Category Archives: web mapping

using Google Maps for non-geographic representations

I just finished teaching our annual Short Spring Spatial workshops, and as usual, I had a blast updating my list of “web mapping” applications and projects. One of the categories of “maps” that continue to fascinate me are those that leverage the Google Maps API for innovative and non-conventional “spatial” thinking.  What I value here is the clever outcome that these developers don’t need to spend time/money creating a “new” platform for navigation, when the Google navigational functionality (expressed via their iconic pan and zoom icons) is all we need.

Previously I’ve known about Google’s Art Project, where you can explore the (indoor) collections of many museums around the world (click Museum View and Floor Plan to put yourself indoors) .  They’ve definitely expanded their museum coverage since last year.  I do find it curious that they’ve bothered to keep the compass functionality (which you can suppress). Perhaps someone might really want to consider whether there are patterns to the type of artwork on southern walls across different museums?  Many art museums don’t go out of their way to have large windows because they’re limiting the amount of sunlight that fades paintings.  We could systematically go through these museums and evaluate this? Maybe a project for someone’s rainy day (but not mine…).

Unfortunately, another very creative Google project using their Maps API, one that allowed you to explore fractals, is now untethered and not kept up. It was a lovely one.  And didn’t have the compass built in!

This year I have found a number of medically-oriented sites, all new to me.  These include the Zygote Body (only works with my Chrome browser), the Genome Projector, the Virtual Microscope, Brain Connectivity, and the KESM Brain Atlas (tiny mice brains).  Most of these are obviously targeted towards a particular audience for specific educational objectives, but I particularly love playing with the Zygote Body site! Clever use of overlay that’s both “horizontal” and “vertical” through the layers.  My biology-studying children found it fascinating too.  No north in these sites!

One of these days I need to teach myself how to use the API so I can have some fun. My first project will be to create Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell, Seven Terraces of Purgatory, and Nine Spheres of Paradise.  Seriously.  It’ll be a great spatial humanities project on my next rainy day.

h/t to GoogleMapsMania for many of these.


national poetry month, exploring through maps

April is National Poetry Month. (Sure, why not? It has to be sometime, if we can’t have National Poetry Day year-round!)  There are several map-using-poetry-sites I’ve become aware of lately, including:

  1.  Places of Poems and Poets (part of an online poetry collection done by the libraries at the University of Toronto)
  2. Poetry Atlas (created/maintained by Tam Tam, a media company in the UK)
  3. a National Poetry Map, from
  4. a World Poetry Map, focusing on poets representing scarce-spoken languages, funded by the NEA and others.  (Is that really the dividing line between Europe and Asia? Really?)

Basically these are all mashups with point locations that document an author’s birthplace or native state/country, or maybe the landscape about which the poem is based, etc.  Simple geocoding or geotagging has taken place. So in every case the maps are simply an organizational template for the poems,  not something that necessarily give any new insights.

What would be even better?  A site that uses other geographical “filters” to discover poems.  That is, show me poems about waterfalls AND show me the images of where those waterfalls are.  Or, if it’s a poem about a gritty urban scene, show me some gritty urban scenes.  A poem about a historical time at a particular place?  How about linking it to HistoryPin or WhatWasThere?

And while we’re at it, how about a little audio, people?  Reading poetry is terrific, but I love listening to it too.  It’s easy to record someone reading a poem and link to that recording in the placemark.  It could even be done in native tongue and then a translation.  And, while you’re at it, how about with the sound of waterfalls in the background too?

If anyone knows any sites that creatively uses poetry and maps, please share them.

h/t to Google Maps Mania for some of the sites.

Happy to have stumbled across GIS Stack Exchange

New to me: GIS Stack Exchange. A great site for questions, answers, and thoughtful discussions!

working with old maps

I’m still digesting the surplus of ideas, information, and stimuli that came through as overload during last week’s AAG conference in NYC.  One of the tracks that I’d have hoped to get to (if I could clone myself, and have the double arrive pre-loaded with more energy) was held at the New York Public Library, focusing on the use of historical maps and data in a number of ways.  I did have friends at those sessions, however, and one of them – Chris Gist from UVA- came to dinner one night full of enthusiasm for the plans around   I suppose such a wonderful level of contributed sharing was inevitable in today’s world of VGI.  Bring on the temporal/spatial change studies!

NYPL is also known for their innovative use of open-source tools to crowd source the georeferencing of their own collection of maps and images.

crowd sourcing efforts in the remote sensing and spatial thinking realms

My colleague Patrick Meier tweeted about the effort to crowdsource sea floor images, evaluating the images to ascertain population counts of sea scallops.  It reminded me of similar citizen science efforts at validating land cover, and folding proteins. I remember that the Jane Goodall Institute is also contributing to or managing another forest / land cover effort too, but can’t find it right now.

Patrick has written about such efforts in the humanitarian realm as well.

It takes a village + geospatial technologies = progress.

observing and representing migratory patterns

I came across two sites this week that used maps in well-designed ways to visualize migratory patterns.  I have an ongoing interest in finding clever and innovative ways to represent flow and movement.

The first was Geo-Mexico, and I first saw their simple-but-elegantly-effective Flash-based maps to link individual Mexican states to the areas in the US, based on registering with consulates.  Then I remembered helping my colleague Steve to map remittances so I smiled when I saw this nice overview and a lesson to boot! I’ll definitely follow this site more. Hat tip to Seth Dixon’s Geography Education for the find.

Much more mesmerizing are these animated maps of annual bird movements, from my local-but-still-unknown Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.  I’m not a birder myself and have great respect for those who can differentiate more than from amongst crows and starlings (i.e., my skill level). I checked out the patterns of birds whose names suggested they know their home, like the Kentucky Warbler and the Louisiana Waterthrush (what’s up with that little patch in southwestern South Dakota in April/May?  a particularly active citizen-science group or an interesting modeled anomaly?).  I love how the Indigo Bunting aligns with the Mississippi in July and August.  These maps represent the results of models: they don’t reflect actual observations at all of those locations. But they do show the power of visualization when ground truthed, primary data are combined with our large collections of other geospatial information.

No man is an island, no place is a point

Rebecca Davis, my former colleague at NITLE, just hosted a Google+ discussion on possible ways that map-based stories can support student learning.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to join them, so I’m glad that she’s posted a summary of the session.

Linking place with narrative is central for spatially-focused digital humanities efforts.  Their comments on how to make projects collaborative are particularly important ones.  The tools themselves support collaboration by design, but managing that within an instructional setting requires careful forethought and planning.  As you’re designing the assignment, think through how you may separate content from technology knowledge. Don’t leave it to chance.  Like any group project, divide and conquer through chunks or phases. Train all students with the technologies, then allow for and recognize the natural tech leaders that will come to the forefront.  Provide them structured opportunities to help their peers.  Looks for ways to customize every possible aspect of the project, from on-the-ground field work to specially designed icons. Everyone naturally gravitates towards the visual media with these tools. Don’t overlook the audio possibilities, whether it’s music associated with the project as a whole, an overall narration, or authentic voices from the people of the place.  Experiment with lines and area (polygons) as indicators of locations too. No man is an island, no place is a point.

To move beyond tacking your info over someone else’s pre-digested map may eventually require dedicated programming efforts, but I’m certain we haven’t reached the ceiling for creative projects with simple tools.

Esri has a new page dedicated to Map(ping) Stories too.

The NEH is hosting two different Institutes this summer for those with grand ideas:

1) Spatial Narrative and Deep Maps: Explorations in the Spatial Humanities, at IUPUI in Indiana, and

2) Digital Cultural Mapping: Transformative Scholarship and Teaching in the Geospatial Humanities, at UCLA.