History Research Hacks

Exploring digital tools & methods

A brief note on GeoCommons

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Yesterday, Digital Humanities Answers helped me find an answer to a problem I’ve been wondering about for a long time: how to map some data easily, without having to know a lot about GIS.

DHAnswers, a project of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and ProfHacker, is a much-better-than-average implementation of the message-board concept, with really smart people who answer questions there. When I saw Bethany Nowviskie’s reference to GeoCommons, I decided to play with it. (I’d just listened to an older podcast from the Scholars’ Lab, Andrew Turner’s November 2011 “Neogeography: from Tower to Town Hall.” Andrew is the CTO of GeoCommons, and that talk’s a good introduction to mapping for non-experts, even if the sound quality’s not great.)

In any case: if you’ve ever wondered how to map some data, and especially if you already have a spreadsheet of it with state names, other place names, or latitude/longitude columns, go play with GeoCommons. Once I clean up my maps a little, maybe I’ll post them here.

I’m finding some annoyances with GeoCommons, largely around how it handles date-formatted data, but overall it’s more useful than frustrating.

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3 Responses to “A brief note on GeoCommons”

  1. Kate Chapman
    on Mar 16th, 2011
    @ 2:48 pm

    Hey Shane,

    Glad you like GeoCommons. What is the issue with date formatting? I know it isn’t perfect, but maybe I have some tips that can help!


  2. Shane Landrum
    on Mar 17th, 2011
    @ 4:53 pm

    I’m trying to do choropleth-esque maps that replicate, more or less, this historical item:
    state-by-state map of birth registration, 1922

    There are actually 3 kinds of data mapped on there: states in the federal birth registration area (red), states with good laws but not yet in the birth registration area (pink), states with unsatisfactory laws (yellow).

    I know that I’d need to have 3 separate columns of data to map that appropriately; for now, I’ve just been trying to map one (the birth registration area), and I’m trying to map it year-by-year to explore a question about state-by-state policy diffusion.

    The map I’ve got so far is here, (dataset here).

    Here’s what I’d like to do and what problems I’ve found:

    1. There’s no way (that I’ve found so far) to animate time-series data that’s associated with boundaried areas like states. Apparently one can do this for points but not for states. What I really want is a time slider that I can use to select a date, and have it show a state either shaded (red) or unshaded (clear). I tried numerous ways to format a data set with booleans (like this), but that didn’t seem to work either.
    2. When I’m setting up the divisions of the choropleth colors, the slider represents dates as decimals, not as YYYY/MM/DD; this shows up in the legend as well, and it makes my map look as if it’s handling quantitative data rather than dates.
    3. There’s no way to indicate that my date data is discrete, not continuous, for purposes of the choropleth sliders. In the original data I’m working from, it’s actually just a set of years. My ideal would be that I could configure the choropleth and time-shown sliders to work at different levels of detail: continuous (date-time), by day, by month, and by year.

    Anything you can suggest to work around these problems would be great. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Shane Landrum
    on Mar 18th, 2011
    @ 4:10 pm

    Note here, mostly for my own reference later: The choropleth example provided by protovis behaves a lot more like I want my map to behave. The data being mapped is straightforwardly numerical, unlike mine, but the conditional coloring code seems easy enough to edit. Unfortunately, the data’s in JSON format, which will require some research and hacking around to export from Google Docs.

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