Stanford’s Spatial History Project asks us an important question: Is conservation for the land or for the species? In their report, Peers and Santos look at the development of “open spaces” in relation to when endangered species are discovered and the spaces they truly occupy. Peers and Santos define open spaces as including ecological preserves, national parks, and protected parks, among many other areas that support California’s natural biodiversity. Through their charts and interactive map, Peers and Santos argue that there is a disconnect between land that has been designated as open spaces and the discovery of threatened and endangered (T&E) species and that many T&E species lie outside these open spaces even contemporarily
One of the merits of this project is its overall clarity in its message. Through the charts and the digital map, it is very easy to see the disconnect between open space acquisition and T&E species. The map itself makes wonderful use of the digital medium by displaying the gradual acquisition of land as open spaces and where T&E species are discovered over time. The digital maps allows a much clearer visual representation than the graphs alone do. The graphs are limited to define species as either inside or outside open spaces, but the map can show the viewer just how little the general acquisition of land matches up with the placement of T&E species. Viewers can see how much of the overlap in many of the earlier decades seems almost random and can see hot-spots of T&E species that are ignored.
The data here could be very useful for those wishing to address concerns about the processes that are used to acquire land to be designated as an open space, particularly at the state and federal levels. In addition, the projects opens the floor for other questions to be asked and researched. Do other states or areas in other countries have similar disconnects? What are the governing influences on land acquisition if not focused on the acquisition of land where T&E species reside? A layman could easily understand the data presented here and be intrigued by such questions, and the project does a good job of informing anyone who comes across it of the situation, with or without an extensive academic background on the subject. It definitely speaks to the argument that “The particular contribution of the digital humanities, however, lies in its exploration of the difference that the digital can make to the kinds of work that we do as well as to the ways that we communicate with one another” (Fitzpatrick). The use of the digital medium allows something that could have been presented without taking advantage of digital tools be much more concise and clear.
The map itself, while very informative, has a few issues that should be addressed. Firstly, the map is centered on a graph showing the T&E species that are either inside or outside open spaces. This is information that has already been presented to us in the various graphs of the report and draws attention from the new information presented in the geographic map of California. Additionally, the map does not account for much of the uncertainty in the data. In the “About” section, Peers and Santos note that some of the data listed general locations of T&E species as opposed to specific ones, yet this uncertainty is not referenced on the visual graphic in any way. Reuschel and Hurni’s “Mapping Literature: Visualization of Spatial Uncertainty in Fiction,” speaks very much to the importance of identifying such uncertainty to help remove any author bias and includes several methods of doing so which certainly would not be out of the question for this particular graphic. A final note is that even though the urban areas box is checked off from the opening of the interactive map, the city names are still displayed. However, after clicking the graphic to add or remove urban areas, the city names are only displayed if the box is checked. While the concept of allowing the viewer to choose whether or not to include city names overcomes the issue of the need of distortion to display everything clearly (Monmonier 23), if the cities and urban area definitions are to be separate at one point, they should remain separate as the incongruity can be confusing.
However, the importance and clarity of this project is not to be overlooked. I would suggest it to be viewed by anyone, but especially with those interested in improving land conservation or those who might be intrigued in finding out motivations as to why the particular land was acquired from a more economic standpoint.