Maps can be either primary or secondary sources, but regardless, they always contain some kind of interpretation. Sometimes that realization surprises students, especially history students, but it shouldn’t. All maps select data and present them from a definite point of view. Subway maps highlight routes and stops for mass transit riders. Street maps feature roads and landmarks useful for automobile drivers. Maps that analyze historical processes (like election results, demographic patterns, etc.) also present interpretation through their use of data and their visualization framework.
The wide range of choices involved in map-making should become even more obvious in this new digital age where importing data into maps through the use of layers helps transform the process into something more obviously interactive and interpretive . The integration of data into maps is the hallmark of something known as GIS (geographic information system). A few years back, the New York Times offered a helpful article on how historians are using GIS to re-imagine key events from the past, such as the Battle of Gettysburg.
Find at least one highly “teachable” data maps on the web that offers compelling historical insights and present it (or them) within a short blog post that explains the techniques involved. Unlike previous lab assignments, this one does not require you to actually “build” a map on your own (though you could if you wanted to with Google Maps, WorldMap or ArcGis), but rather to “find” a map online that presents effective historical analysis. You may refer to a single map visualization, or a series of map layers or options that are part of a larger database.
Feel free to seek out and find maps that might be especially useful for your final multi-media web project. Or browse these various sources, seeking out compelling examples:
- 2008 Electoral Maps re-imagined
- 2012 maps recommended by GIS Lounge
- Civil War animated battle maps
- Digital Harlem
- Mapping Occupation
- Redlining Richmond
- Slave Trade Voyages
- Visualizing Early DC
- Visualizing Emancipation