A Map has no name. A Map knows many faces.

Before our map has a name and a detailed display, what exactly is it? What is the core? Now, we dont’ need to be a stealthy assassin like Arya Stark to appreciate the many faces we can put on our maps to present them to the world the way we want. We also don’t need to go to Braavos to learn these skills. This week, we venture into an exciting world of . . . knowns. And fairly chartered territory. Nevertheless, our ventures into mapping nearly always seem exciting, since the prospect of digital mapping combines visual and spatial ideas with the relatively easy -to – use internet. That combination lets us have instant gratifications in creating something which, before digital technology, would have taken far longer to create by hand or with pre-digital computing processes.

There are sevveral ways we can approach digital mapping – as cartographic maps, with any combination of prose, pin drops, chronology, images, aggregated data, and other media; as conceptual maps which isplay ideas, theories, and connections between other ideas and things; or, as narrative maps which tell stories with any amoung of extra information from the two other kinds mentioned above. All of these have a certain amount of data and all analyze it in some way, through a recipe of aggregation, explanation, and presentation. The key difference between these is what is at their core, behind the face we give it.

I have enjoyed mapping both in more cartographic and narrative contexts. This week, I mainly stuck to the Storymap JS platform (not to be confused with ArcGIS StoryMaps) from the KnightLab website of University of Northwestern libraries. While it’s possible to do geolocated maps on StoryMaps, I opted to try doing something new – a gigapixel image map. The work I chose to showcase, Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s The Spinet, acted as the core of the StoryMap. In the gigapixel image map, you can have your narrative go through points on the image and superzoom into these spots. This is especially helpful for those in Art History to illustrate small parts of paintings like details, brushwork, and flaws. My StoryMap walks the viewer through the painting with prose and visual additions throughout to assist in the exploration of the work.

The StoryMap process, while not intuitive at first, is well-explained in the KnightLab website, and once I had the hang of it, I could easily edit the entire project by choosing a different image to use as the base of the map (more on that later). Once you have an image (try to find the biggest one you can – I got mine from the Smithsonian Institute), you can edit it in Photoshop and export to “Zoomify” – once you do this, zip the file and upload it to your file server so that you can have a URL to paste in the “gigapixel url” box when prompted. This does require access to photoshop and a file server, and both tend to come with monetary compensation for the services, but the good thing is that they are useful for far more than just StoryMaps. More tools in the toolbox, as it were.

The biggest struggle I had when creating this StoryMap was actually not an issue with the software, but with finding a good image for my map base image. I went through three images (below) before finding one that didn’t seem to have drastically different coloring from the original. Two of them were both from the Smithsonian, even!

The Final Image I chose, via Smithsonian Institution.
Via Wikimedia Commons
Via Smithsonian Institution

Technical aspects aside, the broad scope of digital mapping possibilities, with so many different combinations of cores, displays, and names, provide us with endless opportunity to present research and data. So, what will you do? Create a map of 19th c. London’s Art Market? Will you explore how the environment of the painting, take a landscape or busy street for example, tells us about the subject of the painting? Or is the landscape the core? Will you map Digital Harlem? These projects have already been done, BUT what if we were to take the same content, the same core, and display it differently, call it by a new name, work the data to our liking to make a different argument? Is that not what scholars to all the time with information from books and archival material? I am merely playing devil’s advocate here, as the issue is clearly more complex than this, and issues of intellectual property, copyright, fair use, and more are at play in decisions like these. But, it is an interesting way to see how the many names and faces we can give our work, and the many cores they mask, create new arguments, new moments, new explorations in time and space.