spatial history – mapping time

“Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde” is a collaborative digital project created by researchers from Davidson College, Duquesne, and the University of Georgia. One of my main takeaways from their article published in “Visualizing Objects, Places, and Spaces: A Digital Project Handbook” is how large an undertaking a project like this can become. This project took 4.5 years and helped many different individuals from all three Universities.

I appreciated their discussion of how graduate students were intentionally incorporated into the project. I think this project could work as an example for other University-led digital humanities projects. The Mina Loy project gave graduate students freedom and responsibility. This approach demonstrates how digital humanities projects and their creation can be used as a teaching tool. The authors of this article acknowledged how faculty researchers can learn from graduate (and undergraduate) students due to their differing skill sets and new perspectives. This model of intentionally incorporating students seems well-suited for open ended projects that would benefit from creative and non-traditional ideas that students might bring. The authors of this article discuss the exploratory nature of the project, calling it “flexible” and “organic.” They mention its “flexible limits” which I believe makes it well-suited for a project that can incorporate student researchers. Incorporating both graduate and undergraduate students into the creation process, as well as respecting their contributions disrupts a traditional hierarchical modality of learning and teaching. 

While celebrating new modes of teaching and learning through this project, the Mina Loy project is also extremely practical and honest in their approaches. They discuss the timeline constraints of students – they are often involved in a project for short amounts of time and their work might have to be confined to a single semester. To work around this specific time frame, they have students give editing rights to future student and faculty researchers. This way, the students’ work can be included and folded into the ongoing project at large. 

I appreciate their Digital Project Handbook because it highlights how this project was a sort of “experiment in DH scholarship.” The researchers frame their project by discussing much more than the final project; they are equally as focused on the process of creation. They include many specific details and resources to help others take on similar projects. I like their transparency with timelines, hardships, and specific software tools they used throughout. For example, they include a link to a “DH Toolbox”  that provides access to their custom “DH Scholarship Theme” on GitHub. 

I wanted to provide a short review of “Perspectives on the Haram” a digital humanities project that incorporates a map. This is an example of one way we can visually represent spatial histories. A little more about the project: 

“Perspectives on the Haram aims to showcase the Haram Mosque and Mecca throughout time by drawing upon the accounts of different travelers spanning one thousand years. By focusing on these accounts we hope to not only showcase the ways in which the Haram changed over time, but also the parts of Mecca that travelers found most worthy of recording.” 

The project includes a large map, central to the user interface. At the bottom of the page there is an interactive timeline that lets you scroll throughout the years. As you scroll the map shifts positions to highlight the relevant areas. You can click on specific travelers and learn more about their accounts by clicking on their name along the timeline or on a menu bar on the right side of the screen. 

While there are a few bugs on the website that make some of the text hard to read, overall this project is very successful! The inclusion of both a map and timeline into one project helps give users a comprehensive look at the Haram Mosque and Mecca throughout time. This projects highlights the strengths of DH projects, because the information presented would be a lot less compelling without the map and the timeline. 

I wish the map component of the project was more interactive and contextualized for the user. The map seems to jump around haphazardly when clicking on various travelers. Also, since pretty much all of the accounts deal with the Mecca or Mosque site, the map ends up taking you to pretty much the same spot each time you click on a different person. I think this project would benefit from a more detailed and zoomed in map that highlighted different locations on a smaller geographic scale. There are many icons on the map that are not labeled or discussed in the project which is a bit confusing. I would love it if there was a legend for the map explaining these symbols.

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