In regard to last week’s readings about time lines and this week’s readings about maps, I just wanted to bring up the issues of oversimplification and transparency. While time lines and maps are attractive means to convey information–particularly on the web, which values visual and easily digestible bits of information–it is easy to oversimplify history and mask the way that data was collected and interpreted.
As (future) professional historians, I think it is irresponsible for us to include time lines or maps on websites without an explanation of methodology or links to more detailed explanations or further reading. With each of these information vehicles, something must always be left out: events, places, causation, etc. Both time lines and maps can show that something happened, not how or why, which should be the most important questions for historians. Rumsey and Williams say: “With the innovation of partially transparent raster layers in GIS, we were able to produce composite map images that suggest how the passage of time transformed the city” (8). GIS can be great for visualizing history, but we always have to aware that “the passage of time” doesn’t really transform anything (things decay I guess, but that’s not what I’m talking about)– humans or nature do.
I am not suggesting that digital historians are consciously manipulating history when they use time lines or maps; I just think we all need to be aware of and upfront about the limitations of these instruments when sharing them with the public.