On the uses of maps as data visualization

This visualization features all geo-locatable places listed in the corpus of stories. Each point references a specific place, one that could be associated through research with a contemporary latitude and longitude point. This aspect of the research is informed guesswork and careful reconstruction, and it requires one to imagine places as they might have been. Historical geodata in this project is a tool for understanding more deeply how people might have lived. By plotting all the points on one map, we can see some concentrations that largely correlate to population density, but in some notable exceptions they do not. In those examples one can discover more about the text by clicking the ghost icon to see a popup listing the article titles in which the place is referenced.

Because data for individual stories is quite limited, digital visualization was not the most effective manner of communicating the places described. One can infer significant information from maps and text that is difficult to translate digitally, especially if the historic maps you want to use are not georeferenced. So in the spirit of close reading, I opt to map some of the settings of these stories using paper and pens, with a tablet for tracing to help with scale. One such example traces the St. James’s Park Ghost. The area is largely unchanged for 400 years because it is the oldest royal park in London. This meant that historic data regarding the area was easy to locate and verify, various maps existed, and military maps listed guard stations that were relevant to the plot.

The experience of drafting such a map by hand, enhanced by a digital tablet, challenged me to rethink digital mapping completely. If I only have one point, out of context, does that point mean anything? What is required of me before I engage with tools that visualize data in ways I am not technically equipped to control? What do I risk by using these tools anyway? And how can I impart to an audience that I have asked myself these questions?

The hand-drawn map should be read in conjunction with the following articles.

Selected Geographic Data Sources

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual forms of knowledge production. Harvard University Press, 2014.

Elmes, James. A Topographical Dictionary of London and its Environs, edited by Bruce Hunt, maps.thehunthouse, 2013. E-book.

Finn, Jeanne and Roberts, Warren. “Georeferencing: Working with raster maps.” Claremont Colleges Library, 2021.

Hunt, Bruce. Bruce’s Lists of London Street Name Changes: Omnibus Edition. Maps.thehunthouse, 2013. E-book.

“St. James’s Park: History and Architecture.” Royal Parks. 2022.