A whole new world…

Teaching, research, and more

A whole new world…

I was really excited this week to dive into digital mapping tools. This is an area where I’ve dipped my toe before–I’ve used StoryMapsJS to make tools for teaching like this one–but I don’t have a lot of experience either using ESRI StoryMaps or, for that matter, conducting actual research using mapping. Pretty much everything I’ve done with GIS tools has been to introduce historical topics to students, rather than using them to try and find out anything. I’d like to get more comfortable with the tools, to start thinking about how I could use them to actually answer research questions.

A screenshot of an ESRI Storymaps project called "Medieval Manuscripts and Modern Audiences"
A first stab at ESRI StoryMaps, oh so long ago

My first effort at using ESRI was created in the summer of 2020. I had gotten a wonderful student project in the strange, strange spring of 2020 that used ESRI StoryMaps, and I thought the program could be really useful for teaching tools and also as a possible student project assignment. Unfortunately, I got intimidated by all the different options and abandoned the project before getting very far in it. One of the real benefits for me of attending the workshop in the GIS center on using this was just getting to try out the tools in a setting where I wasn’t really concerned about the content and could just focus on experimenting with the software.

I think these are the top takeaways from the workshop that I want to remember in the future:

A screenshot of the Design tab in ESRI StoryMaps
A place for everything from deciding the theme to setting up the navigation for creating a logo!

The Design Tab

I had no idea how much you could do here–changing the themes is definitely fun, but being able to add a navigation menu at the top of the Story Maps is the kind of thing that I’d love to do but wouldn’t know how to do it, and adding a logo is something I wouldn’t have even thought of doing but seems like a great idea for connecting different relevant pages.

A screenshot of a map titled "My Life Map Tour"
For all your narrative mapping needs!

The Map Tour option

There may come a time when I feel comfortable geolocating, say, the various repositories in which manuscripts of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain are and making my own maps, but I’m not there yet. I am pretty comfortable using mapping tools to tell chronological narratives with geographical aspects, having done that with StoryMaps JS, and it’s really helpful to know that I can do something similar with ESRI without having to compile geographical data. Having the option to focus on the map vs. the media is also really cool, and I can see where I might use both options in different situations.

An express map with a messy green circle over Falls Park in Greenville, SC
Is it a great Express Map? No. Did it get the job done? Yes.

The Express Map tool

As I mentioned, I’m still rather a novice when it comes to using geographical data, so I loved the idea that I could add a map and quickly and easily draw attention to the areas I wanted to focus on. My use of the drawing tool is admittedly pretty messy, but I was excited to hear the kinds of uses this Express Map tool can be used for–mapping distances between places, establishing routes, and adding captions to highlighted areas of the map.

The moral of the story? I really like ESRI Story Maps. I’m still not sure how to make the best use of it for research purposes, but I feel a lot more comfortable using the tools, and I’m ready to dig in and start experimenting with it again.


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