Day 5: Geospatial Art History & the Art of Mapping Hipsterdom

Digital Art History bootcamp ended on a high note (for me) as we delved into mapping and visualizing change over time. Before the institute started, I possessed little knowledge of mapping but knew it would be useful for my project. For example, I want to be able to show the areas affected by epidemics in sixteenth-century Mexico alongside those locations that display artworks related to death and dying. I assumed that mapping would be complicated and messy, but after Friday I learned that there are plenty of tools that are easy to use.

The Google Map Engine proved straightforward and user-friendly. I didn’t have an excel file with data for my project, so I decided to turn to the only reasonable alternative: mapping hipsters in a small part of DC (see the above embedded Google Map). While mapping hipsters doesn’t relate to my project, the data did allow me to experiment with mapping.

I was so excited by my new-found ability to create easy, readable maps that I called my husband during the lunch break to walk him through the process. I thought it would be useful for him as he thinks about opening a new practice. He plans to plot potential “rivals,” transportation stations, and rent-able locations for instance.

I wasn’t sure that anything could top my excitement over the Google Map tool, but then we moved on to the New York Public Library’s Map Warper and StoryMap. I was in awe of the Map Warper. I found an eighteenth-century map of Mexico, which I georectified. This is an incredibly powerful tool made available to everyone by the NYPL. For example, the map I used allowed me to pin cities in New Spain (colonial Mexico) and a modern map of Mexico. Cities that had different names are now coordinated with their modern equivalents. The historical map “cloaks” the current one. For me this was one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate how maps lie and manipulate space (among other things). While the Map Warper wasn’t as immediately relevant to my project, it certainly does provide me with historical maps to orient people in the viceroyalty of New Spain.

StoryMap amazed me with its creative capabilities. I decided to create a story map of the spread of hipsters in Brooklyn (of course!). I’m not sure yet how I would incorporate it into my project on Mexican deathways, and I don’t know that I will. I abide by the notion that the tools and technology shouldn’t dictate the project. However, I know I will use it in my courses. It was easy and fun to use. Plus, I think it offers wonderful possibilities of engaging students with certain types of materials.

To sum up, I see great potential in using some of these mapping tools for my project. The Google Map Engine in particular will become a crucial component of visualizing some of my data. I dreaded what I thought would be a complicated and time-consuming process, but in reality it will develop much faster–the click of a few buttons really.

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