So, Northwestern’s KnightLab has a lot of awesome tools, and I might as well get their logo tattooed over my heart, ’cause I sort of love them. StoryMapJS is a way to show a story in text and image while also displaying the relevant location on a map. As the story progresses, the map moves around and allows you to interact with the story differently. For this project, I used largely the same data as for TimeLineJS, using strategic copy/pasting. The result, as you’ll see, is somewhat different.
Unlike TimelineJS, this tool does not require use of a spreadsheet but rather is built in a manner resembling a presentation. Each event is a slide, and for every slide you have the option to manually place the geomarker or to search for a location and have it automatically placed accordingly. As I was mistakenly under the hopeful belief that I could import from Google Maps, I had already created a KML file of all the required locations. Entering them again (I’m beginning to see a theme with this project) was tedious, but pretty simple as the search field had a handy autocomplete feature and was spot on most of the time. It also helps that Rome is a pretty small city.
One of the main features I enjoyed using was the media selection feature, which is able to pull Flickr images from their page link without requiring a specific image URL. As Flickr makes finding such a URL very difficult, this feature saved me a lot of time and grief. No digging through the embed code for 50 jpgs to get the URL, no strategic screenshotting (which is dubious anyway), no hoping you have the right resolution… it does it for you.
When you create a StoryMapJS, it links to your Google account and saves the file on your Drive in a similar manner to TimelineJS, so you can stop and start back up again when you need to. I found this very useful as I had to switch browsers a few times to figure out which one was the best (Firefox, shocker).
StoryMapJS was created for Journalists to tell stories in a format other than the usual print/text+image format to which we are accustomed. Its purpose is not scholarly by nature, but it lends itself well to scholarly content and storytelling. It is easy to pick up and learn and requires no data formatting or coding, so while the bar is low the returns are high.
Sometimes, jumping in head first is fun. Like, a lot of fun.
Other times, like now, thinking ahead and actually planning the project can save time.
I filled out the spreadsheet. Completely filled it out. Figuring out the dates was fun, and while Hawthorne is pretty vague with dates he’s strangely specific about times of day.
Once the spreadsheet was all prettied up, I moved to thinking about the timemap, which was when I realized that I was trying to get the timeline tool to do too much and I needed to even out the load between the two.
So. Here’s to readjusting and a lot of copying and pasting!
For one of my last projects for this class, I chose to revisit my favorite city in the world through the eyes of one of my favorite authors. In the 1850s, Nathaniel Hawthorne worked in Rome and gave a stab at writing one of his last books, The Marble Faun. Years ago, I studied in Rome and spent a few days in an experiment, attempting to use it as a guidebook. Hilarity ensued. It serves more as a record of Hawthorne’s own favorite spots in the city, many of them outside on the streets or in the shade of the ancient trees. There are very few locations in the book which are not explicitly given, and those all exist outside of Rome. Otherwise he gives cross-streets, descriptions, and names which can be traced either on maps or through old Baedekers and other guidebooks, conveniently located in Google Books.
I sat down yesterday to begin on a spreadsheet of named locations and found myself up to my neck in rather confusing shorthand, which I had to clarify and write out. Ultimately, some sort of order began to appear and I started to try to put together a timeframe for this project. It helped that I knew the city and understood how long it took to get from one point to another, because Hawthorne moves fast and his sense of time is metaphorical at best. Fortunately he adored April and February in Italy (who doesn’t? It’s gorgeous) and unwittingly let slip a window of time from which I could extrapolate a rough timeline. As this book is in the public domain and available on Gutenberg, I was able to save a large amount of time by using the ol’ handy ‘Find’ function to locate when he shifted by days and months and often found that he stated time shifts in the dialogue itself. By focusing on the dialogue and relying on the ‘Find’ function, I got some relative days (two days after X, two days before Y, four months from Z=two days before X, and so on) and decided to make some educated guesses at the dates. This book isn’t a scientific document or almanac, it’s a romance, so the dates aren’t all that important.
What was important was the location of the characters in relation to each other, and creating the timeline helped me get this perspective. In my spreadsheet I noted which characters were present and which were absent, and this showed me a very interesting side to Hawthorne’s writing about which I had completely forgotten. He often writes in relationships, so where each person is in relation to each other is at least as interesting as what they are thinking about, if not far more so. To reflect this, I’ve decided to add each character’s location to the timeline if I can, as the book does pan from character to character and lacks a single, heroic protagonist.
So we’ll see how that turns out.