Category Archives: cartography

new discovery: Jerry’s map, all 50 years and 2500 plates

I’m sorry I can’t find the first link that directed me to this, but today I took a look at a site I’d tagged to revisit, Jerry’s Map.  I’m loving it. Only map-making, geodesign-inspired, cartographically-motivated, color-exhilarated people might watch all 10+ minutes of his story, on video. Me?  I’m going to watch it again.

I love how he lets the cards direct his movements, and how he’s realized how the combinations from non-adjacent tiles are just as beautiful as art, and how he manages to find his balance between following spatially-autocorrelated rules and taking artistic liberties.

Cultivating Graphicacy While Teaching GIS?

There’s a side to working with maps and data that’s easy to overlook when we design our courses, and it falls under the heading of graphicacy.  My own quick definition of graphicacy is making, interpreting and critiquing of information in non-text form, including graphs, tables, figures, charts, AND MAPS.   I can’t remember first learning the word, but this Aldrich and Shepphard article (pdf) was one of the first that explained the concept.

I’ve come to strongly believe that graphicacy is a necessary and essential component of education.  One of the obvious reasons is how much we’re confronted with information in graphical form, such as this world population map from The Economist or the New York Times recent map of tornadoes and other natural disasters.  A good sense of graphicacy means that you are critical and creative with data, know when to question a representation, can envision alternative representations, can interpret the information and articulate its message.

The use of GIS presents numerous opportunities to develop strong graphicacy skills, but it’s definitely not an automatic outcome.  It includes the classification of data, and the cartographic design of layouts, but it goes well beyond that. It’s fundamental to how we expect to communicate with the rest of the world about what a GIS analyses means.  It’s not something that’s a separate topic to be added to a GIS course. It’s an understanding that needs to be cultivated throughout, in every lab and exercise that a student completes, and in every mapped representation that they create and encounter.  It’s the understanding of how maps complement and support learning on many levels.

GIS & the Humanities at UCSB, Day 2

The two-day mini-conference on GIS and the Humanities was sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UCSB.  Day 1 included talks by archaeologists, historians, and language specialists, among others, who all have their own reasons for exploring maps and mapping.  Greater insights, new insights, tools of an evolving trade, being known for doing something different.

Early on Day 1, someone in the audience asked what the forecast and progression for these major projects was.  In traditional humanities scholarship, you do a lot of reading and research, then you write it up in a book, then it’s published and it’s the end of a particular scholarly sequence, and there is public recognition of closure.  With some very large academic GIS projects, the “end” looks different, if there is one.  Maybe it’s the end of a data set, or the end of a particular set of questions. Or maybe it’s just the end of the funding source, and then the programmers are let go or move on to something else. Or when the lead researchers move to another institution.  Or the GIS software, or the optimized browser, or the computer’s operating system, changes, and there are no funds to pay for updating.  Those are ends too.

Can the massive projects be better “chunked” – so that you don’t spend multiple years on something and still have someone underwhelmed with the results?   Will you have plans for project sustainability be part of the original proposal?  Isn’t this part of why NSF now requires a data management plan?  Also reminds me of the resistance of some departments at some universities to admitting someone directly into a PhD program, rather than a MS/MA as a stepping stone.  If something happens (and something often does), you at least have some degree in hand, instead of being 7+ yrs into something with nothing to show.

Day 2 of the conference began with my own talk, about maps functioning as both metaphors and analogies, and the complexities of supporting an argument with maps.  I discussed Reg Golledge’s representation of increasingly clearer cognitive maps as a metaphor for knowledge in general, and a relevant one for experts using new tools to communicate about their subject area to novices.

Ian Gregory’s Mapping the Lakes District project was an example I highlighted for several reasons, mostly because I like the work.  It also illustrates a point of contention: that generating surfaces (such as making a kernel density surface from point data) requires careful attention to kernel sizes, and attention to the notion of “non-uniform distribution of space.”  GIS software typically assumes that an “event” – such as a point dot indicating a location mentioned by a character in an 19th century book – “could” happen anywhere (or at least to the edges of the map extent of that project, almost always a rectangular area defined by the data set with the largest geographic extent), and proceeds to create a surface throughout, showing relative density of where the data set indicates events occurred.  But in reality most events can’t and don’t happen everywhere across a wide region.  There are reasons why Coleridge and Gray went where they did, and where they didn’t, and people don’t move around in the ways that some surficial representations suggest.

For example, if you create a kernel density surface with known zebra mussel locations (mapped within a stream channel, for example), the software will return a rectangular area extending completely beyond the stream’s reach, miles away from the water where a zebra mussel lives.  With some GIS software it is possible to use “barriers” or “masks” to limit the analysis to occur only within one area or another, but this requires steps beyond the defaults (such as setting Processing Extent parameters as an Environmental Setting in ArcGIS10).  Guess I just like points and lines better than areas or surfaces to indicate where events and movement happen. When we don’t know exactly where an event took place, and a single point in an exact spot is misleading, then a generalized surface is possible but buffers and alternative cartographic representations are also solutions.

I showed examples of how the Google Maps API is becoming a standard platform for *any* kind of project requiring simple navigation, such as Google’s fractals program, and the Google Art project.  Of course no “north” arrow needed on the fractals…  I also talked about a few relevant humanities projects at Redlands, some of which are described briefly here, plus some efforts at representing mapped uncertainty and new approaches to documenting humanities-focused metadata. I think it went pretty well. Always hard to tell, and I read as much into what people don’t say as what they do.

Fellow geographer John Agnew (UCLA) was the conference’s second keynote speaker.  John is a senior scholar who has written prolifically about political geography and notions of space and place.  He focused on regional patterns of Italian politics of the last 20 yrs, some shifting and some enduring.  He ended with some examples of how geographically weighted regression (GWR) was being used at the municipal level to tease out local variability (of Italian electoral patterns).  For me the most interesting was the final discussion about space and place.  For John, it was clear that the GWR results were getting at place – that Town A is clearly a different place from Town B, a difference that had gone unobserved when both Town A and B had been lumped together within Province Y.  Because we had changed the scale of the aggregated data (going from province down to municipality), we did have finer resolution.  But to many in the audience, the choropleth maps did little to evoke that elusive sense of place that they expect to be able to find, somehow, in a map.  They were still seeing shapes colored blue or red, albeit somewhat smaller shapes than in the previous maps.  To an expert like John, the small shapes do embody the inherent “platial” differences he knows to exist, but the nuances were largely lost to the novice audience.  I think they were looking for something that more readily evoked the experience of place.

Ruth Mostern from UC Merced was up next.  She shared details of the Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty that she and grad student Elijah Meeks have produced, and talked about some of the recent influences on her thinking. These included Michael Curry’s 2005 article, Toward a Geography of a World Without Maps, plus writings in the landscape as narrative genre, including pieces by Doreen Massey and Tim Ingold.  These and other writings have clarified her thinking about how best to model history within a (geo)database. Not through administration, but through travel.  Not as structures, but as events and processes.

Highlights from the afternoon sessions included Ben Adams (grad student in computer science at UCSB) and his extractions of text from travel blogs with which he generated stylized senses of place (I really liked them; wish I could find something about it on the web to show).  I also liked the work by Marta Jankowska on slum mapping.

Mike Goodchild gave the concluding presentation, with a few remarks on the conference itself (perhaps too much worry and emphasis about the map; a possible shift to the nomothetic over the idiographic [yes, I had to remind myself what those words meant too], but a shift that is problematic with data that are increasingly resistant to generalization; perhaps this is a call to focus more on synthesis over analysis).  He talked about the realm of alternative spaces that we now study: cyberscapes framed by usage of Twitter, Facebook, and other digital social media, profiling the work of David Crandall and Matt Zook. He also reminded the UCSB community about their new academic minor in spatial studies.

Final thoughts: an interesting gathering, very worthwhile for the knowledge gained of new and innovative projects.  Some particularly relevant in my planning of our 2011 LENS Institute on Mapping Migrations.  Thanks, Ann and others, for the invitation.

GIS & the Humanities at UCSB, Day 1

The Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UCSB just hosted a 2-day mini-conference on GIS and the Humanities.

Friday morning opened with a trio from UCLA.  Diane Favro focused on the Digital Roman Forum and spoke of her wish to create digital environments within which we could have a real walk around. She says it’s place, space, and pace we need.  Elaine Sullivan, an Egyptologist who worked on the Digital Karnak Project, spoke of the two courses (this one on learning with Google Earth & GIS, and this one that’s focused on research) that she’s leading for UCLA undergrads.  It’s funded by their Keck Digital Cultural Mapping program. Several weeks ago several of us from Redlands went to UCLA to watch her students present their projects and left greatly impressed.  Tim Tangherlini gave a delightful presentation about his study of the folklore collected by Danish folklorist, Evald Tang Kristensen.  Here’s an example, profiling the work of five storytellers through the use of visualizations and mapping. He noted that GIS has helped highlight some of the differences between regional collecting patterns that had otherwise been overlooked.

David Rumsey gave a keynote presentation in which he praised the value of digital tools to enable close, distant, and dynamic readings of maps.  His map collection, and his generosity in sharing it with the world, are remarkable contributions to this field of humanities-focused GIS work. He’s currently hard at work to provide us with georeferenced versions of many of his maps.  New to me: he does the georeferencing work all himself, and he praises GlobalMapper in helping him do it.

In the afternoon the Stanford group shared the stage.  Nicole Coleman and Dan Edelstein shared the Mapping the Republic of Letters.  Their “dashboard” interface of information is lovely, and the 2.0 version of the representation of the flow – not yet on the web – is even nicer. Somehow I had the impression that Voltaire was the only subject, but in fact there are many case studies available.  Nicole came out with one of my second favorite phrase of the day: “I need a hyperlink into electronic enlightenment.”   Zephyr Frank rounded out that session, asking how mapping changes how arguments are made.  He shared several components of his Terrain of History project, including this visualization of Yellow Fever and the Rio Slave Market.  The Rio Slave Market one is reminiscent of Agent Based Modeling.

The day finished with 3-5 minute lightning talks.  The inimitable Waldo Tobler was up first (a lightning talk? really? the man could talk – in an informed manner – for days on end).  Top statement of the day goes to Waldo: he’d just heard several Stanford folks talk slightly indirectly and obliquely about how to interpret the role of fluctuating distance in their respective projects, so he opened with, “Of course, Stanford doesn’t have a geography department, so they wouldn’t know about the distance decay function.”  [Strong laughter and cheers from the geographers in the room.]  Other highlights included Kitty Currier from the UCSB geography department sharing her work with mapping soundscapes; I think this is one of the examples she included of work in London.  Finally, some of the Google Earth and Google Maps student projects that UCSB artist Lisa Jevbratt shared were playfully imaginative.  The class was focused on these applications as “Artistic Tools and Environments.” Probably will be hard to figure some of them out without some explanation, but they’re worth exploring. Making on-the-fly projections of where we might expect to find a rainbow was a popular one.

Final thoughts for Day 1:  the words “compromise” and “imposition” were used a number of times when people commented on their uses of GIS for humanities projects.  Much of what we saw focused on digital mapping (i.e., web-based, Flashy or Java scripted animations, or Google Earth/Maps). The use of commercial GIS and “deep” spatial analytical questions, or answers, was largely absent.

FedEx makes cartograms of global information data

Interesting to see FedEx get into the mapping and visualization business, though not surprising because they’re active participants in a global distribution network of information.

They chose to make cartograms, a cartographic format that will confuse the uninformed casual observer of these maps but may inspire some additional learning (about mapping and about the interaction of the variables). Cartograms distort the size and shape of a mapped area (in this case, countries) on the basis of some variable. If cartograms float your boat, check out these at Worldmapper.

inspired cartography

What I like about Steve Benzek’s cartographic work is that it’s all him. He has nothing to prove but to himself; his work reaches the high levels that it does not because it’s part of his day-job, but because it gives him pure and personal satisfaction. Keep up the great work, Steve!