Space vs. place

A deep map is a map of a place rather than a space. Geographers often distinguish between place and space. Space is the grid of reference that we use in making maps: 31.7833° N, 35.2167° E is a pointer in space. Place, on the other hand, is the meaning that we make out of space. The latitude and longitude are the space, but the place is Jerusalem—a place with countless contested meanings attached to it. In a recent brief essay on place, for example, the anthropologist Tanya Luhrman writes that “roughly 100 tourists [to Jerusalem] a year become sufficiently overwhelmed by spiritual experiences that they end up in a mental health center. They see themselves as biblical characters or as messiahs, or they feel that they have been given a special task, like moving the Western Wall.” For different people the same thing happens elsewhere: “Japanese tourists experience Paris syndrome when they arrive in the City of Light, a symbol of the glory of the West. There is a Florence syndrome. Visitors collapse in front of the Fra Angelicos in the San Marco Convent, or feel weak-kneed in the Uffizi.”

As a further illustration of the different between space and place, our modern coordinate reference systems take their origin point 0°, 0°, a point in the Atlantic Ocean off the West coast of Africa: Null Island. This reproduction of the thirteenth- century Ebstorf map, however, takes as its central point Jerusalem, and freights the city with symbolic religious imagery.

A reproduction of the Ebstorf Map (full size).

A reproduction of the Ebstorf Map (full size).

The geographer Tim Cresswell defines places as follows:

Place is how we make the world meaningful and the way we experience the world. Place, at a basic level, is space invested with meaning in the context of power. This process of investing space with meaning happens across the globe at all scales, and has done throughout human history. It has been one of the central tasks of human geography to make sense of it.1

One of the challenges in making humanistic maps is to create maps that capture place, not just space. One of the keys to creating such a map is thinking of places as “gatherings” or “assemblages.” One author writes how “places gather things”:

Places gather … . Minimally, places gather things in their midst – where “things” connote various animate and inanimate entities. Places also gather experiences and histories, even languages and thoughts. Think only of what it means to go back to a place you know, finding it full of memories and expectations, old things and new things, the familiar and strange, and much more besides. What else is capable of this massively diversified holding action?…The power belongs to place itself, and it is a power of gathering.2

A deep map tries to uncover these gatherings in the pursuit of explaining the multiple meanings behind a place.

Deep maps

Deep mapping is the attempt to map places.3 A deep map may take several forms, including things that are not a map at all. For instance, in some uses of the term, a “deep map” may be an essay exploring the meaning of a place. But in our case we are going to create a deep map in the sense of a map that seeks to uncover the assemblages of a place by putting multiple media elements together on a map.4

We are aiming to create a map that offers these features:

  • represents ambiguities (not least of space)
  • has different layers, preferably representing not just different data but different kinds of data
  • represents multiple perspectives/voices
  • offers narratives
  • concerned with multiple variables (e.g., power, race, class, gender, emotion, etc.)

Omeka and Neatline

In order to create our deep map we will use two pieces of software: Omeka and Neatline. Omeka is a content management system to create “complex narratives and share rich collections.” Unlike most web publishing platforms, Omeka has been created by scholars at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media for other scholars, libraries, archives, and museums. Neatline is a suite of mapping and spatial plugins for Omeka created by created by the Scholars’ Lab.5 Together Omeka and Neatline are a good platform because they let us create rich spatial collections, which we can both place on a map and weave into narratives.

Working with Omeka and Neatline

You will receive an account to Omeka installation we will be using.

Both Omeka and Neatline have excellent documentation. You will need to be able to do two main tasks: create an Omeka item, and then associate that Omeka item with a Neatline representation on the map. You should begin by reading Miriam Posner’s “Up and Running with,” though you can skip ahead to “Add a new item to your archive.” Then read the Omeka documentation about “Managing Items” and the Neatline documentation on records.

Workshop exercise

For a class, a deep map might be a semester-long project of uncovering the meaning of a particular place. For example, I taught a class on nineteenth-century religion in Boston in which we create a map of religious institutions in Boston, accompanied by online student essays closely tied to our class map about what they had learned about Boston’s religious history.

For our workshop, we will create a deep map of the college and town that we are in.

We will need to make the following decisions about our deep map during the workshop. See Neatline’s documentation about Styling Exhibits with Neatline-Flavored CSS, which provides a way of implementing these decisions.

  • How will we distinguish between what different contributors have added?
  • What will the aesthetics of the map (e.g., color, size, shape) mean?
  • What base layers do we need?

Some of the things that our deep map might gather:

  • A place without a name on a map
  • A place for music / the arts
  • A place for entertainment
  • A place you wish you had gone / hadn’t gone
  • A place you have been once and only once
  • A place you go by yourself / with friends / with family / with colleagues
  • A classroom you teach in
  • Your office
  • A place to eat
  • A place for athletics
  • A place for kids / teens / college students / adults / the elderly
  • A place for worship
  • A place for the rich / the middle class / the poor
  • A segregated / integrated place
  • The farthest you go in a day
  • An industrial place
  • An architecturally interesting building
  • An ugly place
  • A political place
  • A place where English is not spoken

Types of “media” to consider including:

  • Experiences
  • Photographs
  • Data (from government/university sources)
  • Prose
  • Videos

  1. Tim Cresswell, Place: An Introduction, 2nd ed. (J. Wiley & Sons, 2015), 19.

  2. E. Casey, “How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time,” in Senses of Place, ed. S. Feld and K. Baso (Santa Fe: School of American Research, 1996), 24, quoted in Cresswell, 52.

  3. See David J. Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris, eds., Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives, The Spatial Humanities (Indiana University Press, 2015); Mia Ridge, Don Lafreniere, and Scott Nesbit, “Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives through Design,” International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing 7, no. 1–2 (October 1, 2013): 176–89, doi:10.3366/ijhac.2013.0088.

  4. See the spatial humanities page at IUPUI’s Spatial Humanities conference page, especially the page where participants define “deep map.”

  5. Note that Neatline recommends the use of GeoServer. This is a difficult dependency to maintain, and it is only necessary if you wish, for instance, to publish certain kinds of spatial data. Neatline will function just fine without GeoServer if you use other sources for spatial data instead of hosting your own.