Space & Time

Carl Sagan
Millions & billions

Spatial humanities: not the final frontier, but ripe with millions & billions of possibilities. Certainly an exciting prospect for the visual-minded humanist, geospatial visualization comes in many formats. One of the tools we tried, StoryMap, is a narrative tool that demonstrates how powerfully maps can tell stories, especially for communicating with the non-scholarly audience (at least that was my impression). On the other end of the academic scale, the Fletcher & Helmreich project tantalizes with its amazing use of historic maps to reexamine the business of selling art in London during the latter nineteenth century. But isn’t mapping, after all, just another form of data visualization? If data and research questions are solid, geospatial visualization should be a great vehicle (but Mark Monmonier’s How to Lie with Maps demonstrates just how easy it is to twist your data through cartography), but there are always pitfalls. I’m struggling with the prospect of mapping (that is, geolocating) social data. It would be possible to extract references from city directories and census, but that’s not enough (as the Digital Harlem project shows us). It would take so much more, beginning with information from handwritten archival sources. Amassing a large enough volume of research to represent and allow analysis of meaningful social connections—well, it would take millions & billions of brain cells, more than anything else.

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