Omeka/Neatline Critique – PA 2

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As I am starting my final project using Neatline and Omeka, I thought it would be an appropriate time to critique these tools.

In his article, Jeff McClurken asserts that Omeka is a tool that challenges students to think creatively by making them uncomfortable. As McClurken points out, Omeka is free, it has a large number of useful plugins that provide multiple functionalities, and the basic site is easy to use. Building a complicated site does take more effort and background research, but that taps into McClurkens argument that we learn from being uncomfortable.

One of the most unique aspects of Omeka/Neatline is that it allows you to create a map out of something that isn’t a typical map. By typical map I mean a territory map, as Seth Long refers to it. Long argues that digital mapping interfaces allow multiple finite selectionsto be layered onto one another. In his post he refers mostly to maps of places, but Omeka/Neatline brings digital mapping one step further and allows for maps of any digital picture. A Neatline map could be of a famous painting, a poster with only words, or a city. It allows for mapping to go beyond physical location and enter into the world of mental maps.

In addition to producing unconventional maps, Neatline embraces the term “thick mapping” and provides the opportunity to combine stories, locations, and images in one cohesive exhibit. Nowviskie addresses how Neatline calls for drawing rather than simply creating which gives a more artistic sense to the program. I would go even further and say that Neatline allows authors to discuss, teach, and argue. The thick mapping abilities of Neatline make the “second text” (as refered to by Dodge and Kitchin) just as obvious as the first. Dodge and Kitchin argue that digital cartographies possess second texts that are conscious and unconscious ideological messages that must be deciphered. Neatline allows an author to portray their messages without much deciphering. It provides an inter-textual and multimedia platform that gives an author free reign on presentation and argument.

As with all digital humanities tools, Omeka and Neatline are not perfect. One of the main criticisms I have for Neatline is there is no simple way to demonstrate uncertainty. Reschuel and Hurni point towards the importance of mapping uncertainties in fictional literature, and their concerns can and should be applied to historical mapping. When mapping histories, it is important to note that most of the data comes from oral accounts, history books, drawn maps, and aerial photographs. With each of these resources, one can never recreate history with 100% certainty. If Neatline had a way to demonstrate uncertainties of locations and date ranges the projects would be more accurate (ironically by demonstrating their inaccuracies).

Overall Neatline is a useful tool (with a learning curve) that allows for comprehensive digital mapping exhibits. I would recommend it for any “thick mapping” project.


Define the Person. See the Map.

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My project will provide portrayals of different types of Davidson College students’ mental maps to the user in order to show how the campus is used, which will indicate spatial importance amongst students.

My thinking for this project has originated as we’ve talked about maps (and more specifically, mental maps) in class; we’ve come to the conclusion that mental maps of the same location differ because people don’t have identical views of the world. Variables such as age, perception of distance, ease of traveling, importance, etc… come into play when creating these maps. What one person deems far might be valued as close for another. In Soini’s article, we learn that mental mapping shows spatial preferences of an individual (Soini, 229). At Davidson College, our spatial preferences are shaped by what we have to do and what we have time to do when we aren’t occupied by academic, athletic, or extra-curricular responsibilities.  In this way, a mental map is a way of identifying someone or people.  The spaces they frequent say certain things about them. However, a portrayal of someone’s mental map reveals much more about him/her than just location, especially at Davidson.

In order to answer the question of ‘What does a Davidson College student’s mental map look like?”, I argue that not one map, but many are needed because a Davidson College student is a very broad term. As Farman states in “Site-Specificity, Pervasive Computing, and the Reading Interface” of Mobile Stories, “Stories tend to offer the illusion that they present the events in their entirety (and if they leave out anything, the omitted portions are simply not relevant)” (Farman, 9).  This is highly relevant to my project; a mental map of one type of Davidson student will omit things that actually aren’t relevant to him/her whereas another map might include those things.  I want portrayals of the mental maps to be accurate, but I don’t want them to include useless information, which is why I will have many different portrayals for the user to view. Accordingly, certain variables must be included in differentiating these mental maps in order for generalizations to be eliminated (not all Davidson students are the same) but specificity to be limited (narrowing down too much will end up focusing on a particular person). The variables to consider are:

  • Whether the map is for a student-athlete or student non-athlete
  • Grade
  • Whether student is in a fraternity/eating house
  • Time of year (in and out of season and finals period)

Based on the first three variables, there will be 16 different options to choose from.  This means that I will have to talk to at least 16 people to gather the data I need.  From here, I will need to decide on a program in which I will build my map.  I understand that the amount of information that I am including may be problematic, so my backup plan is to just focus on athletes.

My project, made up of many different maps, will give the user the ‘big picture’ regarding differences and similarities of students’ maps at Davidson College. Radzikowska mentions in “The Iterative Design of a Project Charter for Interdisciplinary Research”, that different parts make up the important whole. The important message doesn’t have to come from one giant map with a ton of information, but instead it can result from a sum of relevant maps that each say something about Davidson College. My project could show that 11 out of the 16 options have a certain building in their mental map, which would indicate that this particular building is well-rounded and makes good use of the space, which I deem an important message for future building development.  The messages that my project provides the user will be shaped by how the user received the messages. Therefore, the program that I use will be just as important as the information it shows. Douglas Adams, when talking about how an idea grows in the interview, states that “your decision about what kind of thing it is then determines how it develops.” How I ultimately want my message to be received will be decided on the medium that I use to show it.



PA Proposal

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Kiana Barry


For my final project I will study race in the town of Davidson as it has changed over the last 50 or so years. Because the topic of race and place is so personal and individualized, I want to make this into an oral history that is presented over time through mapping tools. Hearing the stories of Davidson residents of all colors and relating those stories to each other and the physical history of the town will be my biggest task. Even though racial trends can be very academic, they affect different people different ways and part of my project is contextualizing these understandings in a physical way through maps. One of the best tools for this is the mental map. Katrina Soni asserts in her piece “Exploring Human Dimensions of Multifunctional Landscapes Through Mapping and Map-Making”, “mental maps are an amalgam of information and interpretation reflecting not only what an agent knows about places but also how he or she feels about them,”(27).  My mental map of the town of Davidson will be very different from another students’ based on my year and the amount of time I have(not) spent exploring, which is reflecting that I know very little about the town because up until recently, I never felt it was integral to know much about the town. Because my center is the campus and I do not have a car on campus, my mobility is limited. I think this is related to the idea of mapping supermarkets in which the person who is asked to map the local supermarket versus a larger chain market. Because of frequency of visits, people knew how to map the stores they frequented often just as I could map Davidson College but not anywhere past the train tracks or Main Street really because I don’t visit those area frequently.

Looking at Seth Long’s piece, “Digital Maps and Social Space” speaks explicitly to the point that maps are selective in what they display which reflects on the cartographer. When we looked at maps of Davidson in the archives, the map that didn’t show past the train tracks which is the African American area of Davidson had an explicit message about Davidson: that part of town is not important. Drawing form Lefebrve’s Production of Space, when thinking about the Sparrows Nest or the Train Tracks themselves, both structures that represent segregation in Davidson, the Sparrow’s Nest outlives its original purpose while the train tracks still represent a divide between socio-economic classes and races.

My goals are: tell the story of Davidson from accounts of people who have lived here for a long time against the backdrop of a physical landscape of a map. My next step includes meeting with Dr. Blodgett in Archives to get leads on different people for interviews and for an overview on how the town has changed.

PA 6 Project Proposal

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Question to be answered

I propose to create a digitized version of my Senior Capstone Project. My current project is a series of maps I have created on ArcMap, a comprehensive timeline, and a narrative of chapters that answer the question how has the landscape of Davidson College changed between 1837 and 2013. My background research includes archival research, history books, aerial photography, and interviews. I am investigating the history of the landscape to the East of Baker Drive and to the North of Laundry and Commons – including the ecological preserve, “down the hill”, the cross country trail, and the newly purchased McIntosh Farm. Although I have created these maps, timeline, and narrative for my Capstone Project I have no way of presenting them as one unit. Yes, there is a paper, but no way of presenting all of my work to the general public unless the viewer is well versed in ArcMap and has access to my folder of work that includes images, maps, Davidsonian articles, and other research. While the final paper is important, it is also important to link the paper back to the initial research in case someone wants to verify or explore my sources. Additionally, my capstone currently isn’t digital. As Seth Long argues, digitizing maps can “move work closer to an objective view of material space. To fix these issues I will use my DIG360 project and create an online exhibit using Omeka and the Neatline Plugin.

How the question will be answered

The online exhibit will include a page (or neatline time frame) for each of my maps overlaid on a present day map of Davidson College. As you go through the exhibit hopefully you will be able to click on each building, road, or other feature and find the source I used to draw it along with the narrative that goes along with that time period.

Going Beyond my Capstone

In order to place this project in conversation with our class goals, I will look towards the future of Davidson College and include a short study on the ideal College Campus. I will adapt methods from the human centered design activity, and Sommer and Atkin’s Shopping mall paper and ask a number of students and faculty what their ideal campus (only in my study area) would look like. I will provide a basemap of Davidson College for them to have references and draw from. I will not ask them to pull anything from memory, but instead to focus on what they value in the Davidson College landscape, and what they would change. To combine the data I will draw out the ideal map of Davidson College in a similar format as McLean’s Smell map on ArcMap and include it in my omeka exhibit. The smell map uses a complicated key and categorization method that I will adopt for symbolizing student and faculty mental maps. Instead of including a narrative with the exhibit I will write a short discussion on the use of value mapping as a way to understand human relationships with the landscape around them.

Goals of Project

  • To digitize capstone project in a user friendly, in depth Omeka exhibit
  • To develop a map of the Student and Faculty Ideal Campus in my study area



Interactive Davidson Search Map

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While conversing with my classmates about problems they faced with regards to geography and mapping, I recalled my own troubles finding locations around Davidson when I first arrived. While there is a standard Davidson Map, the map provides little information as to what buildings are and is generally unhelpful if you don’t already know the name or location of what you are looking for. For example, someone might know they need to find a music building, but they would be unable to know  where it was if all they are given is a long list of buildings who’s names refer to donors rather than the things they house. Therefore, I am proposing to create an interactive map that adds one more detail to the equation: Descriptions of the space indicated on the maps.

Dealing with LeFev’s ever present discussion on the difference between space and place, the key thing this project attempts to address is how space relates to the places depicted on the map. The general Davidson map only gives physical dimensions and names, whereas your average user could need much more information than that. In addition, much of the external data needed for these brief descriptions is already publicly available, just simply not organized into a usable medium.

The basic plan to put this idea in action is as follows. First, I will collect as much information as I can about all the various buildings that are important to Davidson College. This may include off campus sites as well as clarification on important areas within large buildings, such as the Duke Performance Hall in the Union. Then, a system will be created where a user can either choose a building from a map and get the associated description or type in key words or phrases into a search bar in order to find a particular description of what they need. Rushel and Herny have stated, the use of a particular type of tool is important to understand how you might limit your users in the future. The plan right now would be to make this available on a mobile app so people can access it at just about any time. Of course, like Douglas Adams said in his interview, it is important to critically think about how the tool will manifest and what problems this media might present. The biggest challenges will most likely be in the programming of the app, while data collection and implementation may simply be somewhat time consuming. It may be that the idea takes form as a website instead with easier maneuverability and different available tools.

Memory Box

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For alumni and current students, the campus of Davidson College holds many memories, and, for my final project, I would like to present those memories and thoughts on a map of campus. As suggested in the “Ten rules for humanities scholars new to project management,” it is important when starting any creative process to ask, “What contribution/important intervention is this project making?” In mapping the memories of Davidson College campus, I aim to archive the student experience and how that has changed overtime–including positive and negative, social and academic experiences. Having locational memories of Davidson’s buildings could potentially inform administrative decisions about the necessity of the current slue of renovations and building projects on campus, inform the college about the mental health of its students, highlight current and historic problem areas on campus, or merely be an interesting record of the time spent at Davidson.

The culmination of this project is an interactive website (or mobile app) that will allow users to zoom and tag places on campus and anonymously insert memories. In addition to engaging current students to insert their memories, I aim to contact alumni or use the resources in the Davidson Library archives to bring in a historical perspective on what students used to do and what has happened on campus. The memories presented on the website will entirely depend on what users bring to the site: memories of going out during Frolics or memories of studying during finals. Potentially, as Nedra Reynolds found in “Maps of the Everyday: Habitual Pathways and Contested Places,” user input may reveal spatial boundaries between certain groups on campus, similar to the Leeds students who were afraid to walk through certain parks or neighborhoods or the anonymous interface may serve as a sounding board for current  issues (similar to YikYak). Ultimately, my role in the project will be to create a design that is easily accessible and fun to use.

The first and most important step in the methodology for creating the website will be to decide which tool could create a simple and clean design for users. Second, I will ask people to post memories to the map and to share the website in order to gather data and create as holistic of a picture of Davidson as possible. Thus, as I move forward, I will need to keep the user of the website in mind, since user input is the crux of my project. Although I will be working alone on this project, I think that some of the goals outlined by Stan Ruecker and Milena Radzikowska in “The Iterative Design of a Project Charter for Interdisciplinary Research” are applicable to my own project. Specifically, their goal to “move forward at a steady pace” is an admirable goal for any project; however, I believe it is important to keep in mind, as they do, that creative projects can often pass through many phases before the final version and creativity should not be hindered by deadlines. As I mentioned above, the user will be the critical component of this project and I will need to test and revise the interface of the website in order for design a website that not only works but also inspires people to use it.

As I develop the website, I may find that there are limitations to what I can achieve. For example, in many in-class discussions, the topic of exclusion has been a primary focus–who has access to the map, whose view does it represent, are maps accurately representing the truth? In making a repository of memories of the Davidson College campus, I may also have this bias and may have to limit which memories can be included. For example, while Chambers should obviously be included on the map, I may not be able to include places that are important for certain groups, such as the backstage of the theatre or the varsity athlete’s weight room. I also may not be able to include places that are not marked by physical structures. This limitation is summarized by Henri LeFebvre, who raises the question about the relative importance of the built versus the natural environment in a landscape–i.e. are the freshman dorms more important than the tree behind Commons?

In conclusion, through Omeka or a mobile app, I aim to design a map that serves as a memory box for Davidson College that will not only serve as diary of the student body, but may also reveal something new about the current situation or history of campus.

Davidson map

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Mapping the new testament

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A social network of the New Testament.

Issue maps

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The European Union is piloting what they call “issue maps” – a take on storymaps, but about pressing issues like climate change: