Digital Mapping

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When I saw that the topic this week was digital mapping my thoughts when directly to the old navigation maps found in shopping malls and theme parks.  I am a child of the 80s and 90s and before there was Google maps or global positioning technology I learned my navigation skills through location orientation.  However, times have changed and now you can download a navigation application that will point you in the right direction while providing context and supplemental information.  I bring up this old school way of looking at the world around us to point out how far digital technologies have advanced in the past few decades.  What is even more impressive, today’s historians and educators are using these technologies to engage audiences, and to even discover things previously unknown.

Sean Fraga’s article, Digital Mapping Commercial Currents, was an insightful look at how digital mapping enhanced a maritime research project.  He recounted the experiences and discoveries made while compiling the data contents of a ledger that recorded information about vessels entering and leaving the Puget Sound customs district in the 1850s.  By digitally mapping the contents found within the ledger Fraga was able to answer questions related to how transpacific migration and trade patterns impacted the American conquest of the Pacific Coastal region.  At first, when looking at the ledger it seemed to be pure data, containing no historical story, characters, or plot points.  However, by digitally mapping the contents Fraga was able to extract narrative content that revealed insights on topics such as the role of steam propulsion in American settlement, how vessel technology supported coastal colonization, and the significance of the Fraser Gold Rush.  In the end, he found that by using digital mapping and data visualization the ledger research project was able to provide interesting correlations between patterns of human mobility and a physical space.

Similar to the benefits and usability aspects of digital mapping and data visualization resources, story mapping technologies are another way to visually enhance research or engage an audience on a particular topic or project.  Resources like ArgGIS encourage users to create web-based interactive experiences utilizing a variety of content/media resources such as maps, video, written content, legends, and photos.  These story sites can provide narrative context on a specific topic or act as a standalone resource.  When reviewing some of the projects and content available through sites like Story Maps and the Digital Humanities, I was drawn in by the visual experiences they provide. For example, the esri story map on the Road to Agincourt used items such as paintings, maps, book sources, family trees, graphs, movie depictions, and Shakespeare quotes to recount the history surrounding the the Hundred Years War and Henry V. 

Like any other form of storytelling, digital mapping and story mapping require thoughtful coordination of content to make sure the narrative is cohesive, engaging, and relevant.  I appreciated how the technology was able to connect the audience to subject matters with geographic context and through accessible interactive narratives. However, like all forms of digital media we must also ask who will continue to manage the content and when will it become outdated, like those old two-dimensional navigation maps that I once used. 

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