Blog Post #8

This week’s readings tackle multiple facets of spatial studies in digital history. The first article by Andrew Wiseman raises awareness of the pitfalls of maps and their data: namely, the bias of the mapmaker. I agree with his statement of the lack of geographic literacy among the general public, and that even in classes which utilize maps (such as history and geography) we are never taught to interrogate the maps as we would any other primary or secondary source. Social media is rife with maps and too often they are accepted as fact. This article was a good reminder for any historian looking at map data.

The second article about movement studies is an interesting look at physical motion as a dataset. It personally reminds me of the earlier article about graphs, in which the author tracked his life using all sorts of apps. It is also a very good example of Henri Lefebvre’s concept of spatial practice, the movement within a space.

Mapping Occupation is an interesting look at the power struggles of the post-Civil War Reconstruction. Oftentimes post-Civil War is treated as if the Confederacy crumbled immediately, but map studies such as this one and Visualizing Emancipation prove otherwise. This study explains itself and its argument well and even allows for visitors to manipulate the dataset on their own. It is an exceptional example of a spatial data study. In fact, my only complaints are purely aesthetic. I find the map should have used a different dot system than the black holes covering the map. Even with the colored rings it can be very difficult to tell things apart. I also wish the size of the circles were more relative to troop presence numbers. Overall, this would make the markers smaller, and in some cases mere pinpoints, but I feel the larger dots skews the sense of presence and area these troops had control over.

Despite its age, Locating London’s Past is an interesting spatial research tool in which the creators built a fully GIS compliant version of John Rocque’s 1746 map of London. This involved them overlaying modern London to this old map, and navigating various geographical issues such as warping. The website also provides full essays on the background and methodology for the map, and datasets for visitors to manipulate to a great extent. While the map and website itself aren’t visually impactful, the high degree of transparency in the project and data availability makes it an excellent spatial research tool.

Geography of the Post by contrast, is a spatial study examining the opening and closing of more than 14,000 post offices in the United States west of the 100th Meridian. Its explanations are simple but very forthcoming about its dataset and its shortcomings (such as the inability to geolocate every single post office. The map is visually appealing and simple to understand. While the map itself allows for some user manipulation I do wish it had a simple time-lapse function to play.

Further Reading:

Andrew Wiseman, “When Maps Lie,” CityLab
Nathan Yau, “Explorations of People Movements”
Mapping Occupation

Locating London’s Past

Geography of the Post

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