In examining Neatline, our group selected two different exhibits that highlighted the intricacies of spatial humanities. The first exhibit, “Battle of Chancellorsville” is a detailed map which seemingly “speaks for itself.” There is minimal text with relatively no explanation as to what the exhibit is. Yet, the user can use the maps interactively to determine what information is being conveyed. The exhibit focuses on providing detailed information on a specific region and places this more detailed map of the area in question (battle region) on top of a broader, black-and-white map of the U.S. Thus, the user’s attention is drawn to a specific region through visualization techniques (color, text, user interaction). The second site “Inventing the Map (with Neatline)” forces a more linear spatial argument, using a series of images to separate blocks of text. The site is constructed like a more traditional DH project with a heading bar that allows the user to move freely around the site. This example relies more on text to help convey information to the user and is assisted by several maps/diagrams. Ultimately, the goal of such sites/exhibits is to use maps and timelines to help tell stories.
Within the two arguments, the first, “Battle of Chancellorsville,” strongly utilizes features and display techniques as well as visualizations to help advance its argument. Within the exhibit there is a description of events as well as a timeline that runs along the top and side of the map. These features add to the spatial argument by providing even more information on the battle. The map itself is color-coded to denote specific events (ie. Union v. Confederate) that are described in more detail on the map’s sidebar. The map is zoomable to emphasize the relatively small scale of the battle compared to the rest of the country. The second site uses images and quotes in conjunction with small chunks of text so that the information is more easily digestible for the user.
Potential Improvements to the arguments include adding a help section, explaining how to use the website in the “Battle of Chancellorsville” to strengthen points as the color coding was not evident at first and it was not made readily clear that you could scroll through different dates, changing the visuals represented on the map. Also while not entirely necessary one should consider the potential pros/cons of adding an about/overview section giving a brief summary of the Battle of Chancellorsville and what the map/visuals represent.
Both of the projects observed utilize mapping software to convey spatial information where “A Tale of Two Castles” requires Google Earth. Within the school computers, the project was not accessible due to lack of software on the computers. It may be worth noting that the necessity of Google Earth affects the potential scope of the project by limiting accessibility to only those who have downloaded the additional software. So while the use of google earth inevitably enhances the interactivity and usefulness of the project, the barrier to access that it creates is ultimately detrimental to the project in some respects. Additionally, “Hifi Collection” serves to map out the chronological history of historic Filipinotown, as well as giving personal accounts of residents.
In terms of features, display and visualizations “Hifi Collection” maps change based on time period/categories, for example advocacy campaigns, culture, local economy, community research. Additionally, the maps help provide geographical context in relation to the rest of country as well as individual stories within the project.
As mentioned, our group was limited in observing “A Tale of Two Castles” due to the required plug-in. Thus, our group would suggest examining alternatives where there is use of different software/technology that does not require a plug in. Furthermore, we suggest a clear overview, since it took some time to figure out what was going on, thus a clearly stated purpose is needed, with a clear argument of the website. Cleaning up the project with stronger logical organization would have helped strengthen the argument.
Finally, when comparing Hypercities vs. Neatline, we found Hypercities to be a platform for interacting with various mapping projects, whereas Neatline focuses on delivering a single mapping project in much greater detail. In addition, Hypercities is limited in that a majority of the sub-projects on the site require additional plug-ins (mainly Google Earth) which prohibited us from use in some cases, while Neatline has its own interactive mapping software built-in for easier access.
-Matt Hrvatin, Alex Bicks, Elise Eagan, John Zimmerman