DH- 804 – Space

This grouping of readings aligned more strongly with my concerns and interests for my dissertation project. Mapping elements will likely feature prominently in my work and it was really helpful to see some real worked examples of mapping devices and tools.

I picked up Monmonier’s How to Lie with Maps first. I actually found his writing to be very useful in that it framed the subsequent readings. For me, his work was a useful reminder that all maps are constructed. We often attribute a great deal of legitimacy to maps, we take them to be accurate representations of physical space without engaging the same level of critical reading we apply to other texts (a point he makes, repeatedly). Looking ahead to my own project aims, I anticipate the need to defend the maps I produce and address the choices I made in including or excluding content. Monmonier is a good reminder that all cartographers contend with these types of decision. All maps are constructed with intent and reflect the biases and perspectives of their maker.

Though I think that maps make sense to historians, as historical objects, we don’t see ourselves as doing the same work as cartographers. However, I appreciated Hitchcock’s thinking as he emphasized that our fields are not mutually exclusive. We share a number of concerns and questions and can benefit from an overlapping of theory and techniques. He wrote “The habits of mind and analytical tools of geographers need to inform our understanding of the past; while the mental ticks of the historian, and the authority of history as a literary genre, are necessary tools for communicating all kinds of memory to a wider audience.”

So where do we see this overlap occurring. If we read only Bodenhamer, et al, and Gregory and Geddes, we might think that GIS, (or HGIS) represented the overlapping of fields and concerns. A GIS perspective, however, is rooted in the notion of “place” while spatial historians seem to be more interested in the notion of “space”. Bodenhamer, Corrigan and Harris suggest that the “Representation of the past… is a kind of mapping where the past is a landscape and history is the way we fashion it… mapping is not cartographic but conceptual.” (xi) This notion is harder to work into a georeferenced map because it involves thinking about maps in a different manner.

Lock, in the same text, gets at the point a bit more fully as he envisions, “landscape as a metaphor for social and cultural complexity of being human – both in the way it can be used to represent the past but also, and perhaps more forcibly, the present where any representation is located.” (105) In this sense historical mapping projects seek to map not only objects like buildings and roads, but ephemeral relationships and networks- all of which is linked to space and time. Schwartz and Thevenin (in Toward Spatial Humanities) echo this sentiment (and critique of a strictly GIS approach to historical presentation. “Spatial history ought to do more than examine questions about geographic distributions over time. To go further, spatial history should concern the study of spatial relationships and of spatial interconnectivity over time, that is the degree to which change is one part of an interrelated system alters other parts in turn.” (104) Coupling these ideas with Monmonier and Hitchcock, I started to envision mapping projects that are more metaphorical in their representation of space.

Hitchcock included an interesting critique of maps that resonated with me – He described Mackay and wrote “some people stand in the same place longer than many buildings; and have a greater right to appear on a map, than many landmarks.” What things/people are missing from the maps we make/read? What is taken to be transient but is actually permanent in the lived experience of that space? These questions resonated with me because a great deal of my historical research involves lives and stories that exist in the gaps.

It accesses something that I brought up in class – the idea of maps that serve as metaphors. While mapping is about making a visual representation of geographical space, mapping is also used to reference the allocation of social space as well (I referenced The Ugly Laws by Susan Schweik in this case). What form would a map take if it involved the mapping of deaf residential school newspapers? One that examined communities? The missionary efforts of the Church Mission to Deaf Mutes? Imagined in a GIS environment, these would operate similarly, but imagining them in a conceptual manner becomes much more interesting to me.

Stephen suggested in our discussion that thick mapping/deep mapping is, perhaps, a middle ground between abstracted and geographical maps. I agree with his thinking here- dynamic maps are less about linking objects in place and more about the relationships between objects and places. It entails thinking about the relationships between space, temporally as well as physical distance. It also enables us to access the scalability of a digital environment. It redefines, for me, Monmonier’s argument about cartographers making choices about what to include and what to exclude in traditional mapping. Digital mapping enables us to operate both macro and micro, embedding content and context in meaningful ways.

The question that bounces around my head, however is – Can maps ever convey the amount of information necessary to make arguments? If maps can be used to answer questions, can mapping projects present scholarly arguments?  Some of the obvious arguments against this idea are that reading maps requires extensive contextual knowledge to understand or appreciate the argument (Then again, so do texts), or that maps omit content or context to privilege other content or contexts (so do texts).  Perhaps one could argue that maps don’t make a single argument, but rather make several arguments simultaneously – in which case, the concern is that it is a nonlinear (or multilinear) argument (in which case, I’d address concerns by directing them to our second week of reading.). A reasonable critique may be that that maps can’t always demonstrate change over time- but thick/deep mapping projects challenge this thinking.

I don’t know that I am convinced that ONLY maps can do this, but maps combined with other forms of scholarship, as presented in a number of the projects we looked at this week, are doing so capably.

Maybe the argument we should be making is more aligned with What Scheinfeld wrote in the Gold text, sometimes tools are built to answer questions and sometimes tools produce questions. “maybe we need more time to articulate our digital apparatus, to produce new phenomena that we can neither anticipate nor explain immediately… We need time to experiment and even… to play.” [Scheinfeld]

The projects we examined were more meaningful to me in this light. Test cases and experimentations in what data and tools can tell us about the past. Torget, for instance, provides more a critique of the digitization of historical newspapers than a discussion of the content of the texts. Presner and the Hypercities project are interesting in that they work to  “publish… geo-temporal arguments”, but it is difficult to see how this work can be understood to produce a single, cohesive argument or how it operates as something more than a mapped repository. This is not meant to disparage their work (I was really inspired by Meeks and the ORBIS project in particular), but rather to point out how these are useful exercises in expanding our ideas of what maps can do, how data can be used and how scholarship can be created.

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