Map a Timeline is an experiment in three inter-related areas of digital humanities education:
1. Using visual maps to apprehend and elicit temporal and other relationships amongst a given series of events, texts, persons, or things which share a date as one attribute. The sample series for this experiment is a set of readings from a syllabus.
3. Incorporating critical inquiry of the data as a fundamental practice for the display of visualizations. The primary features enabling this critical inquiry are annotations for every item in the series and a listing of the provenance of the information technologies and data used.
In terms of using geographic maps to elicit relationships amongst works based on the place of work of the authors, the viewer can discern a general sense of the geographic scope of the series within the larger context of global and continental academic institutions, including regional dispersions and concentrations. The spacial placement together with the underlying geography offers the possibility of entering into comparisons of the authors and the texts that would not be as easily imaginable in a textual list. Spatial representations arguably provide an artificial mediation that “synthetically” animates relationships, perhaps along the lines of popular board games such as Risk, Monopoly, and Pandemic. Filtering by date displays contemporaneous readings as well as interactively elicits a chronology amongst the readings in the series. However, without additional visual controls, imagery, or cartographic features, the pedagogical benefits would seem to quickly run their course. A list of enhancements to further draw out the nature of relationships might include: a sliding control on a horizontal timeline displaying labels of “dates of interest” pulled from a combination of the readings, references, and online encyclopedias; arrowed lines connecting the place markers to indicate references amongst the readings; images in the marker popups associated with each item; using color and other visual codings to create sub groups. Problems of this approach include: the imposition of cartographically-based ideologies and associated iconographies onto the subject matter; inadvertent anachronisms resulting from applying a dynamic temporal perspective to a temporally static geography; for series which have weak temporal semantics, the association of temporality that is irrelevant to the relationships amongst the items.
In terms of map features that offer affordances for critical inquiry, the mouse overs on the markers that trigger textual annotations displayed next to the map would seem to point to opportunities. Interactive maps enable quick comparisons based on the content of the annotations, suggesting the use of maps as substitutes for a table of contents. Adding additional logic to interpret more data attributes opens avenues for more semantically rich and critically directed annotations. Spatial network maps would add supplemental visualizations of frequently used words in the readings along with networks maps of the works cited. Incorporating a list of technologies used to construct the utility offers an understanding of the social context of technology construction, that point to the potential for the explicit display of the supply chain of labor processes.
Challenges (to be resolved)
Challenges from a user experience (UX-visual and interaction design) perspective include: the placement of more than 2 markers in the same location; the placement of markers for works by multiple authors.
From a data relation and visualization perspective, a challenge is to identify relevant spatial attributes and effectively elaborate critical annotations that reveal assumptions about the data.
From a software development perspective, a challenge is the secure storage of API keys using Github Pages (github.io). The code for sites on Github Pages are generally stored in a public git repository. Storing API keys in a public git repository exposes the keys to the public.
The spatial placement of temporally categorized information offers a range of opportunities for exploring relationships and interdependencies. Effectiveness depends on both the kind of information and the incorporation of additional visual features. Experimenting with a syllabus of readings yields insights regarding the value and irrelevancy of chronologies and temporalities. In so far as this experiment fails to effectively address its areas of assessment or argues for the impracticality of spatial rendering of temporality for certain kinds of datasets, the effort may nevertheless offer value in terms of the limits of maps in the development of visualizations for new conceptualizations of critically informed web books and historical web atlases.