Final Project post

While I enjoyed researching the town of Davidson and minority dwellings within the town, my project changed a bit from its conception to its final presentation. Originally, I wanted to have an interactive map where viewers could see how the town had changed over time and how different people conceptualized the town. Unfortunately, there was a lack of data on the specific area I was researching (Brady’s Alley) which should not have surprised me given its less than ideal living conditions. With this lack of data I shifted more towards gathering newspaper clippings and pictures (What was mostly available) while supplementing these with voices of townspeople through more archival data. I wanted to avoid getting IRB approval given the time constraints and so I relied heavily on data that other students collected and archival data. Over all, my project does get accomplished what I wanted it to which was to tell a story of a place and its peoples that is hardly recognized.

As I worked within historypin (and went back and forth between historypin or heganoo and even googlemaps at times), I realized that no tool is perfect. While historypin did not have every capability I wanted, it was the closest fit to what my project aimed to do and what I had to contribute. If I could make one last suggestion to historypin developers I would suggest they think about how many ways there product can be developed. When reading over my colleagues final thoughts I noticed Joe‘s commentary on Appinventor not handling complicated data as well as he would have hoped which I completely relate to. I actually considered using several different and more complicated apps and websites including Heganoo but I stuck with Historypin and figured out how to make my ideas fit within their capabilities.

The process was different than most project processes because I had the chance to show it to family and friends and found that their responses were more helpful than I had gauged.  Before this class, I assumed Beta-testing just meant testing with your colleagues to see how you felt about the product, but instead, it is much more enriching. I would have never thought to add more context without getting feedback over break.

In the end, I was able to use the subjects I love (Anthropology and History) to create a mapping exhibit which is an avenue I never expected to go down before this year. I hope my project is successful in getting its point across and I hope that people find it fascinating.

Final Project Summary: Process and Project Contribution to the Field

Final Project:  Davidson Mapping App

Process:

Part 1: The Idea

The idea behind the Davidson Mapping app was one grounded in simplicity and practicality, meaning that the idea was to come up with something that was both a simple concept while also having practical application. Simplicity of concept was necessary because the design tools available were all complex in their own way, and the last thing a project with an impending deadline needs is a complex idea to be executed by a complex process. As for practicality, keeping a user-base in mind while designing the project would help keep the project focused instead of abstract; I would be making something that would work for people rather than just look pretty.

The basic idea, before any platform was chosen, was to create something that helped people; students, parents, teachers, ect.; get around campus and know where places were. For example, many visitors and new students are often confused about locations such as the Duke Family Performance Hall and the Lily Gallery, as those are located inside other buildings and therefore often not included in visual maps that only show buildings. In addition, sometimes the colloquial names of buildings are not indicative of what they are used for, such as Chambers being the main space for English classes, or Sloan being the music center. Therefore, the plan was to create a platform where those who were confused could understand more about the space of Davidson easily.

Part 2: Creation

Figuring out what platform to use was the first integral step to this process. I had to decide between two major options. The first was a website, which would be able to handle various levels of complexity to fit my vision for the project. However, accessibility would most likely be limited to computers and, generally speaking, people don’t tend to get lost while sitting around using a computer. An app, the second option, would be more conducive to this audience since it could be used when they are out and about around campus, but the app program, AI2, only works for Android phones and has less complex functionality. In the end, I went with the app because the decrease in complex functionality probably wouldn’t hinder me very much, as I don’t have the skills to utilize complexity anyways.

Throughout the process of creating the app, I hit a few design blocks. Originally, I had programmed the app to take users to different screens featuring each location. However, this function served to bog the app down an incredible about as keeping many screens available required a lot of processing power. Therefore, I changed the design to feature various hidden components that could be revealed. Another issue I had to overcome was the file size of the images I used. When buttons representing each location were clicked, an image and corresponding description of the building would be revealed on the screen. When simply scaling down the pictures in the app, the large file size still remained in the app’s files. Therefore, I had to manually decrease the quality and size of the images so that when put into the app’s set of media, the file size would not be ridiculous. The final problem was the lack of a search function. I had originally intended for users to be able to search for places within the app, yet that function was proving to be too difficult to program. Therefore, I included two additional functions. The first was an image of the Davidson campus at large, which would help users pinpoint where they were. The other function was one that connected to a web browser that brought up the Davidson.edu search engine. In this way, users could look up any location that they either could not find or was not included in the app.

There are a few additional parts to the creation of the app. Most of the programming is redundant copies of code for different objects that need to behave the same way. The first and main screen of the app has the most programming, and the buttons are designed to toggle the visibility of the various groups of objects. There is also programming to set all these objects as invisible, as the app sets the elements visible by default. Additionally, the text must be spaced appropriately in the designer, as the space you can see in the app creator is not the same as what will appear in the actual app; a lot of trial and error was necessary to keep the text from overlapping with different parts of other texts. The other buttons simply navigate the screens.

Part 3: Results and Moving Forward

After beta testing, the feature most desired was specific directions to the various locations based on where you were when you accessed the app. The descriptions as of now have general directions to the various buildings, namely by saying what other buildings and features neighbor the structure in question. I do believe it is possible to attain this, but the programming is complex and wouldn’t meet the primary deadline and it is not essential to use of the app. Other features brought up when showcasing the app are as follows. Firstly, during better season I will need to update the pictures with more flattering weather as a backdrop or otherwise dive into the archives to find some quality pictures of the various buildings around campus. Next, I will need to add more locations to the app, and perhaps even group them. Right now, the locations are limited to main academic buildings and other buildings that would be important for freshmen and families of freshmen, who would most likely be in need of the app. After more time I can add more locations to make the app more comprehensive. After all this, hopefully the app would be in a good position to potentially submit this app to Davidson to be distributed to various parents and students during the year.

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Project and the Field of the Digital Humanities:

One of the biggest challenges that Digital Studies as a whole faces is how abstract and complex its fundamental products are. There is often a high threshold for complexity leaving many creators and users confused because they lack specific knowledge of the particular processes of the Digital Studies. In the realm of Digital Mapping, the various coordinate systems, terms, and file types prevent creators from going as far beyond traditional mapping ideas as they could and keeps the layman away from using the products, as only those immersed in the study of Digital Mapping can understand the scope of the complexity of some of the projects. They may be able to see the big picture, but unlike text files or images, very few understand the mechanics of the processes. With the Digital Map App of Davidson College, I hope to create a simple linking of the ideas of geospatial data that serves as both a practical tool for navigation as well as a simple example of how geospatial data can be approached by an average user.

Stephen Ramsay and Rockwell’s “Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities” offers a clear and concise summation of the general issues surrounding digital studies as a whole. Ramsay and Rockwell argue that the abstract nature of Digital Studies as a whole has left many within the community questioning and arguing about what the definition is. This is in part due to the wide range of complex ideas that are a part of different segments of the Digital Humanities, how “but their work is all about XML, XSLT, GIS, R, CSS, and C” (Ramsay, Rockwell). While many average users of computers understand how text can be bolded or italicized and at least know that JPEG and PNG files refer to images, for most people the aforementioned file types are simply gibberish. In addition, in Ramsay and Rockwell’s discussion, there is no uniformity in the use of these file types across even the subsections of the Digital Humanities. Not every map is made with GIS, and not every program is run by C. This complexity is part of why it seems Ramsay and Rockwell have left out discussion of the Digital Humanities for the common man, the only noticeable omission in the article. While I would have liked the discussion there, if the Digital Humanities departments cannot define themselves, then it would be difficult for a layman to have any idea where to start.

There are many attempts to explain the concept of geospatial data, a important concept to the subject of digital mapping, to the layman with mixed results. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempts to define geospatial data for those wishing to keep records, but their definitions and procedure reveal the outdated approaches that those working outside the Digital Humanities often take, whether out of ease or necessity. While offering advice on how to store records, the EPA states that “Geospatial data records are often in special formats (e.g., oversized paper maps or data sets). Therefore, it is especially important to identify the geospatial data records with appropriate metadata, so the records can be easily accessed and retrieved with other, related records” (Environmental Protection Agency, Frequent Questions about Geospatial Data and Records). Rather than believe the EPA is ignorant to the more condensed ways of storing geospatial data, it rather seems that they must suggest less compact ways of storing data by the virtue that they are simpler for the user in the face of the overwhelming complexity that shapefiles and raster layers may bring to the uninitiated record keeper. While the FAQ may not be a good robust description of the idea of geospatial data, it must limit itself to inefficient simplicity in order to explain itself to users.

However, even without the need to focus on practical applications like record keeping, the definition of geospatial data can remain elusive. Even the handbook of geospatial data, a “user manual” for those who are trying to understand geospatial servers, must resort to relating text and webpages into its language in order to convey just what geospatial data is. While the guide book makes the claim that “Soon a search for spatial data will be as easy as a Google search for a web page (OpenPlans, GeoServer 2.6.x User Manual) they also bring up “browser” based systems and offer very few concrete examples that truly explain what geospatial data is supposed to be. The handbook tries to argue that geospatial data is fundamentally different from other types of data, yet only describes it using comparisons.

However, to understand geospatial data one only needs to look as far as the concept of spaces and places in people minds, commonly referred to as a “mental map.” Ozkul and Gauntlett’s  “Locative Media in the City: Drawing Maps and Telling Stories” in Mobile Stories, serves as both an easy to comprehend discussion of what mental maps are as well as how people view geospatial data within their own minds. In their study, users were asked to “draw a map of London showing ‘frequently visited places’” (Ozkul Gauntlett 114). What surfaced did not take the form of raster layers, CSS code, or shapefiles placed by a complex coordinate system. Rather, people drew pictures and words in order to explain how geospatial data related to the real world. They also discussed concepts outloud that described how they viewed geospatial data, though they might not have personally called their ideas as such (114). This thorough discussion highlights one of the key difficulties that surrounds the abstract nature of many discussions on digital humanities. Text, pictures, and other common forms of data are not separate entities from geospatial data but rather simply another lense with which to view the various types of data that make up the world as a whole.

Data is not nearly as sectioned off into buckets of categories with no overlap as those who are obsessed with the quantitative over the qualitative might want you to think. Images like photographs can easily contain text, from a photo of a book to a simple captioned image. Text can be used to create images such as ASCII[1] art or emoticons[2]. The tools we use to create these are the same at their base as well. Webpages are made up of pixels which create both text and images, all of which are founded in the same code. There are different tools that produce similar results, but it is not the intrinsic makeup of these types of data that defines what they are but rather how we as people choose to interpret them. Likewise, geospatial data doesn’t need to be made up of completely different types of components from webpages or any other medium. What geospatial data does is combine the same elements that we use daily to produce other types of data in a way that people interpret as having to do with the space and place around them. This simplicity is something I hope to achieve with the Davidson Mapping App I am creating with the MIT aiAppInventor software[3].

Rather than trying to keep a purity of only geospatial data, the Davidson Mapping App attempts to look at text and image data through a geospatial lense. The current Davidson map[4] uses shapes and symbols as primary indicators of space, yet often that is confusing since people don’t tend to think in terms of those particular symbols but rather in terms of descriptions and mental pictures (Ozkul, Gauntlett). Therefore, the Mapping App adds textual descriptions and identifiable images to the available data to give users the best sense of where these spaces are, what they look like, and what they contain. Practically speaking, the text gives the buildings a sense of what they are commonly used for and the specific areas inside them, such as Hance Auditorium on the fourth floor of Chambers which, according to several Davidson students, was a very difficult place to locate the first time. The images help give the users’ mental maps a better foundation than the symbols; rather than simplistic shapefiles to go off of, users can have an image of the building or space in their minds that matches up very closely to what they will see when they approach the space. However, the app serves a purpose in getting users familiar with geospatial data itself as well.

MIT’s aiAppInventor is a program built around simplicity and therefore is a perfect medium to try to convey geospatial data in a clear and simple manner. The apps are programmed using predetermined blocks of code, which keeps the interface simple for both creators and users. While at first this design may seem limiting, it helps to streamline the application of use. One cannot incorporate GIS files or Excel data spreadsheets into this tool. Therefore, the cartographer and the layman are on common ground and data does not need to be translated from a complicated form back into simplistic terms. The app inventor does not work well for complicated projects, but is a great tool for understanding basic components of data and for presenting those components to a user.

In order to get definition at the higher levels of digital studies, we must first people to explain ourselves on simple terms to the average person. While there will always be an important place for discussion at the higher level of the subject, it’s important to make the Digital Humanities to be as accessible as possible for the common person as basic math, science, language or art is. Tools that appeal to our interpretation of geospatial data rather than the semantics about it will help us better understand what the essence of Digital Mapping within the Digital Humanities really is.

[1] ASCII art is made up of pictures using only the 128 characters from  American Standard Code for Information Interchange.

[2] Emoticons use the characters on a keyboard to denote certain facial expressions or emotions.

[3] http://appinventor.mit.edu/explore/

[4]http://www.davidson.edu/Documents/About/Visit/Campus%20Map/Campus-Map-8-5×11-2013.pdf

Citations

Didem Ozkul and David Gauntlett. “Locative Media in the City: Drawing Maps and Telling Stories” in Mobile Stories

“Frequent Questions: Records Management.” U.S Environmental Protection Agency. August 3, 2012. Accessed November 20, 2014. http://www.epa.gov/records/faqs/geospatial.html

Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell.  “Developing Things: Notes Towards an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities” inDebates in the Digital Humanities

OpenPlans, 2014 GeoServer 2.6.x User Manual, accessed November 20, 2014, http://docs.geoserver.org/stable/en/user/introduction/history.html

 

Beta-Testing Feedback

I sent out a survey to five people and then also included my family who had originally seen the project to get more formalized feedback. For my beta-test, I asked the following questions: What are the critiques of the overall format of the website; What do you think about the following features (Timeline, Glossary, Map Overlays); Does the project fulfill the goals that it sets out to achieve; What information about Davidson would you like/need to know to make the site more interesting.  The website that is discussed below can be accessed by clicking here.

Style

In terms of the first question regarding the overall layout of the the website,  I thought that perhaps there were too many dots and that people would not want to spend time looking through all the memories. The timeline, I hoped, might simplify this process if a user wanted to look at a specific decade. The comments that I recieved were positive about the layout and many enjoyed looking at the map. One person found the main flaw that I find with Neatline maps, which is the ability to zoom the map beyond the scope of the project, and another commented that the zoom button should be larger. One user liked the fact that the project automatically zooms in when you press a button, however, I do not like this feature and need to fix it. Another respondent had an issue with technology that prevented the satelitte image–the background of the base map–from loading. Other technological issues included a user who thought that the dots were hard to click on and see on one computer, but using the website on another computer fixed the problem.  In terms of the website layout, one respondent suggested providing a route to find the main page again after entering the map, however, I believe this issue can be more easily solved if the users just press the back button on their browser. Another user reasonably suggested that I provide more a ‘user’s guide’ on the main page to help people navigate the page.

The specific features–the timeline, glossary, and map overlays–received mixed feedback. For the timeline, many respondents thought it was not easy to use, and some were misunderstood the question and, instead of looking at the timeline on the map, went back to the Neatline site and looked at the timeline page that was incomplete. In order to solve this issue, I have removed the extra page on the website. One respondent who had seen the project previously said, “I think that the layout is a bit more navigable with the dragging timeline.” Another user thought it was odd that the Neatline timeline extended far into the future and the past (I agree) and suggested sarcastically that maybe I should include future memories as well. Still another thought (as I do) that the aesthetic of the timeline is visually unappealing because it is too wide and overwhelms the map. Unfortunately, this cannot be fixed. Although the glossary page was not meant to be accessed through the Neatline page, some users, instead of finding words that hyperlinked to the page, went and looked at the glossary in order to respond to my question.  Others could not find the glossary at all either from hyperlinked entries or on website. The glossary pages came form the Davidson archive, and included pictures and other quotes about the places. One user liked the picture aspect of the glossary, which makes me think I should add pictures to the main exhibit. Most appreciate the map overlays as a “cool addition,” but I do not think that most found it to be helpful in terms of thinking about the history of campus. One negative response thought that the overlay maps were, “Not very interesting, the old ones are kind of ugly lookig, the google map is the nicest.” One user though that the overlays are not an intuitive feature and he said, “Map overlays were really pretty cool, and helped me better relate the stories I was reading to the geography in which they took place- that being said, I wouldn’t have found it if you hand’t told me what to click.” For the same user that had  previously faced technological issues, the overlays maps were “blurred and not helpful.”

Content

In terms of content, given the responses of the respondents, I think that my original suspicion that there are too many dots is true. Many people get tired of looking through the memories and, thus, give recommendations for entries that already exist. For example, one respondent replied that he would have enjoyed longer entries about activities that occurred in specific buildings that might not take place there anymore, which is the entire point of most entries. However, I believe that his response may have been because this particular respondent moves in the science circles of Davidson that are not as prominent on the map.  Many people said they would have liked to see more modern memories although others expressed their appreciation in the historical aspect of the project. For example, a history major that reviewed the project said, “I really like the idea of being able to hear voices from on campus over the course of many years. Its a good reminder that this is a dynamic and changing place.”

Other content related feedback regarded whether the project is interesting and what information would make it more informative. In terms of the whether the project was interesting, I got feedback that ranged from responses that the project was “moderately interesting” to users who just wanted to know “Where have people made out in the last century?” One user wanted to know the source of the memory, which is something that I could include in the ‘About’ section or in a ‘User Guide.’

Conclusion

From the responses that I got, I think that I need some way to limit the user and also guide them on how to use the site. Also, because not many people were that invested in exploring the site, maybe I need to think of some way to make the site more engaging, such as including pictures with every entry, providing more maps, or entering more modern memories.

PA 9 – Beta testing responses

As I described in one of my previous blog posts I sent a questionnaire out to 10 participants. I received feedback from six over the weekend which I believe is enough to record my results.

Overall there were positive responses to my questions on functionality. Every button worked and every picture loaded, but I found a variety of critiques on the ease of use of my project. For the participants I sat down with I found myself explaining what to do a lot of times. One suggestion, that could go under style was to have each feature loaded in the sidebar as a waypoint, that way no one would accidentally skip over some features (which many participants admitted did happen).

In terms of the authors intent, the participants suggested that I place a blurb at the beginning of the neatline exhibit explaining the intent. While a few participants read through my introduction and literature review on the other exhibit pages, others admitted that those were a little long to read for a website. Many that I sat down with understood the intent once I explained how to work the neatline exhibit, but finding a way to limit my need for explanation would be helpful. I have instructions at the bottom of the exhibit but, again,one participant suggested for them to go at the top. While this is an excellent suggestion, I am not quite sure how to do this.

The questions that received the most feedback were the ones surrounding style. One suggestion was to include a variety of the images I have collected throughout my project. Because I have these already digitized, the participants argued that it would make the text seem a lot shorter if there are images to accompany it. While I do not agree that it will make the text shorter, adding pictures will add context and another visually appealing aspect. The trick now is to figure out how to add images without it getting to cluttered. I had a lot of feedback about the timeline feature. While I thought it was extremely cool that the participant was forced to scroll through time and various maps would pop up, one participant found this confusing, one was not sure when the chapters switched, and one admitted that she could not figure out how to use this feature. One participant suggested having each chapter available on the sidebar or make them visible on the actual timeline itself. While I was against putting them on the sidebar at first, the participant had a convincing argument. They said that although I want my text to be read in sequential order, one of the most powerful parts of my project is comparing maps from time periods that are very far apart.

The most useful feedback I received about the storytelling part of my project goes alongside functionality. For two participants it was their first instinct to click on the chapter title instead of introduction first. While I said in the instructions to select introduction to begin the story, two participants said that instinct will probably win over my instructions. With that they argued that my story would flow very well if I had the introduction be a part of the chapter title. I believe I want the introduction to be a separate step, but I think labeling each feature with numbers could direct the audience towards the linear story. One thing I don’t particularly like about that idea is that its interesting to click random features because many developments happened at the same time, and it allows for more interactivity. In all, the thing I will take from the suggestions about storytelling is that people will click on the chapter title first, and to make that an opening picture or statement about that chapter.

Many participants liked the interactivity of the project. One problem people ran into was the project looks different on different sized computer screens. For example, the project is very visually pleasing and easy to navigate on a school desktop computer, but a personal laptop was harder to see and click through buttons. I am not sure how to fix this besides explicitly saying that in the instructions. One participant did use her iphone with it which proved to be a huge disaster. Overall, all participants enjoyed clicking through the features, but mentioned that scrolling through the timeline was tedious. When I thought scrolling through years in seconds would not be tedious, I did not see the extra work it took participants who could not figure it out.

Lastly, I received interesting feedback on the purpose of my project. 8 5 informants said it added to their understanding of Davidson’s history and 1 said it added to their understanding of Davidson’s landscape history. This response was troubling to me. My purpose for my project was to examine social and landscape changes and how they are related, but I believe the environmental aspect was lost in the website. I think one way to fix this would be to explicitly state when I am talking about social changes, and when I am talking about landscape changes. Almost every introduction mentioned only social changes so I could rewrite that section to explicitly discuss social changes instead of presenting it as an overarching introduction to each chapter.

Along with purpose I added one question on my proposed map on the ideal Davidson. As I have already created this map I know I can add it easily, but I asked various participants what they thought and what they thought it would add. Overall 5 participants suggested that I leave the map out because it will not add to my overall purpose. 1 participant suggested that I put it in a different neatline exhibit. Because I want to spend my time making the best exhibit possible, I have decided to leave out this aspect of my exhibit. Hopefully this decision will not be a bad one.

In all, I received a variety of helpful suggestions which I plan to implement in the next few days.

Theory of the Project

When looking at a map, the following questions arise: What subjectivity is the author of the map bringing to the picture? What (or who) is included or excluded from the map? How can you make a map that is totally inclusive? In my project, Memory Box, I attempt to create a map that highlights how individuals personalize the space around them with memories or traditions by deconstructing the components of a mental map and presenting just the subjective memories on which these maps are based. Through this project, I aim to engage with theory about inclusive methods of map-making and to place my project among other mental mapping projects.

In this literature review, I will first explain the inherent subjectivity of maps, and, second, discuss how personal experiences impact locative thinking with a method called mental mapping. Third, I will explore how to imbue digital maps with more personal connections and, fourth, detail how my project, Memory Box, combines elements of mental mapping and presents it on a digital platform.

Subjective Maps in a Digital and Non-digital Age

Looking at the world from Google Earth is a seemingly objective view of reality; however, as argued by Jason Farman in “Mapping the Digital Empire: Google Earth and the Process of Postmodern Cartography,” Google must skew the picture of the earth using a projection, such as the Western-centric Mercator projection, and introduce a level of subjectivity into the landscape (878). Thus, even in the digital age where many users have access to and partial authorship of maps, the “democratization” of maps is not complete and, instead, digital maps have become an empire dominated by Google and those with access to the internet (871). Thus, although Farman writes that digital media users can “define” and “inhabit” space as “embodied interactors,” digital maps contain as much subjectivity and are as exclusive as the drawn maps that were their predecessors (885). The innate subjectivity of all maps is reiterated by many scholars, such as sustainability researcher, Katriini Soini, who argues that maps are a way for humans to conceptualize and present their view of the world. She writes, “Mapping is a very old method of constructing and conceptualizing the world. Humans have prepared maps for various purposes for thousands of years. In the earlier times, maps were regarded as abstractions of the world or reality, but, nowadays, they are viewed as means of communication and intermediating values and power” (237). Thus, even in an era where gathering and displaying the information on maps has been improved by technology, the inherent subjectivity of maps pervades.

Showing and Studying Subjectivity Through Mental Maps

Understanding that maps are not a complete representation of the truth leads to an examination of how to convey the spots on a map that are ambiguous or subjective and how to assess the impacts of subjective mapping. For example, in the smell maps of Kate McLean, a professor of Information Experience Design, uncertainty is conveyed through rings of circles that are essentially statistical confidence intervals centered on the true location of a smell. In addition to ambiguity, I think that showing the subjectivity of maps is important, especially since it is a part of all maps. One of the more interesting ways of showing subjectivity is through mental mapping, which is a methodology that seeks to understand how individuals conceptualize and interact with the space they inhabit.

The term mental mapping encompasses a variety of methods including hand-drawn drawings of places and habitual pathways, maps with color coding or symbols inserted onto them in order to convey an individual’s experience or emotions about a place, and even concept maps that helps to organize information and assist with learning. As defined by cultural geographer, J.J. Gieseking, mental mapping is, “A lens into the way people produce and experience space, forms of spatial intelligence, and dynamics of human–environment relations ranging from the minute experiences of everyday life to larger structural oppressions (Gieseking 712). In “Exploring the human dimensions of multifunctional landscapes through mapping and map-making,” Soini discusses how mental mapping is used in various fields, such as humanistic and cultural geography and behavioralism. In these fields, researchers analyze maps in order to see how people organize geographic information in their minds, prioritize certain locations because of familiarity or attachment to those places, link places to the emotions they arouse, and derive the social order of a location and their place within that order. The focus of this article is primarily how mental maps are used to conduct research about the social and psychological experiences of humans.

In her article, “Where We Go From Here: The Mental Sketch Mapping Method and Its Analytic Components,” Jack Jen Gieseking, analyzes the mental maps of the alumnae of an all girls school using the steps laid out in the seminal work on mental mapping, Image of a City, which are as follows: (1) asking what first came to mind in terms of the image of the space; (2) requesting that an individual draw a map of the space; and (3) asking for his or her detailed movements on an average day (715). She then analyzes the resulting maps by comparing metrics of the three components: Mechanics of Method, which is how accurately does the individual draw reality; Drawing Elements, which includes the nodes, edges and landmarks the drawers inserts; Narratives of Place, how to the drawn elements contribute the authors’ self of sense and sense of the place; and Personal, which is a category focused on the most personal experience of the individual (716). The focus of this study was to give structure to how individual mental maps are interpreted and compared, and to provide a blueprint for analysis in other research.

Mental Maps and Social Media

Mental maps show how people’s brains connect things, places, and memories in a geographic way and how locations contain meaning, but translating mental maps onto a digital format is difficult, especially given that platforms for digital maps (such as Google Maps) lack details about the ordinary regions that individuals primarily inhabit. To reiterate Farman’s argument, not only are maps, including Google Earth, subjective, they are also exclusive in terms of who has access to making them and what areas are shown in detail on the map. For example, StreetView and other details are provided for Davidson College, but not for Chennai, one of the major cities in India–this not only reveals that Google priorities North Carolina over Tamil Nadu, but also it limits where geographical information can be inserted. Not only are digital maps incomplete in terms of what locations are included, but also geosocial media is limited in what places can be shared.

According to Mark Sample, a professor of digital studies, location in and of itself is not interesting, but geosocial media can be used to imbue locations with meaning. He writes, “Maps convey a limited range of geographic experiences: distance, elevation, vegetation, rivers, and buildings. But maps fail to convey the meaning of these geographic elements, how they impact both the broad history of a place and the daily life of the people who live there” (Sample 73). While the aforementioned mental mapping projects are one method of imbuing the meaning that Sample argues maps lack, his article focuses on how geosocial media is also a tool for giving places meaning in a digital world. Similarly, in her article “Pinterest for Public History,” Michelle Morvac, a professor of history, encourages historical societies to use a form of geosocial media, Pinterest, as a tool to enrich and publicize exhibits. In a similar vein, UNESCO World Heritage Sites uses Pinterest to create maps of Heritage sites throughout the world, including the UK, France, and Italy. Using the popular social media, Pinterest, historical societies and individuals can include geographic information in their posts, but, as Sample argues, the locational information that can be included on most geoscial media is mainstream and not important. In his article “Location is Not Compelling (Until it is Haunted),” Sample argues that social media only allows users to mark certain places that use geosocial media as advertisement instead of the nether regions that are off grid but more a part of our daily lives. This is also the limitation of Pinterest Maps, which only allows users to mark well-known places, such as restaurants, instead of areas that may be of more interest. For example, in this Pinterest Map of Davidson, the restaurant Toast and coffee shop Summit Coffee could be pinned because they are listed on Foursquare, but specific buildings on campus cannot that are the stage of campus activity cannot be pinned. In order to make spaces more meaningful, geosocial media should be used to mark the nether places, such as sidewalks or parking lots that make up the majority of our day instead of using it to mark the typical locations of bars or restaurants. This provides a more meaningful map as well as one that is more inclusive.

Memory Box

For my project, I will gather specific locational memories from current Davidson students and alumnae and create an online mapping exhibit featuring these memories. This project takes the process of mental mapping and deconstructs it. Instead of letting users show the relative importance of certain areas by including these places on the map or drawing them larger than other places or before other locations as in Gieseking and Soini’s projects, I am condensing each individual’s contribution to the map to only a quote or memory about a place on Davidson College’s campus. Soini argues that how people feel about places is a critical component of mental maps; however, she also argues that mental, or cognitive, maps show “relationships between these concepts” and “represent links between ideas” (227; 232). Instead of tracing a daily pathway like most mental maps, my project draws exclusively on the emotional side of mapping. Thus, my map does not have the links between multiple locations that create a holistic depiction of an individual’s understanding of a place as with mental mapping, but rather, similar to the geosocial media as mentioned by Sample or represented by Pinterest, my maps focus on specific locations and memories. However, unlike the limiting social media, I will include locations, such as second floor library carrels or the tree in the middle of Patterson Court, that are off-grid yet comprise important memories for students. By expanding the scope of map layout, and also by including a wide range of student input, I will create a format for a more inclusive map that creates a “truer” picture of Davidson College. While my methodology aims to extract the what places have most meaning for people, I may find, like Gieseking, that many people included places that lack deeper personal meaning, but may have some cultural or social meaning. For example, in her study, people included the off-campus stables on their map even though they had never visited (172). Similarly, people at Davidson College may include universal memories, such as studying in the library or union. According to Gieseking, the outcome and usefulness of research using mental maps is to inform policy makers about the relationships people have with the elements of a physical place, which can lead to better planning for areas or reveal spatial segregation and inequalities (713). The final outcome of my project may to be to critical think about the changes around campus and how the smaller, out-of-the-way locations on campus contribute to student’s overall experience.

Bibliography:

Farman, Jason. “Mapping the Digital Empire: Google Earth and the Process of Postmodern Cartography.” New Media and Society (2010): 869-888. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Gieseking, J.J. “Where We Go From Here: The Spatial Mental Mapping Method and Its Analytic Components for Social Science Data Gathering.” Qualitative Inquiry (2013): 712-724. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Moravec, Michelle. “Pinterest for Public History.” march.rutgers.edu. The Mid-AtlanticRegional Center for the Humanities. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

Sample, Mark. “Location is Not Compelling (Until it is Haunted).” Mobile Stories: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies. New York: Routledge, 2014. 68-78. Web. 20 Nov.  2014.

Soini, Katriina. “Exploring human dimensions of multifunctional landscapes through mapping       and map-making.” Landscape and Urban Planning (2001): 225–239. Web. 20 Nov.  2014.

 

Final Project Plan

 

TO DO LIST

Week of November 10th

Create survey
Find resources for historical data
Explore formatting on Omeka

Week of November 17th

Send Survey
Gather corresponding resources
Finalize Formatting on Omeka

Week of November 24th

Troubleshooting Omeka
Investigate historical maps
Add layers of maps to Omeka

Week of December 1st

Combine data and maps
Publish all to Omeka
Add finishing touches to website

In my original proposal, I planned on creating an interactive platform where users could enter their own memories of the places at Davidson College. For this interface, the ideal tool would be an Andriod or iPhone app; however, I do no think that making a complex app is a feasible goal for my project. Instead, I am switching the design of project to be more research-based as opposed to user-dependent. For the first few weeks of my project, I will be collecting data on individual memories of places around Davidson campus by sending out a survey to all students and looking through the archives for old quotes or descriptions. Additionally, I will use this time to explore the design elements of Neatline to see what is the best way to present the information and whether a more interactive design is possible. Neatline specializes at presenting historical data so I have decided to capitalize on this capability, and include more historical maps of Davidson in my project and take advantage of this as a way to improve my geo-referencing skills. In general, I will need to build in more time for troubleshooting the problems that arise as I research and build the website.

Final Project Dates and Tasks: Anthony Elias

For my project, I will create an exhibit that will allow users to see and have a basic idea of the map of a certain type of Davidson College student. In a sense this will be think mapping; however, instead of having many layers of maps, the base map will remain the same while the specific routes, buildings, zoom, etc.. will change. Define the Person, See the Map. Users will see different maps based on whether the student is an athlete or non-athlete, their grade, and whether they are in a Patterson Court organization or not.

Determine different variables: COMPLETED

These are the different types of students that I will use for my project.
These are the different types of students that I will use for my project.

 

Gathering Data: 11/5 to 11/15

My plan is to present each participant with a campus map and have them draw their ideal mental map to the best of their ability. I will have questions ready to help them  jog their memory so that they don’t forget any important spaces that might seem so routine in their daily schedule that they don’t even consider it. I will need to ask more than 1 person per ‘variable set’ in order to avoid a map that is only specific to certain people instead of certain types of students.

Making the Exhibit

Part 1: 11/15 to 11/20

With my numerous campus maps with drawn mental maps on them, I will average each variable set to form a mental map that isn’t extremely general or specific. For example, the map of a sophomore/athlete/Patterson Court Organization student could include information from a wrestler in Kappa Sigma, a football player in Phi Delta Theta, and a field hockey player from Connor House.

Part 2: 11/20-11/30

Once I have the averages of the mental maps, I will use either Google Map Engine or Neatline (I’m leaning heavily towards Neatline) to create my project. I plan on using the default view for the base map and applying different colored routes and buildings for each variable set. Instead of toggling variables on and off, the user will click through the exhibit by the tabs on the right side. Accompanied with the different routes and colored buildings, I will include a description explaining why there are similarities in differences between certain maps, and potentially include a tour of each map using Google tour builder. The exhibit should be completed by 11/30.

Last: 12/1-possible last deadline

At this point, my project should be winding down to being finished. Once I have completed my exhibit, I will take the remaining time to add any extra features or fine tune other parts. I can also have people use it before I present it to get their opinions. I believe that my argument will create an argument about how the campus is used by certain types of students. Furthermore, it will be exciting to see how much or how little of a change there is between maps of different types of students.

 

Project Time Table

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Friday November 21st – Literature Review Completed

Tuesday December 2nd – Have tested project on participants

Thursday December 18th – Final Day to Turn in Project