Pinning vs. Layering: Qualifying Modes of Digital Time Travel

After class ended, I stayed behind and was finally able to successfully pin my Berg photos to the Newark350 collection on Historypin. Like all subpar digital cartographers behind their time, I celebrated my tiny victory alone.


Except apparently there was a (possibly metaphorical) bird present.

At any rate, Historypin is truly exciting for me, and as Kristyn pointed out re: the mobile version, it will become even more user-friendly as time marches forward. It’s already a really amazing site. When time allows, and I have no idea when it will, I’d like to scan pictures of my family and pin them to the locations they were taken. My mother and younger sister both passed away in 2010-2011, and I feel like they would appreciate being immortalized that way. Same re: my grandparents. I get weird about this because I feel like the unscanned photographs are deteriorating.

(Non-sequitur: I think the most important tag to use on Historypin may be the year the pinned media was produced.)

I’ve been perusing the Historypin website and, though I can’t seem to find the info., it seems clear that it uses Google Maps (and Street View, of course). (I don’t know how this works — whether Google Maps is free for websites like Historypin to use, etc.) I read a short story recently where the narrator becomes obsessed with inhabiting Google Street View, and travels all over the world in it, eventually screen-shotting and having his friend 3-d print a brick he finds in the small Eastern European village one of his parents was born in. Pretty bizarre. The story is “Too Near Real” by Jonathan Safran Foer (collected in New Jersey Noir). Also, here is a collection of 31 bizarre images caught on Google Street View (warning: a few are genuinely disturbing).

Anywho, the pinning in Historypin accounts for the movement through time, with Google Maps, obviously, accounting for the ever-updated contemporary version of space. The two meld, of course, but only in Street View (I think). So, we can see how spaces have changed through the pins (and through the pinned media we can digitally inhabit moments), as opposed to layered mapping like the kind Digital Harlem uses. What layered mapping does (I think) is to make a visual chronotope, a time-space model, but I wonder if this method is comparatively too technical and intimidating for some users (me included).


The pinning may actually be preferable in the way it sort of separates or parses space and time, because although Historypin can’t provide large scale maps of space(s) in times past, or multiple maps of the same area with varying plotted data (at least I don’t think it can), the pinnable media seems much more intimate, and ultimately more engaging to use.

A layered mapping method such as the one Digital Harlem employs provides the most specific quantifications and possibilities for, in Moretti’s terms, distant reading, but a single, monolithic map with pins, one might argue, provides as many narratives as there are pins (and then some), more easily allowing for close reading. Historypin, though, is dependent on the input of its users (sort of crowdsourced), whereas Digital Harlem relies on more objective data, so any distant reading-type analysis of Historypin would necessarily include an analysis of the relevant users (to the limited extent that would be possible).

In terms of a hypothetical study of any given geographical area across time, though it would be dependent on the nature of the study, it seems to me that using both methods (assuming both are available for the given area) would be the most comprehensive way to go about it. Maybe the most wonderful thing about Historypin is that it’s (I think) global, as opposed to the City of Memory project we read about and looked at earlier in the semester. Side note: I wonder how come City of Memory doesn’t use Google Maps.

Also, apropos of geography and mapping, I just saw this piece in the NYT titled “The Rich Live Longer Everywhere. For the Poor, Geography Matters.” If you move your mouse over the map, it has a nice feature where the life expectancy in each area is compared to the national average. Newark is above average (!). Gary, Indiana and Las Vegas, meanwhile, are two of the areas where the poor have the shortest life expectancy rate (see chart toward the bottom for that info.).



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1 Response to Pinning vs. Layering: Qualifying Modes of Digital Time Travel

  1. Pingback: Pinning vs. Layering: Qualifying Modes of Digital Time Travel — Intro to Digital Public Humanities – Mr. Remi Pulwer

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