Beyond the Map

Unpacking Critical Cartography in the Digital Humanities

This article appears in the Visible Language, December 2015.

Asking Critical Questions

Abstract: The importance of visualization as a formative and evaluative tool in the digital humanities begs for a deeper examination of the methods and literacy that accompany the making process. Current design and humanistic pedagogy and best-practice are heavily focused on understanding context—of place, culture, situation, or artifact. The iterative construction of visualizations which diversely examine these contexts of interpretation can illuminate both what is and what might be. Building on landscape and mapping theory which argues the map does more than reflect reality, it actively shapes our understanding of the physical, political and social world, this paper suggests the development of a theoretical perspective that goes beyond the examination of the artifact (i.e. the map) to include the critical evaluation of the activity of map making (i.e. the conditions that inform the activity of mapping and visualization and how to go about it) and its impact on the propositional nature of exploratory research  (i.e. how the activity of mapping affects the decisions that researchers make about where, how and to what extent to intervene.)