spatial visualizations and mapping

Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich write on their creation Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market

Applying the innovations of the digital age has been the primary focus of the digital humanities, which can be divided into four broad categories: text analysis, spatial analysis, network analysis, and image analysis. Our project combines spatial analysis, specifically historical mapping, and network analysis, which examines relationships between entities. In using these tools, we aim not only to harness the capacities of the digital environment for innovative research, but also to expand the framework of our discipline.” 

One of the largest strengths of this map (and most maps within digital humanities projects) is how intuitive it is for viewers, even on their first interaction with the tool. As smartphone apps such as Google and Apple maps have become an everyday tool, the majority of digitally literate people seem to be well-versed in navigating digital mapping tools. For this reason, interactive digital maps are a great way to immediately invite a viewer into an art historical or humanities project of which they might not have previous background knowledge. The digital map acts as a visual and knowledge-based mediator between the general public and humanities scholarship. 

Their project explores the possibilities of interactive mapping tools and map visualizations within digital humanities projects. Their map allows viewers to see the development of London’s art market through time. Users can manually adjust the timeline (with data available from 1851 to 1915) and see colored dots appear on the map as galleries, museums, artists, or retail locations were opened in London (each type of establishment represented by a different color). 

Fig. 2, Timeline with Gallery and Exhibition Societies layers turned on. Pamela Fletcher and David Israel, London Gallery Project, 2007, revised 2012,

The mapping tool not only eases viewer usability, but enhances academic research and the possibilities of synthesizing large amounts of historical information into meaningful truths.  

“By offering a larger view than hitherto possible, our approach allows us to understand the London art market in new ways—as a set of pluralistic and elastic possibilities—rather than rigidly codified by institutional bodies such as the Royal Academy. These possibilities both opened up the market—meaning there were multiple pathways for artistic success as measured in commercial terms—and also exerted pressure on artists seeking to steer a course through this dense and rapidly changing landscape.” 

Making maps not only acts as a public-to-scholarship mediator helping the public interact with scholarship in new ways, it offers a new way of looking for art and humanities scholars. As opposed to the most commonly used case-study approach, this project demonstrates the power in using larger datasets, along with digital tools to help comb through and make meaning of these datasets, within digital humanities projects. This project further highlights the need for interdisciplinary research, as data analysts, GIS specialists, and humanities scholars all play a role in creating a successful project such as this one. 

Mapping Tools 

Interacting with online mapping tools has become an every-day practice. Now, creating these maps has become extremely accessible to the general public as well. With the use of free online tools such as Google Maps, ArcGIS Online Story Maps, and Story Maps JS, most people can make an interactive map to enhance a scholarly project (or for any other personal purpose!). 

The digital humanities have potential for democratizing previously exclusive information, as well as presenting previously held knowledge in new ways. As tools for digital data visualization such as commonly used mapping tools like Google Maps become more widespread, the democratization of humanities research becomes even more possible. 

1 comment

  1. I found your discussion regarding spatial visualizations and mapping very interesting to me. First, you have emphasized that maps became accessible to everyone, and incorporating mapping projects in Art history projects is practical to the field. I agree with you on this point. Using maps allowed art historians to answer complicated questions they couldn’t answer before. It also opens the door to new types of research in the field of art history.
    Also, you discussed how mapping projects make information accessible to the public. This is a very important point because the public now is able to learn more about art history projects through maps.

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