Maps provide us with a new way of engaging with and interpreting information. In class this week, we looked at several digital projects that utilized maps, two of which I’d like to discuss here. The first being Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich’s “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market.” Using two data sets, one regarding “locations of major London commercial art galleries between 1850 and 1914” and the other concerning sales made by an international art retail firm, Local/Global provides an interactive map that models the London art market at the time. Through this map, they were able to show the changing density of art galleries and the pathways that both dealers and art works traveled, amongst other things. The project was 10 years in the making, which hints to how labor-intensive and time consuming successful digital projects can be. The feature I enjoyed most about this DAH was that users of the map could modify both the year and the kinds of data they were looking at by changing what layers were in use (museums, galleries, artists and retail). One thing worth noting about this project that applies broadly to many DAH projects is that while it appears simple, this project took countless hours, endless data input and a lot of hard collaborative work.
The second mapping project we looked at was Digital Harlem. The makers of the project mined data from archival records, legal records and newspapers to recreate what daily life in harlem was like. The map’s versatility is quite impressive; one can track where people moved throughout their lives, see concentrations/frequencies of arrests, and the map has over 70 items in its legend from aborton providers to dance halls. My favorite way to use the map of Harlem was to select the name of an individual from the drop down menu and read about their life while navigating the map to see where they spent their days. At each node on the map, a pop up window could be activated and it would tell you the significance of, or the event that occured at that point on the map. I could see this kind of project translating well into a digital art history project that traces the lives of various artists. One thing that has always made archival research exciting to me is the element of intimacy with history that it provides. Such mapping projects make historical figures and their lives feel more tangible; I think this is one reason why the Digital Harlem project was so successful.
This week we looked at two mapping tools, Google Maps and StoryMapJS. I chose to work with Google Maps, but both could provide digital art historians with a unique set of tools with which they could communicate new information to their audiences. I’ll first start with a review of Google Maps that will include my own map, “Artists’ Homes and Studios.” As the title of my map suggests, I chose to plot 20 homes and/or studios of North American/European artists. Ideally, I would have had more time to conduct archival research and plot where various artists lived throughout their lives. I had initially envisioned a map of New York City that charted where artists lived – such a map could convey information about changes in art movements and see if they were related to artists’ proximity to other artists etc. As the turnaround time digital assignment was quick, I chose to select artists whose homes are either museums or historic houses that one can visit.
In class, we looked at the Modern Architects map that JJ Bauer and her ARTH 383 class created. That map had a layer for architects of color, and another layer for women architects. I had first wanted to organize my map in a similar manner, but then realized there was no way to classify an artists as more than one thing; what to do with Frieda Kahlo who was both a woman and an artist of color? Thus, I chose to create layers based on the country in which the house/studio was located (North America and Europe) and then color-code the points by the primary medium in which each artist worked (Red – painter; Green – sculptor; Teal – print maker; Yellow – mixed media; Illustrator – purple; Gray – architect; Brow photographer). I’d like to note that while I chose to indicate the medium in which an artist worked, I don’t think that has much to do with geographic location in this particular example. That being said, I am sure there could be instances where drawing connections between location and medium could be fruitful.
Google Maps is a useful tool as your map data can be exported into a spreadsheet, photos and videos can be embedded into each point in addition to a description and information pulled from Google itself. Like many other Google Tools, Maps can be worked on collaboratively, which would be useful for most DAH. Google Maps could be useful for a wide array of projects, but I do think there are some inherent limitations imposed by the tool. Unlike a map embedded into a website, you can only provide so much contextual/additional information within Google Maps. In contrast to a mapping project like Digital Harlem, Google Maps seems to fall short of the possibilities for data visualization offered by other mapping tools.
While you can provide a decent amount of contextual information within each point in Google Maps, you don’t have control over how a user interacts with the map, which brings me to StoryMapJS. I didn’t pursue making a map through StoryMapJS, but I could see it being particularly useful for my own work as it could allow for detailed annotation of archival material. StoryMap lets you tag various points on an image and add descriptive information, links, and other media to provide more information about said image (or in many cases, an image of an art work). In some ways, StoryMap reminded me a bit of Tropy in that you can embed additional images or files within a singular image and use those secondary files to provide more information about the first.
Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich, with David Israel and Seth Erickson, “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market,” Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide 11:3 (Autumn 2012).