This week’s readings about Spatial History really resonated with me for a number of reasons. I love maps, not only because I enjoy the conception of cartography and the creative panache that we can find therein, or because I am constantly getting lost both in real life and in readings – I love maps because I find that I can best understand things relationally. For me a map doesn’t have to be a picture that shows geographical locations, it can be an abstract, theoretical conception relating several ideas together. But those aren’t the types of maps that I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about visual maps, both analog and digital, and how they represent (or fail to represent) both time and space compellingly. The following map is fairly standard insofar as traditional textbook maps are concerned:
Figure 1: The Second Punic War. Map located at http://explorethemed.com/Punic2.asp.
As we can see it deals with the Second Punic War over the period of 218 BCE to 202 BCE. I bring this image up because in “What is Spatial History,” Richard White asserts that, “[h]istorians by definition focus on time.” This clearly rings true considering the nature of the work, but that does not mean that a tool such as the map above does a compelling job of integrating the temporal aspect of a conflict into the spatial aspect of the geography. I don’t know that any analog maps that I’ve ever looked at convey time in a meaningful nature. They most certainly convey time; the map above absolutely indicates the passage of time over the course of the war. But it seems to me that they remove the temporal element from time, forcing the viewer into an abstract conflict between what the eye sees as something that appears to be happening in an instant, due to the arrows and the battles all inhabiting the same map contemporaneously, and what the mind is articulating happens over some abstract period of time, due to the numbers that it sees accompanying the battles here and there.
Although this map made use of digital tools to add context to each location (as can be seen in the link), it failed to make full use of its digital reality insofar as the temporal aspect is concerned. The underlying idea that informed the product is rooted in traditional analog format and therefore time is not expressed as fully as it could be. For a more compelling treatment of time and space see Figure 9 in White’s “What is Spatial History,” which is perhaps the most compelling map that I think was presented in this week’s readings explicitly for the way it dealt with both the temporal and spatial aspects of the subject matter (that said, the most aesthetically appealing map to me was definitely Dustin Cable’s, “The Racial Dot Map: One Dot Per Person for the Entire United States”).
The conception that I’m speaking to here, a more robust and meaningful integration of relative time in tools that aid in visual representation, is something that I will be exploring in my project proposal, and therefore is a subject that I will be commenting on more in the week to come.