All posts by Katherine Strickland

Read, Hot and Digitized: This is Not an Atlas

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. 

This Is Not an Atlas is a continuation of a book of the same name, subtitled “A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies.” Critical geography proposes that maps are never neutral, but rather reflect views of the map maker, often those in power. Counter-mapping, or creating counter-cartographies, refers to the use of maps to reframe the world in such a way as to challenge dominant power structures and to articulate alternative, progressive and even radical interests (Kitchin, et al., 2011).

In the spring of 2015, kollektiv orangotango, a self-described network of critical geographers, friends, and activists who deal with questions regarding space, power, and resistance, sent out a call for maps in English, German and Spanish. Overwhelmed by the response and realizing that many of the maps submitted are dynamic, they decided to create a website to, not only highlight projects from the print edition, but also to “continue to share maps, struggles, projects, texts, and inspirations online.” Here I highlight a counter-mapping project that successfully deals with the politics of in/visibility, as described in Emancipatory Mapmaking: Lessons from Kibera.

Map Kibera was initiated after a group of geographers attending a mapping conference in Nairobi, Kenya noticed that Kibera, one of Africa’s largest informal settlements, was not mapped. In fact, they discovered that authorities had labeled and designated the Kibera Slum as a forest. How could a community with an estimated population of 250,000 people be omitted from official maps of Nairobi? Two geographers who were also interested in open source mapping decided they wanted to change this. In October 2009, Mikel Maron and Erica Hagen started the Map Kibera project to address “the glaring omission of roughly a quarter-million of Nairobi’s inhabitants from mass communications and city representation and policy decisions” (Hagen, 2011).

Current (09/09/2019) image of Kibera in Google Maps.
Current (09/09/2019) image of Kibera in Google Maps.
Detail view of Kibera in Google Maps yields little detail about the community.
Detail view of Kibera in Google Maps yields little detail about the community.

Kibera is too densely populated to rely on satellite data for mapping. Maron and Hagan knew they would need to map it from the ground. They recruited a dozen young residents to be “mappers,” gave them GPS devices, and sent them to collect data by creating “traces,” a GPS-enabled process that tracks and records your physical location. The mappers interviewed residents and collected observational data, such as the names of clinics, schools, and businesses, locations of water pumps, public baths, and other “points of interest” along their routes as well. The team then added the data to OpenStreetMap (OSM), a crowdsourced world map that relies on user-generated content to create geographic data that is relevant and available to everyone. And within three weeks they had created an incredibly dense map of Kibera for the world to see. But more importantly, a map of Kibera that was extremely useful to residents.

Kibera in OpenStreetMap (09/09/2019)
Kibera in OpenStreetMap (09/09/2019)

The project did not stop there; they immediately created, printed, and distributed maps of clinics and schools within the community. And a security map of Kibera warning of areas to avoid and illustrating places to get help. And have since formed the Map Kibera Trust, created the Voice of Kibera, a platform for citizen reporting, and replicated their model in other marginalized communities in Nairobi.

Map Kibera is just one counter-mapping project highlighted in This Is Not an Atlas. Visit the site to discover situational maps defending traditional territories of the Amazon; a documentation of human rights violations in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas; an anti-eviction mapping project that started in the Bay Area and has expanded its scope; a crowdsourcing project that helps people locate public toilets in an Indian megacity; and many more counter-cartographies.

The book is as beautiful as the website; visit the UT Libraries to see it in person. If you’re interested in learning more about critical geography and counter-mapping, I highly recommend Rethinking the Power of Maps and the Map Reader. Map Kibera initiators, Erica Hagen, and Mikel Maron later founded the Ground Truth Initiative. Visit their project page to find out about other counter-mapping projects they are working with, such as Grassroots Jerusalem.

Collection Highlight: Recent World War Map Gifts

Lt. Roy J. Beery in France.
Lt. Roy J. Beery in France.

The notoriety of the online Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection has afforded us many amazing gifts. Two recent gifts are particularly notable. The family of UT alumni Roy J. Beery graciously gifted us with the maps he used when he served in the World War II Invasion of Normandy. And the Army Heritage Center gifted maps and other materials that Colonel Roland T. Fenton, who served in machine gun battalions in World War I and World War II, used during his service. The fact that these maps survived the treacheries of war is amazing. We are lucky to be able to preserve and share them with generations to come.

Generally we hope for maps in pristine condition, but in this case the wear and writing are an important part of the story. This is the map used by U.S. Navy, Lieutenant Commander Roy Beery while on sea duty in the Atlantic amphibious force during the assault on the Coast of Normandy, France.

Map used by U.S. Navy, Lieutenant Commander Ron Beery while on sea duty in the Atlantic amphibious force during the assault on the Coast of Normandy, France.
Map used by U.S. Navy, Lieutenant Commander Roy Beery while on sea duty in the Atlantic amphibious force during the assault on the Coast of Normandy, France.

(Detail) This detail not only shows the strategic overprint it has handwritten notes, presumably Lt. Commander Beery’s. Notice all of the overprint information specific to the invasion and ground combat.
(Detail) This detail not only shows the strategic overprint it has handwritten notes, presumably Lt. Commander Beery’s. Notice all of the overprint information specific to the invasion and ground combat.

(Detail) It was made by the British War Office’s Geographical Section, General Staff (G.S.G.S.). Note the parts of the legend that are specific to combat.
(Detail) It was made by the British War Office’s Geographical Section, General Staff (G.S.G.S.). Note the parts of the legend that are specific to combat.


As part of the 103rd Machine Gun Battalion, (then) Lt. Fenton was on the front lines of WWI. The gift materials that belonged to him consist of trench maps, front line maps, and the following long distance firing range calculator for Hotchkiss machine gun.

Long distance firing range calculator for Hotchkiss machine gun.
Long distance firing range calculator for Hotchkiss machine gun.

 

This Sketch Map shows the trenches in the Meuse region of France. The red represents the Allied Forces and the blue German.

This Sketch Map shows the trenches in the Meuse region of France. The red represents the Allied Forces and the blue German.
Sketch Map of the trenches in the Meuse region of France.

(Detail) There’s just one paragraph explaining what the lines mean.
(Detail) There’s just one paragraph explaining what the lines mean.

 

In WWI the strategic overprint was often printed on an existing topographic map, rather than a map created specifically for combat.  This “Meuse-Argonne Offensive map showing daily position of front line” is one such map.

The terrain of this area was important to combat and affected the outcome of battles, knowing the topography was vital.

Meuse-Argonne Offensive map showing daily position of front line.
Meuse-Argonne Offensive map showing daily position of front line.

(Detail) Many of Col. Fenton’s maps were printing at the U.S. Army, Base Printing Plant in Langres, France, just 125 miles from the front.
(Detail) Many of Col. Fenton’s maps were printing at the U.S. Army, Base Printing Plant in Langres, France, just 125 miles from the front.

(Detail) Meuse-Argonne Offensive map showing daily position of front line.
(Detail) Meuse-Argonne Offensive map showing daily position of front line.

 

During the month of November we as a nation honor our military veterans. We can’t think of a better way for The University of Texas Libraries to honor their legacy than by telling their stories and making these materials that clearly meant something to them available to researchers for generations to come. Keep an eye on our website for more in depth profiles of these men and the maps they used. Thank you all for your service.

 

 

Read, Hot, and Digitized: New Website Maps Discriminatory Redlining Practices

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America lets users visualize the maps of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) on a scale that is unprecedented. The HOLC was created in 1933 to help citizens refinance home mortgages to prevent foreclosures. Directed by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the HOLC surveyed 239 cities and produced “residential security maps” that color-coded neighborhoods and metropolitan areas by credit worthiness and risk. These maps and the discriminatory practice they exemplified and enabled later came to be known as redlining.

Los Angeles redline map

If you zoom to Los Angeles, CA in Mapping Inequality (I recommend taking a moment to read the short introduction and how to) you will see the historic redline maps overlaid on a web-based map, a color-coded legend that describes areas from Best to Hazardous, and an information panel where you can immediately explore an overview and download raw data. Zoom in further, click a red section of the map, and the “area description” will load in the information panel. The initial view is curated and gives you an immediate impression of how these maps and accompanying documents perpetuated and institutionalized discrimination. You can also view the full demographic data and a scan of the original paperwork.

I encourage you to look at cities you are familiar with, it’s startling how the effects of these maps are apparent today. This is a work in progress so not every city surveyed by the HOLC is represented or complete.  Unfortunately, the accompanying documents for Austin are not available, but you can view the entire 1935 Austin map on the PCL Map Collection website. (You can also find a digitized reprint of the notorious Austin city plan from the 1920s at Texas ScholarWorks.)

1935 map of Austin, Texas, with redline demarcations.
1935 map of Austin, Texas, with redline demarcations.

I chose to highlight this mapping project because redlining maps are a critical example of the power of maps and this interface was beautifully constructed to illustrate their impact.

Mapping Inequality is part of American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History. While American Panorama is a project by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, Mapping Inequality is a product of many collaborations. Participants from universities across the country worked on many aspects of the data collection and transcription and the Panorama toolkit, open source software used to create these maps, was developed by Stamen Design. I also recommend exploring the latest map added to American Panorama, Renewing Inequity: Urban Renewal, Family Displacements, and Race 1955-1966.