M3 Reflection

In Module 3, we read about and explored different ways in which online maps can be used to report, verify, and visualize stories. Of the different approaches you were exposed to in this module, which would you like to learn more about? Why?

Leave your response as a comment to this post.


  1. As a student, this has been the most stimulated that I’ve been in a long time. I wouldn’t call myself a visual-learner, but this section really appealed to me. When I see the Google Maps cars riding around, I never thought about how detailed it could be. I thought they were just plotting the roads, but after reading the story about the Soviet maps, I’m convinced that it can be much more. Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I know I’m interested.

    It’s funny how maps can tell a story, that the spoken or even the written can’t sometimes convey. I work in sports. I live in Chicago. We have two baseball teams here: The Cubs and The White Sox. Anecdotally, most Sox fans (myself included), know that we are really a small market team in a giant market. By the way, the two teams are separated by roughly 8 miles. Here’s a map, I made myself: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1hdwHazvIhV8gWjC5d5yvNDoWpOhxBbPz&ll=41.889825628481695%2C-87.63568999999995&z=12

    Sox fans have always known that they’re outnumbered. They cry about equal coverage and the Cubs being the city’s fair-haired boy, while the Sox are the red-headed step child. What was devastating for a lot of Sox fans, was seeing how small a fan base they actually had. It was illustrated on a map. This is the map of baseball fandom in the country. If you look at Chicago, you see the area around the city is mostly blue, with a little speck of black in it. The state is almost evenly divided between red (Cardinals) and blue. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/23/upshot/24-upshot-baseball.html

    This map was a devastating blow for Sox fans who felt that they have just as much sway as the Cubs. The Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 didn’t help things either. I haven’t seen an update, but I would imagine the chasm has grown quite a bit larger.

    The whole section was compelling, but the map story on North Korea was particularly fascinating. It’s of course pertinent, but the maps played a big role in helping me get a better understanding of what’s going on. The most telling was #10, that illustrated the difference in light from the north to the south. It’s a country that’s literally in the dark.

    The story on Soviet maps was terrifying because while reading, I kept wondering how they got such detailed intel and if the United States has something similar in a warehouse at the Pentagon.

    I had never really thought about how valuable the mapping process could be in storytelling. This section was a real eye-opener for me and honestly, something that I will use in my arsenal from now on. I’m about to do a map of the Bears roster to test a hypothesis (Most of the Bears players are from warm weather areas, specifically Florida, California and Texas).

  2. Being a visual learner, I find maps and diagrams to be very stimulating. They make everything easier to comprehend. I’ve always been intrigued by Google Maps and how the maps are generated. You see the Google Maps van driving around but then someone has to physically go in and punch in the details of each location. The data visualization article was a handy read because it outlined precisely what one would need to know in order to create a useful visual data presentation. Therefore, I’m inclined to agree with Laurence that this week’s topic was very intriguing indeed.

    My favorite reading of the three would have to be Vox’s “40 Maps That Explain North Korea.” Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had an odd interest with North Korea’s cartographic presence, or lack thereof. Now, I know that that in and of itself may sound a bit odd; however, this article made me feel somewhat validated. As it turns out, I’m not the only one.

    The article’s tenth point, “The North cannot keep the lights on–literally,” was eye-opening to say the least. Not to say that I was oblivious to North Korea’s poverty, but I guess it just never occurred to me as being one of the reasons why the map was so dark. As a child, I often imagined that there was some massive database run by the US government containing all the names and locations of each country’s cities, towns, etc.. It seemed to make sense. Each time a new community was established, it would be reported to the country’s government who would then tell the US government, and it would be uploaded to the database to be added to future maps and globes. This theory, I believed, was validated when I first discovered Google Earth Star (Global Earth Star?) and noticed that North Korea had no lights on or names of towns aside from it’s capitol. Being a dictatorship, the regime likely refused to provide as little information as possible. On top of that, other possible reasons my childish mind produced were that there either just weren’t that many people because they were all being murdered, or that they were all huddled near the capitol. “After all, North Korea is pretty far north; it can get very cold,” my child mind would reason.

    But I digress.

    The map in the article’s twelfth point, “North Korea uses a huge network of modern gulags to maintain control,” was another map that I found particularly interesting. From an educational standpoint, this is why visual representations are so vital to learning. This map acts as a diagram with explanations. This is my favorite because, as a visual learner, this provides me with specifics and not just generalizations.

    The Russian Cold War mapmakers article was my second favorite. It reminded me of an experience I had several years ago in one of chip’s classes in undergrad. As a massive history buff, I have a great appreciation for how things were done in the past. As the article highlights, people actually scaled these terrains, or died trying, in order to provide civilizations with accurate maps. Nowadays, as everything is going digital, actual cartography is a dying art. Thanks to Chip, I actually had the pleasure of meeting a real, genuine cartographer up in Hoover, which is just south of Birmingham. A couple other students and I followed a lead (courtesy of Chip) for a potential story about a guy who owns a little hole-in-the-wall map shop called “Carto-Craft.” Obviously, someone has to draw up the travel maps we used to use back in the “dark ages,” but that isn’t something people normally think about. They normally just focus on finding a map of where they want to go. This man had been drawing maps for decades, physically drawing them out! The experience really expanded my perspective.

  3. Of the different approaches in this module, I’d like to learn more about the process of customizing markers to meet my needs. The New York Times map was a simple, yet well laid out visual of MLB fans in the United States. I don’t know how to color code different areas on a map.

    When I was making my map, I struggled to distinguish shapes. I would make a square to represent a school. And then, I would want to use another square to represent a church. I had a thought that a square would represent any building. Unless those markers are far apart from one another, its basically the same thing. I’d like to know who to customize markers so my map can truly be my map. I didn’t and don’t understand that process.

  4. I’d like to learn more about the Google Fusion Tables. I like that you can just put in the data, and it creates the map for you. Then you can easily change what information is displayed with each point and how it looks.

    I also liked the article about when to use maps. They’re just another design element and should follow the rules of design. Maps should have a purpose in helping to convey your message. Maps shouldn’t be overwhelming or hard to understand, but clean and consistent. You can have the most beautiful map in the world, but it’s useless if it doesn’t get your message across.

    The author of the Vox article could have taken that advice. Many of the maps do a good job of getting the point across (although a lot of them were actually charts, not maps), but several do not. I don’t think the map on No. 19, for example, is very useful or necessary in conveying the humanitarian risk. If anything, it’s a little confusing.

  5. In my own field, I have never really considered using maps for analysis and instruction, but after reading “Inside the Secret World of Russia’s Cold War Mapmakers,” I was blown away by the many uses that maps can serve, such as shedding light on Russia’s Cold War strategies and telling the story about how important it was for Stalin to have a complete survey of Russia. Being in English Literature, one does not often find the value in items such as maps, especially in secondary schools. However, this got me thinking of the benefits that maps could serve in an English classroom.

    For example, with a novel like Moby Dick, it is important to know the route that the Pequot takes. The ship leaves from Nantucket, travels around the Cape of Good Horn, and is eventually sunk off the Eastern shore of Australia. So, when trying to teach students about Moby Dick as an epic, I would have to first tell them that epics encompass the entire world, and by being able to actually go to a map and have that visual representaiton for them, it could really help them gain a better understanding of the novel.

    That said, I really enjoyed learning about the Google Fusion Tables, and if I could learn more about only one of these different approaches, it would definitely be the Google Fusion Tables. For one, I was already familiar with Google Earth and Google Maps, and I was also aware of many of their uses, but the Fusion Tables are just a new and exciting concept for me. I had no idea how easy it could be to actually take some data and plot that information onto a map.

    I could easily see myself using this in a classroom setting where I want my students to be able to see a detailed map of, for example, playhouses in England during the Renaissance. With something like Google Maps, sure I could do a lot in terms of locations and distances, but with Google’s Fusion Tables I would really be able to hit on important details, such as where these theaters were located, when they were first opened, when they were closed, who owned the theaters, etc. The possibilities for Fusion Tables in education seem endless, and for me, that is exciting.

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