Hold Me Closer, Time Mapper

I will start off by saying that I love digital mapping. I love the coalescence of text, media, geolocation, history, images, and prose to tell stories and relay histories to a wider audience in a more interesting package than a research paper. Our explorations this week were a great chance to delve into another kind of mapping – TimeMapper, run by KnightLab and closely related to TimeLine JS. While I embrace this exciting and relatively painless way to quickly throw information into the interactive, digital ether, I really do wish that this software would embrace me back and let me personalize more of the great features it has to offer.

The idea of TimeLine JS is intriguing enough – timelines without the mapping aspect, that is. If we see timelines as Michael Goodchild does – as the potential for mapping lifespans – timelines become something much more relevant to real, lived experiences of people. Our place in time and the chronology of history’s unfolding is integral to the human experience. Part of the reason why I like the TimeMapper application, though, is that it not only incorporates the chronological aspects of existence, but the location of experience. As much as our sense of place in time matters to living, our actual place in space carries much cultural and social meaning as well.

The thing about timelines is that if they’re not intuitive, the reader can get stuck easily on a snapshot, a single point of the timeline with little sense of where the timeline goes or will end. The great thing about mapping capabilities is that often times you can see all of the points of the timeline not arranged in a linear fashion, which makes it difficult to navigate on screens at times, but in a cluster based on location, which can give some sense of understanding beyond cultural.

Below is my TimeMapper, a map of about 23 points detailing some gulag music research I’d done a while back. I red memoirs and diaries of former Gulag prisoners, and pulled out names (when able) of people participating in musical events in the camps. I then added geolocation and prose to the names to create this timeline. I think the difficult thing about putting this information into TimeMapper is that I’m not sure the timeline tells a new story or is an effective way of presenting the information. The timeline doesn’t let me easily show cateories of musicking or types of people, or in any way let me visually group people because it’s a timeline. In the past, I’ve been interested in finding common themes across the people’s stories. I haven’t thought before about whether or not the chronology of all of their experiences made a difference, however, and I think that this timeline does make me consider it. I’m just not sure someone would find it useful for informational purposes as I think they’d get bored fairly quickly.

Altogether, I think the Timeline feature could be useful depending on the project, and can help us approach our research data from new perspectives that may or may not be obvious.