Lab 3: Spatial Humanities

Step 1

What are the two spatial arguments being made?

The Swarthmore Sit-In map displays the geo-spatial representation of the events that occurred after the death of the President. They essentially argue the importance of the spatial organization of protests, and in this case, on college campuses.

The Hotchkiss’ neatline of the Battle of Chancellorsville displays the timeline and geographical representations of the movements that occurred. Arrows referred to the movements of the army help to understand the impact of the Battle. Text and pictures that explain how the decisions were made and the aftermath are linked to the map to help understand the event.

What features, display techniques, or visualizations advance these spatial arguments?

The Swarthmore Sit-In map uses traditional the Google map-like satellite visual to illustrate the campus on a realistic medium. They use zoom features and a magnifying glass to focus attention on the intended area. Once one is zoomed in close enough, the specifics of the event are indicated with red dots that signify the chronology and date of the proceedings. They highlight different locations and link to assets like pictures, articles, letters, and other relevant files that help give more context to the situation. This design is strong because it provides a visually intriguing and realistic design, and uses hyperlinks to provide more information, so the visual is not cluttered with words.

The mapping of the Battle of Chancellorsville displays the movements of an army across virginia over a three day period.  The site features interactive color overlays on a map of the region in which the battle took place.  Using numbering, arrows, and shading the project attempts to map the movement of the army.  Each of the three days has its own unique map overlays that display information about important events.  The effect of these display and visualization techniques is to give the user a better understanding of the movement of the battle over time. Important events are highlighted and both text and images are used to give users a better picture of the events that transpired.

What might you have done differently to strengthen the argument(s)?

In order to strengthen the argument, we would include an overview before entering the visual depiction because it would clarify the event before exploring the details. Also, we would suggest a path to take when exploring the different red dots, so we know we view the situation chronologically. The google map feature is interesting because it is realistic, but it does not need to be able to zoom out as much as it allows, because it makes navigation to the visualization more challenging to get to.

One technique that could have strengthened the argument of the Battle of the Chancellorsville project would have been to display the information one piece at a time.  Rather than dropping a large chunk of information, arrows, and links onto the map for each day, the project makers could have included more user interaction by chronologically displaying one section of the battle at a time.  This way users could focus on individual events one at a time, then move on to the next or add the next section to the map.  This would give users a better sense of the movement of the battle and a greater understanding of the change over time.

Step 2

  1. What are the two spatial arguments being made?

The Beijing of Dreams hypercity attempts to create a digital conservation of the architectural artifacts from Beijing. They consider this important because there are already few traces of the past, and it is important to conserve at least photographs so one can imagine traditional China.

The City Witness project follows the citizens of Swansea during and after the hanging of William Cragh, a Welshman who is said to have come back to life after his death.  Using documentation and archaeological evidence, researchers hope to display the movements of people throughout the town in order to better understand this miraculous event.

What features, display techniques, or visualizations advance these spatial arguments?

The display for the Beijing of Dreams project revolves mostly around a map of the city, with an interactive function that allows you to click on different walls, corners, gates, and artifacts that then leads you to images that are of or around that particular place. This function is successful because it not only gives the layout of the city in a visual map, but also allows you to delve into specifics without crowding the map. The basis of this project is relatively straight-forward, as its goal is to allow people to imagine how Beijing looked in the past. Another interesting aspect their emphasis on multi-platform use. Not only can one find the map on their computer, but they also can use their hand-held devices to consult the interactive map, which they encourage tourists who are actually in these parts of Beijing to do.

City Witness features 3d visual representations of the historical landscapes and buildings in medieval Swansea.  There are geospatial maps that attempt to display the city as it was at the time of the hanging, complete with interactive links and map overlays that show movement of villagers throughout the town.  Images, documents, and interviews are combined to give users a better sense of what this medieval city would have looked and felt like during the 1300’s.  The site includes virtual tours, games, and blogs that offer visitors to the site a wide variety of interactive activities.

What might you have done differently to strengthen the argument(s)?

If they wanted to strengthen the argument, they would have provided more context to the existing images, and added more assets than just images. Though they give a brief descriptions to what the photos are of, it would be stronger if they implied why certain images and places were important, and the impact they had on Beijing as a powerful city. Additionally, it could be interesting to have a comparison with the current map of Beijing, just to provide context to how much architecture has changed, and if possible, explain how and why through historical context.


The City Witness site could use different theme colors to make the website itself more attractive. Also, a drop-down menu from the top navigation bar may help users to get access to contents they want to know since users will need to click into different sessions to get further information right now. It would be more interesting if they could plot some of the important historical events or famous people to the maps.

Hypercities (see, http://www.hypercities.com/) vs. Neatline: What are the major differences between these two platforms/tools? Compare and contrast these two platforms/tools? What makes these “better” platforms/tools for making spatial arguments?

Hypercities has a clear and complex navigation system and makes use of multimedia to show the history and geographical changes of cities overtime. Audience could get information not just from maps, but also from images, interactive games and some origin documents. However, Neatline focuses more on the interactions with audience. Neatline projects always have a map as the basic layer and show the timeline of a series of events based on the same map. Users could learn about the information by clicking on the arrows and maps and through other interface designs.

Summary Statement

Though it is hard to generalize spatial humanities projects given their varied content and intentions, it is important to look for the patterns that make projects successful. One of the most important aspects of any spatial humanities project is the ability for easy and coherent navigation. If someone finds a certain project with valuable information, but cannot understand the most efficient way to navigate or the intended way to navigate, the project will not be successful. People who contribute in making these visualizations should do their best to create a clear and interesting display of information that does not take much “fiddling around” to navigate.

It is important for a geospatial humanities project to be accessible and user friendly.  Complexity and an abundance of information can make a user feel lost in the data.  By using shading, overlays, pathways, arrows and various other interactive techniques, researchers are able to break up information into simple, yet comprehensive chunks.  This is best displayed by the City Witness project’s “Discover Medieval Swansea” spatial map.  Using several interactive markers on various important locations in the town, researchers are able to display vast amount of information for each location on the map.  Users can click on a location and find information about tours in the area, the history of a location and its connection to the hanging, photos of the buildings today, virtual maps, and even images of artifacts that have been discovered. One if the main advantages of a spatial humanities project is the ability to show movement over time in order to develop a narrative.  Therefore, it is important for a project to direct the user through the map over time, rather than simply overwhelming them with a cluster of information.

It is also important to consider what kinds of contents are the most successful for spatial humanities projects. Maps are essential elements of such projects, and the importance of maps implies that  location matters and geography is important. Maps with arrows, highlights and images on it could clearly display the movements of people, property, and resources over time. The neatline project of the Battle of Chancellorsville is better displayed using a map also because the decisions made during wartime were also based on the maps. Hence, the maps will make it easier for the audience and users to learn about the history and the role that geographical elements played in the events. Using of maps can also reflect the relationship of time and geo-spatial changes. The Beijing of Dreams project is trying to show the Old Beijing with old photos and maps in this project show the changes of buildings overtime.

Lucy Marr, Dylan Thies, and Chenchen Zhao

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