Project Ideas for Google Maps and the Humanities

WM-google-maps

Google Maps’s newest iteration attempts to combine qualitative and quantitative data into easy to build and manipulate maps. While faculty and students in the sciences and social sciences have been using quantitative data sets in teaching and research for a long time, the impulse to use interactive maps has not quite caught on with too many of our humanities faculty members, and I think that’s too bad. However, with Google Maps’s new interface, I’m hoping that this trend will start to change.

Two Examples of Humanities Projects that Use Mapping

For those people in the humanities who may need some concrete examples of what a map with both qualitative and quantitative data may do for you, let me give you two examples:

  • One of the most popular Christian pilgrimage routes in the world, the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, has been a research destination for many of our William & Mary students, led by faculty members like George Greenia and Kay Jenkins. A map that outlines the route, with trends in pilgrimage visitations over the years, along with images and video of the route, all in one interactive, dynamic map, would be a great way to visualize the project over time.
  • Jenny Taylor, a faculty member in German Studies, does a great deal of research with her students on the Holocaust. She routinely gives students information on the number of Jews killed in various towns in Poland, but having the students create a map visualizing the percentage of Jews killed in each town, along with interactive map markers that showed pictures and told stories of those towns, would be a powerful, map-based teaching tool that would integrate qualitative and quantitative data in ways that students wouldn’t otherwise get to experience the concepts.

These are just two possible examples of what could be possible for humanities mapping projects using the new Google Maps. I’m always glad to talk to our faculty members about their own fields and ways that mapping can make their research and teaching come alive for our students in different ways.

One Caveat Before Getting Started

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of a simple example of how to create one of these interactive Google Maps, first a caveat. Google tends to be a black box when it comes to their development of new tools and technologies, and sometimes, Google tools that people use and like get altered or discontinued with little or no notice. So you should always be aware of the possibility that your favorite academic tool, whether it’s produced by Google or a third party developer, could be going away or could be changing in ways that screw things up for you.

Of course, not all change is bad. Some things change for the better, and while I don’t love everything about this new Google Maps, many of its features make it a great starter tool for people in the humanities who want to start exploring the opportunities of visualizing data sets, images, video, and text into media rich maps.

Getting Started with Google Maps

For William & Mary faculty: First, you’re going to need a Google account. If you have a Gmail account, or a Youtube account, you already have a Google account. If you don’t have a Google account yet, you can either go to Google.com and create a new account or you can contact our IT folks at support@wm.edu and request an @email.wm.edu email address, which will provide you with a Google account through William & Mary. Note: If you choose to do this, please make sure to let the folks at support@wm.edu know that you do not want your @email.wm.edu address to be your default address. One benefit of having a W&M Apps account over a regular Google account is that it’s a little easier to collaborate with other people with W&M apps accounts (all your students, for example) than if you just have a regular Google account, but the choice is really up to you.

Okay, now that you have a Google account or a W&M Apps account, it’s time to start building your map. I could give you very detailed written instructions, but it’s probably easier for everyone if I just post this short video tutorial to show you how to create and share your map:

Anyway, this was just a quick example to hopefully get you interested in creating your own map. If you’re a William & Mary faculty member and you still need help, please contact me at mxblum@wm.edu and I’m glad to go over the whole process with you and/or your classes.

About Mike Blum

Mike is the Academic Technologist for the Humanities at the College