Trevor Harris calls for more scholarly attention towards the use of cartography as a tool for the humanities. Harris, a professor of geography at West Virginia University, is just one of many scholars propelling the Spatial Turn in the humanities.

In “Geohumanities: engaging space and place in the humanities,” he explains that “the Spatial Turn reinserts space as an active participant in human events and behavior,” and it “calls for a critical revaluation of space and spatiality across disciplines where social theory is part of, and contingent on, a triad of space, time, and social structure.”

Harris goes on to discuss the potential of spatial storytelling for humanities study, and makes an important distinction between thin maps and deep maps. Thin maps are straightforward; their primary objective is to relay data. Deep maps, on the other hand, are “heavily narrative-based and interlace autobiography, art, folklore, stories, and map.”

While reading, I initially thought about two maps that are presented as videos and combine time and space to cause a reaction. The first map is the widely known World Population map that represents the growth of the world population from 1 A.D. to 2007, created by the Population Connection, a nonprofit group that advocates for population stabilization.

The author’s intent, as emphasized in the 1 and a half minute introduction, is to warn the public that if the population continues to grow at its current rate, Earth will exceed its carrying capacity.

The map uses one dot to represent a million people. The year is displayed in the bottom-left corner and an additional historical landmark, such as the Roman Empire, is displayed in the bottom-right corner. Additionally, there is a heartbeat noise that speeds towards the end, signifying something like the lead up to a heart attack.

Pulling from ecocriticism, this map is a clear example of apocalyptic rhetoric, and although I am critical of the map now, it caused a powerful reaction when I first watched it in high school.

The second map is the Time-Lapse of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945. This map, created by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto is a colorful representation of every nuclear explosion from 1945 to 1998.

The design is reminiscent of classic video games (like Pong). The count per country is displayed in the frame surrounding the map. The month and year steadily change in the top-right corner and the total number changes in the bottom-right corner. The nuclear explosions are represented with varying colors and sounds, creating an illuminating orchestra that is discomfortingly beautiful. At the end of the video, the ‘scores’ are displayed, showing that the United States has ‘won.’

Another example, which I will demonstrate next week in my project presentation, is Esri’s Story Maps. In Harris’ “Deep geography – deep mapping: spatial storytelling and a sense of space,” he discusses technologies that can be used by humanities scholars to map stories. One example he provides is Esri’s MapsOnLine. I’m guessing this was the precursor to either Esri’s Story Maps or Esri’s ArcGIS Online.

The Story Maps feature allows you to easily create beautiful and dynamic stories using maps, text, images, videos, and audio, and I think it could be a powerful tool for humanities scholars.

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