The Productive Scholar: Simple Map Tools for Complex Data

Topic: Simple Map Tools for Complex DataSimpleMapTools-Temos-Johnston
Speakers: Ben Johnston and Janet Temos

Time: Thursday, February 20, 12:00pm
Location: New Media Center (NMC), 1st Floor, Lewis Library Building
*To Register:

“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.”
Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

This Productive Scholar session will cover the use of easily accessible and easy-to-use mapping tools that can help you visualize geo-spatial data for your teaching and research. Use Google Maps to collaboratively build a location-aware research archive.  Overlay a historic map on the globe in Google Earth. Visualize complex narratives and data sets using points, regions, paths and other information in custom maps. Collect photographs and information in the field using a smartphone and plot that information on a map.

Janet Temos, Director of the Educational Technologies Center (McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning) and Ben Johnston of the Humanities Resource Center (OIT) will talk about using some free, simple, geolocation tools to achieve rich results for data visualization.

We who were in attendance had the fortune of being given a guided tour of literal mapping of various layers of narrative signification proffered by Joyce Carol Oates’ 2013 novel The Accursed. Set in Princeton, and referencing various historical maps of the township, the novel has be characterized by Stephen King as:

“…what may be the world’s first postmodern Gothic novel: E. L. Doctorow’s ‘Ragtime’ set in Dracula’s castle. It’s dense, challenging, problematic, horrifying, funny, prolix and full of crazy people. You should read it. I wish I could tell you more.” (NYT, March 14, 2014)

King abstains (or makes a might attempt) from telling you more, out of respect for Oates’ craft (“the true secrets of well-made fiction deserve to be kept”). Similarly, Janet Temos was our discrete guide through this roiling, time-bending novel, an example: “he goes there, where something terrible befalls him; something terrible befalls a lot of people in this novel.” By “a lot of people” Temos was referring to multiple generations of fictional and historical figures who move freely through time, are sometimes renamed in Oates’ narrative and their fictional selves have parts of their historical selves chronologies altered. Really, it is enough to send a literary scholar and/or a social historian around the bend. How would you present all this intertwined material (or data) cogently in a presentation or a lecture?

Well, Temos and and Johnston ably demonstrated a number of mapping data visualization and tagging tools, including the most recent iteration (as of the date of the presentation) of Google Maps, Google Classic Maps, Google Map Engine tools, and Google Earth. They also briefly touched on other tools such as Fulcrum, for collecting data in the field, and TimeMapper, for easily creating multi-layered maps and timelines using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. If you’re curious about how Google Maps “tags” data, allowing for the setting of map coordinates, Google’s KML (Keyhole Markup Language) text markup language was reviewed with important distinctions made between KML (Google proprietary, but widely compatible language) and XML (an open-source text markup standard), and a brief mention of simplekml, a python package for low-effort kml creation. Comparisons of the benefits of ArcGIS and QGIS versus Google Maps for analyzing and presenting data were covered as well.  For more about ArcGIS and QGIS at the University, check out the following week’s Productive Scholar presentation by T. Wangyal Shawa and Bill Guthe.

Ben Johnston
is Manager of OIT’s Humanities Resource Center (HRC) in East Pyne, and Consultant to the Digital Humanities Initiative (DHI). Ben has been involved with educational technology for over thirteen years in positions at Columbia University, Bryn Mawr College, and Princeton University. While at Princeton, Ben has worked with educators and researchers across the Humanities and Social Sciences to facilitate the use of digital assets, technology tools, databases, and digital video in teaching and research.

Janet Temos is the Director of the Educational Technologies Center, McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton. A member of Princeton’s undergraduate class of 1982, she received her Ph.D. from the Department of Art and Archeology at Princeton in 2001. Janet has been working in the field of Educational Technology for the past 20 years.

The ETC provides instruction and training in all aspects of educational technologies for the campus community. We provide talks and training on demand to academic departments, and each staff member holds regular office hours for consultations.