographic design and their user interface. No single project is perfect and I think the authors of these sites would be the first to admit this. That is why it is important that the sites are continually updated and refined. These sites made me excited to work on projects of this nature. I am excited and interested to put my geography and cartography background to use in the history field. I want to apply my cartographic design skills to make a well designed map that portrays or provides historical fact and information to the public. Each one of these sites do that and they should receive praise for that.

My final note is on Edward L. Ayers’ & Scott Nesbit’s article “Seeing Emancipation: Scale and Freedom in the American South .” I really enjoyed his discussion of scale. It is an important aspect to cartography and to geography in general. At what scale is an experiment, map, analysis done? When designing maps, that is one of the first and one of the most important questions. When I worked on my capstone project, the discussion of scale was always cropping up. For my capstone I created a web map for BYU’s Anthropology and Archaeology museum (I worked in their education division.) I wanted to provide a web map that had a sampling of their collections to the public. In this way, the public could explore the collections and visibly see the expanse of it at the same time. Through the assignment I had to collect the data, design my own web map at eight different scales, develop the website, write the javascript to make it interactive and then design the overall aesthetics. While it was difficult, it was incredibly rewarding. When I designed my base map, I had to constantly ask myself “At this scale, should the user see *this* or *that*?” When I collected the data I had to define the scale of my sampling before I could start gathering. When I designed the user interface and the interactivity, I needed to know to what scale the users could delve into the collection. This question must always be on your mind and I am left to ask those some questions as I begin to engage the spatial humanities.

Mapping and Spatial Visualization
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