Blog #1:The unknown (at least to me) use of maps in the humanities

Hello and welcome to my very first blog post for History and Cartography. I must admit that this is the first blog I’ve ever done, both personally and academically, so I apologize if this post isn’t up to the standards that many of you may be used to. Hopefully a few days browsing several other class blogs will give me a better idea of how things are done.

This week I wanted to share my thoughts on the exciting uses of cartography in the study of humanities, particularly in the field of history. I’ve come to realize after doing some of my readings for this week that I entered this course very naive about the map and its usage in the field of history. Don’t get me wrong, I love maps. I have maps of the Roman empire, the city of Boston circa 1775, and the battle of Yorktown on my wall right now. Yet before this course I simply looked at the map as a way to orient oneself in a certain time and space, or to get a sense of battle formations or political boundaries. Never would I imagine that mapping could be used to chart the course of social history.

I was intrigued in our readings about the use of GIS mapping as a way to plot certain changes of the course of space and time in order to better understand certain trends throughout history. The potential of programs such as the History Engine at the University of Richmond and computer graphics programs in plotting voter patterns in presidential elections opens up a whole new use of the map in terms of scholarly work.

With the growing (a little too fast for my taste) use of technology like iPads and Kindles for reading and publishing books, the use of this technology could be a giant leap in opening history to a broader audience. Imagine downloading a book on the migrations of settlers into the American West. Static maps found in regular print media can only go so far in portraying the various movements of so many people. With GIS and these “cinematic maps” as Edward Ayers refers to them possibly imbedded into the text itself, the author could show in real-time the movement across the West. I have read a number of history texts over the years which used tables and graphs to show certain changes over time, at least numerically. Converting some of these to real-time maps could be an exceptional tool for those who process visually. This technology is certainly an exciting prospect for further study, which I’m sure just scratches the surface of the use of maps in a digital age.

On another note, I thought I would share some of my trials and tribulations with Illustrator and the dreaded PEN TOOL!!! On a whole I must admit that it has been a different experience for me. I’m so used to raster programs that to transition to a vector program is definitely a steep learning curve. If anything, Illustrator is happily reminding me as I labor at tracing map lines that my artistic skills are useless and I should return to coloring books to better hone my skills. Despite the problems though, playing around with the program has been fun, and I look forward to learning more skills as the course progresses.

That’s all I have for today. Feel free to leave me any advice or comments on blogging as many of you are far more experienced at this than I am, and I could certainly use the advice. Be safe, stay healthy, and I look forward to reading your thoughts and blogs.

Quote of the Day

“The thing about quotes on the internet is you can not confirm their validity.”

–Abraham Lincoln

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4 Responses to Blog #1:The unknown (at least to me) use of maps in the humanities

  1. ewokandroll says:

    I too wonder about the implications of cinematic maps and other malleable resources as they pertain to the academic and publishing world. How can we as academics, (be it historians, cultural scholars, digital media scholars) use resources that are less than static in work that requires us to make somewhat empirical claims? How can our work stay pertinent if our sources are constantly influenced through crowd sourced knowledge or other changeable mechanisms.
    For instance when writing my masters thesis, one of my source (a youtube video) was made private. I could no longer provide a working hyperlink in the digital copy of my work, and the challenge allowed me to consider further the spatial boundaries of digital life.

    We may also want to consider about cinematic maps is how they may serve a different semiotic function than a traditional static map. While any musings would be speculative, it seems that mixing medias would further provoke questions of the relationships between history, visual culture, and media technologies.

    Amanda Phillips

  2. anneladyem says:

    This comment isn’t very substantive other than to say that I also have been practicing with the pen tool. In all my previous map making, I have avoided that particular tool for the reasons you stated. I feel the same as you in that it’s definitely an experience that will take some getting used to, but I am excited to get better suited to the technology that we’re confronted with.

  3. Kirk Johnson says:

    I feel your pain–the pen tool makes me feel really stupid. I’ve never been good about putting in the time to master new tools; I was late to the internet and as a matter of fact when I returned to college after a long hiatus in the late 90s I still used a typewriter. This is not something I’m proud of, and I look forward to being forced to go outside my comfort zone and learn something new.

  4. Like you, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of dynamic maps accompanying our work. As historians, we especially desire to show change over time. Rather than maps, say, on disparate pages of a book, we have the technology to animate the maps. One thing I’m curious about, though–would that then cause a change in how we portray static maps? Is there a way to replicate dynamic maps in a static medium like the printed book?

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