Maps

"Maps………..
Wait.
They don’t love you like I love you."

–"Maps," by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The song never really made sense to me, but it’s incredibly catchy.

I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about this week’s readings.  They were all solid, interesting, and exciting.  I have no criticisms.

Moreover, this topic has got me freshly re-excited about the whole concept of digital history– my last couple weeks have been rough, with APIs and Databases kicking me into frightened submissions. 

But maps?  Yeah, I get excited about maps anyway.  And the whole concept of doing historical geography on computers, making it interactive, WOW.  That’s really exciting to me.  It’s actually what made me warm up to the concept of this school’s technology requirement.  I love the idea of interactive maps, maps that are deep in their knowledge, multi-layered or multiform.  Interactive maps would refute Karen O’s assertion that "Maps……. wait."  (He said, weakly justifying the quote at the beginning of the article.)

Since I’ve gotten all geeky drooling fanboy about the subject, it’s a little hard to be objective about the articles.  Several of them were dull, but they really fun to think away from, if that makes sense…?  I got distracted by my own thoughts of what could be done.

So instead of trying to seriously tackle these articles, let me share a fantasy project.

I would love to see (or work on, if I someday develop the knowhow) a web companion to Boston: A Topographical History.  It’s a book I already love, and a fascinating topic. You see, a lot of what is now Boston was, at the time of first contact, under water.  Over time, damming and landfill changed that.  They chopped the tops off of several hills, and eliminated several others, to produce a larger, but flatter, Boston.  This is something that you can talk about in a book until you’re (metaphorically) blue in the face, but you can’t quite convey it as well as you could with an interactive map.

Imagine an interactive map, where you can adjust the time to actually watch the land being created, the topography flattening out, the changes in the population in different areas over time, as the new land allows for new class-based segregation.  Imagine being able to select points of interest on this map, and see a picture from that time of that place.

I know how these things go, one historian’s gold is another’s reason to take a nap, but in my mind, the results would be (to use another pop culture quote) "Freakin’ awesome," as Peter Griffin once put it.

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2 Responses to Maps

  1. Jennifer Levasseur says:

    Tad, what an interesting idea for your Boston mapping project. As I was reading, I kept thinking how cool some kind of cutaway or elevation drawing would look with the highest and lowest points gradually getting closer and closer together. I think what’s difficult for historians to understand about applications like this the need to step ‘outside the box’ (in this case the archival box), and see the multi-dimensional nature of things. We’ve gotten too comfortable with just looking at sets of documents and doing analysis…this really makes it all come alive.

  2. Misha Griffith says:

    Tad, if you look at the website from the first article-University of Sydney–they have layers of early maps from San Francisco. While it is a slow download, you can see some very interesting changes in the waterfront. At first it looks like the maps do not match up well. The modern waterfront is quite a ways out than the waterfront pictured in the 1854 map. However, San Francisco was the “jumping-off” point for the 1849 gold rush. Ships would dock and entire crews would literally jump-off the ships and race to the gold fields in the Sierra Nevada, leaving the ships stranded without crews. Even today, when excavating the basements of skyscrapers in downtown S.F., the construction workers frequently find the hulks of old sailing ships hundreds of yards away from the water. The maps, stange as it may sound, were accurate.

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