MapScholar User Guide

(Old User Guide: Welcome to MapScholar)

MapScholar is a dynamic visualization tool for historic map collections.  It offers a free, open-source portal that gives individual scholars the independent means of gathering high-resolution images from a variety of sources, analyzing them in rich geospatial contexts, and illustrating new interpretations in the history of cartography and related humanities fields.  MapScholar enhances traditional books and articles by making it possible–at no cost to publishers–to mount stunning web displays of map collections assembled from archival photographs, commissioned scans, and digital collections hosted by libraries around the world.  It guides scholars through the process of georeferencing their maps, tagging them with basic metadata, and preparing their collections for display.  New features that allow scholars to annotate maps and create animated tours of map collections will make an indispensable center for the study of the history of cartography.  Making use of robust, free web resources such as Google Docs and Flickr, MapScholar gives any scholar with basic computer skills and a broadband connection the capacity to see and share their maps in compelling new ways.  MapScholar’s key innovation is how it brings maps together—regardless of the archive in which they sit—for the purpose of generating new knowledge about human perceptions of geographic space.  Unlike digital map archives maintained by libraries, we see maps as sources for analysis and interpretation that need to be pulled into relationship with one another to be understood rather than discrete artifacts to be considered one after another.

MapScholar was designed around the research processes of humanities scholars and seeks to make these methods more effective, comparative, and descriptive by harnessing them to new digital resources and internet tools.  It is built around the relationship between the scholar as a writer of books and articles and the viewer of MapScholar websites as a reader seeking to understand new interpretations.  Sites created to illustrate publications in map history have a natural extension as an advanced presentation tool as well as for classroom instruction at the K-12 and college level.  MapScholar draws on the deep institutional resources for digital humanities development at the University of Virginia, particularly those at its dedicated humanities and social sciences technology units:  IATH, SHANTI, and the Library’s Scholars’ Lab and Digital Media Lab.  Based on a thoroughly distributed model of data generation and storage that depends on scholars as curators of their own information, this tool can be sustained at very low costs without major institutional investments in hardware, bandwidth, and dedicated software.  It joins together data in industry-standard file formats with free and effective data serving sites such as Flickr and Google Docs to generate dynamic, on-the-fly visualizations.   At its heart, MapScholar reflects of a vision of how traditional scholarship and new digital tools can be linked.  It seeks to vitalize the history of cartography with new capacities to use maps as sources so that it can become a standard-bearing field for innovation as part of the “spatial turn” in the humanities.