Maps are awesome.
Ever since I was a little kid until my most recent job, I had a map taped to the inside of one of my doors, such as my bedroom or office door. It was an obsession, and I adored knowing that I could reference my (normally New Jersey) map whenever I wanted to. When I would travel, I would want very little, but I always encouraged my father to stop at the rest stop so I could get that state’s paper map.
When I realized that smart phones were taking over for my paper maps and my mapquest printed directions, I was a tiny bit heartbroken, but I recognized how amazing the new world would be. One year into my Google Maps app experience, I went on vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone national parks. We used our mapping programs to get us all over Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. We even experienced THIS little gem while on a hike.
That’s me standing on the border between Montana (north) and Wyoming (south) in the middle of the woods. I am represented by a pin and it was a cool moment to memorialize. I posted it on social media and people tried to guess where we were, and since we don’t tell anyone that we are going anywhere (we prefer that our stuff not be stolen), no one was able to guess. It was great fun.
But after reading Mark Tebeau’s “Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era” and Stephen Robertson’s “Putting Harlem on the Map,” I was forced to look at the idea of “Digital Space” from a new perspective. The pin above simply represented a single moment in time for my phone – not for me. I just happened to be with the phone when I recorded the location of the phone at that particular moment.
What the image didn’t record was that I was there with my wife Maureen, and it was our last major hike of a wonderful 8 day national park adventure on the hottest day of the year and the first time that we hadn’t eaten something besides bison or ice cream (because there was a norovirus outbreak while we were there and driving 150 miles round trip for dinner to eat something else wasn’t worth it – don’t judge me/us.). It also didn’t reflect that within 3 minutes of me recording the phone’s position, we had encountered a big bear. Maureen and I can look at the photo and smile because we remember everything that happened that afternoon, but it means nothing to you.
The idea of the Cleveland Historical Project and Digital Harlem are exciting examples of taking the image from above a step further than what I simply did on my Facebook wall one warm summer Friday night. They enable the internet user to experience and the storyteller to share an event in a multi-layered fashion. By putting these stories and events onto a map, it draws the user into a “digital space” that serves a similar purpose as a living room or a coffee shop with friends. There, they can meet new information and enjoy new stories. It’s an interesting and fascinating concept.
Kristyn’s super informative introduction to Historypin brought the concept home especially when we combined the experience with the photographs that we scanned during SCANATHON! earlier in the semester. The photos that we delicately treated with gloved hands were given a new layer of life. We put them someplace. We gave them a home in a tool that put them on a map. By putting them on a map, we reduced them to an item or an abstract (Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, Trees) that could be understood and reflected upon. They gained further importance for me and will for others as they experience them through the Newark350 collection on Historypin.
By giving them a new life by deconstructing their existence to an abstract part on a map, we give them life. By finding a place to put my image above, perhaps I will find others who have explored that particular trail and had a similar set of experiences to mine or something completely different for me to enjoy. It’s part of what is so exciting about all that we learned this semester in this class – that there are so many things that we can do with the new tools that we have. We can tell old stories in a fresh new way. We can tell new stories in wonderfully layered methods.
Maps are tools.
Historypin is a tool.
Omeka is a tool.
This blog is a tool.
Tools are awesome.
But however you use the digital tools available to us to tell stories of the human experience, it’s also important to remember to experience life as well – as seen here – 6 days prior to the bear encounter. It’s multi-sensory.