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Resources for mapping and spatial tech

Most of this content was generated through the collaboration of participants in my session at THATcamp CHNM 2012.  

GIS Tools:

ArcGIS - A really powerful mapping tool with all the bells and whistles.  A lot of archaeologists use this because of how specific you can be with the location.  However, it's not entry level.  Most people I know who use it have taken training courses or have been heavily supervised while learning it.  One option for training on the software is the Digital Humanities Summer Institute.  Ohio State has a license for the software, and the Center for Mapping may have staff or faculty to assist you (this is merely a rumor I heard, so don't quote me!).

QGIS - An open source GIS application.  I have no experience using this, but it seems to be a good alternative to ArcGIS.  

Other mapping options:

ViewShare - Mapping tool that is relatively easy to use and especially useful if you want to connect images to the locations.  One good example maps the locations listed on trade cards at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Google Earth - Probably one of the easiest tools to use.  You can simply click to add markers, and you can add as much data to the markers as you want.  One limitation to this is that there is no way to get the data out of it (ie you can't export a spreadsheet of all the coordinates for your markers).  One way around that is to start with your data in a Google Fusion table and then convert it to a map.  Fusion is still experimental, so there's no guarantee there in terms of longevity of your data or accessibility to the tool itself.  

BatchGeo - Seems to work best if you have modern addresses for the things you are mapping.  I don't, so I haven't attempted to use this tool.

Neatline - Looks totally badass.  I haven't used it, but the site has a number of examples of what others have done with it. It runs off Omeka, so you'll have to get all your data on that site first. 

Zotero Maps - Another resource I haven't tried out personally.  For those of you who use, or are thinking about using, Zotero this might be a good, simple option.

History Pin - You can build a tour and mark each location with images.  Not sure about how data is managed on this site, I haven't used it.

Historic Maps:

Georeferencer - Easy to use, web-based tool for georectifying historic maps.  Simple export to Google Earth or GIS platforms.  The David Rumsey Map Collection has tons of maps, and they can be slurped up by Georeferencer.  

New York Public Library Map Warper - has a number of maps already georectified, but as far as I know only maps in their collection are hosted on the site.  I used this a lot before I found Georeferencer.

General Resources for Education, Edification and FAQ:

Digital Humanities Summer Institute and Digital Humanities Winter Institute

Spatial Humanities Step by Step - Offers some instruction for specific applications and techniques.  They probably have a few more tools described there that I have not posted here.

Digital Humanities Questions & Answers

Center for History and New Media


Mapping the Du Bois Philadelphia Negro

Digital Harlem and an explanatory essay on their project planning and implementation

Phila Place 

*note that all these great examples were collaborative efforts and received special funding or institutional support.  In other words, these weren't made by independent graduate students as supplements to their dissertations!



Starting an Essay: Approaches

How do you begin a new piece of writing?  Let's say, for instance, you are giving a paper at a conference and it's a paper you've never given before.  What do you do to start yourself off writing?  I have a few strategies; most are helpful.

  • Agonize - I spend a lot of time on this step.  Worrying about all sorts of possible outcomes, and producing no usable content.  This part doesn't even have to take place in front of a computer.  It happens in the car, at dinner, and especially in the early morning hours when I should be sleeping.  
  • Plan - This step is many times more useful than my first step.  For a conference paper, I look back at my proposal or abstract to remind myself what I said I would cover.  Then, I make a question-driven outline which includes questions like "What is the takeaway?" and "What evidence supports this argument?"  This helps me think about my message for the audience (all 4 of them) and how to order the essay in a rational and straightforward way.
  • Plan some more - I look through all my notes, archives, and files (all of which are digital, with a few minor exceptions) to see what evidence I have for this specific paper.  When I'm reviewing sources, I try to tag them as much as possible to lead me back to them at this step.  I use Zotero, Evernote, and FileMaker to keep track of all my sources.  I also have lots of printed sources on Google Books, which is convenient but not a great interface for quick, visual scans of my personal collection.  
  • Write - Then the writing begins.  I usually write from the middle out, beginning with my main points and then going back to the introduction and conclusion at the end.  I tend to write on my points that have my favorite visual evidence first, but that's just a result of me doing what I like the most first.  Sometimes after this step there is more research to be done, and even more planning, but if I've been thorough in the lead up to the writing stage this is only minor.
  • Revise - This step can be devastating, because this is when I face the bitter reality that my favorite sources aren't always the best sources to use as evidence for a particular argument.  This is a bummer, but in this circumstance (writing for a conference presentation) cuts must (almost) always be made.  I seek out well-informed second opinions from people who can offer straight grammatical criticism and field-specific content review.  
  • Read aloud - Yes, that advice from 4th grade still applies.  I read everything aloud to myself and my dog.  It really helps to clarify, simplify, and streamline a paper that will eventually be delivered orally.  In the cases where it won't, it's still a useful way to ensure sentences are clear and direct.  
  • Finalize - In this step I triple check my footnotes, grammar, and tables/diagrams/images.  

I find that the steps help me to get started on what seems, when considering the mass of the work, to be an overwhelming amount of synthesis, writing and critiquing.  What methods do you use to get yourself writing?