Source: Mapping Spatial History

Since I am a little late with writing this week’s post, I have the benefit of being able to discuss the “Apps, Maps and Models: Digital Pedagogy and Research in Art History, Archeology & Visual Studies” Digital Art History symposium hosted by the Wired! Group at Duke University today. I was not able to attend in person but was able to stream the event live. Many of the talks related excellently to our class topic of mapping – but I especially enjoyed Donal Cooper’s (University of Cambridge) talk titled “Modeling Architecture and Uncertainty in Renaissance Florence: The Digital Reconstructions of Santa Chiara and San Pier Maggiore.” Many of the scholars at the symposium were making innovative use of GIS and mapping technology but as Cooper pointed out, the majority of these projects are happening in archives, or in labs. Cooper’s team went to Florence and spent the majority of their time in the neighborhood that now exists where the San Pier Maggiore once was. Here is a link to YouTube video describing the project. This idea of the fabric of a city, of the urban spaces layered with history and yet still living and changing, also tied into Fabrizio Nevola’s (University of Exeter) ideas about mapping movement in his lecture “The Italian Renaissance Piazza as Social Media Space.” Throughout Nevola’s talk I was reminded of de Certeau’s thoughts on “spatial practices.” Nevola quoted de Certeau at the end of his talk and mentioned how, rather than the panoptical perspective most mapping projects take, he is interested in those that are more concerned with movement and personal experience. In talking about the spatial “possibilities” encountered or actualized by the walker in a city de Certeau states that “[the walker] moves them about and he invents others, since the crossing, drifting away, or improvisation of walking privilege, transform or abandon spatial elements.”[1]  What would this look like in a map? Nevola mentioned several apps, some were more personal and focused on re-creating and then allowing others to “follow” your path (and perhaps more inline with de Certeau’s reasoning), I was intrigued by Historypin, which allows for a broader focus and collaboration. I found my undergrad institution’s archives are using Historypin to publish and make available some of their material:

As tool to make the materials more accessible I think Historypin could be successful, I am just not sure how many people are aware of or are interacting with the app. As for myself, I have been experimenting with Storymap.js software. I am using it to map something entirely personal and non-scholarly, the story of my travels this past year. As a tool to share this type of story, so far Storymap is exactly the tool I needed, and using it for a personal story was an excellent motivator to familiarize myself with the software. However the website has examples of projects that are scholarly in their scope and content, and these appear to be successful as well. Here is the link to my only just started storymap: link , with plans to add the rest of the points as images and perhaps a few videos.

Certainly both of these tools, and the tools highlighted in today’s symposium can all serve to visualize the “kinds of evidence and data bases that would be too opaque or too unwieldy to use without computers”[2] that Richard White discusses in his essay “What is Spatial History?” He tells the story of working in an archives and coming across rail road freight tables, and knowing there was a story there but being unable to visualize it without computational functions. I’ve had the same experience working with logging records – there is history, a story of a community and its economy in those giant, incredibly oversized ledgers, but for now they sit buried in the archive. White also emphasizes the importance of collaboration in these projects, and certainly the seemingly most successful projects highlighted at today’s symposium, from WorldMaps to Nevola’s vision for social media mapping, are all collaborative. In the final moments of the discussion someone brought up the topic of sustainability, something Colin discussed in an earlier, excellent post on his blog. While everyone acknowledged it is one of the most difficult aspects of these projects, it would be foolish to ignore its vital importance to the success of digital projects, be they maps, apps, or models.



[1] de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated Steven F. Rendall. University of California Press, Berkley. 1984.

[2] White, Richard. “What is Spatial History?” Spatial History Project, Stanford University. URL: