Catch the wind? (Re-post from Polis blog on Spatial Narratives and Deep Maps)

[This post was originally written for the Polis Center’s blog.]

Our time at the NEH Institute on Spatial Narratives & Deep Maps is almost at an end.  The past fortnight feels both like it’s flown by and like we’ve been here for ages, which is possibly the right state of mind for thinking about deep maps.  After two weeks of debate deep maps still seem definable only when glimpsed in the periphery and yet not-quite defined when examined directly.  How can we capture the almost-tangible shape of a truly deep map that we can only glimpse through the social constructs, the particular contexts of creation and usage, discipline and the models in current technology?  If deep maps are an attempt to get beyond the use of location-as-index and into space-as-experience, can that currently be done more effectively on a screen or does covering a desk in maps and documents actually allow deeper immersion in a space at a particular time?

We’ve spent the past three days working in teams to prototype different interfaces to deep maps or spatial narratives, and each group presented their interfaces today. It’s been immensely fun and productive and also quite difficult at times.  It’s helped me realise that deep maps and spatial narratives are not dichotomous but exist on a scale – where do you draw the line between curating data sources and presenting an interpreted view of them?  At present, a deep map cannot be a recreation of the world, but it can be a platform for immersive thinking about the intersection of space, time and human lives.  At what point do you move from using a deep map to construct a spatial and temporal argument to using a spatial narrative to present it?

The experience of our (the Broadway team) reinforces Stuart’s point about the importance of the case study.  We uncovered foundational questions whilst deep in the process of constructing interfaces: is a deep map a space for personal exploration, comparison and analysis of sources, or is it a shared vision that is personalised through the process of creating a spatial narrative?  We also attempted to think through how multivocality translates into something on a screen, and how interfaces that can link one article or concept to multiple places might work in reality, and in the process re-discovered that each scholar may have different working methods, but that a clever interface can support multivocality in functionality as well as in content.

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