Link of the week: Hack Your Maps

I found this article while I was making my South Street Hospital website, and I immediately fell in love with author Young Hahn’s concept for a map that is also a narrative. By writing a bit of JavaScript, Hahn transforms a map of London into a vehicle through which to tell a Sherlock Holmes story (“The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”). The article is called “Hack Your Maps,” and Hahn uses it to make the point that, while web maps have only grown more powerful, sophisticated, and easy to use, web developers and designers have done little to exploit their full potential.

There really is a lot to love about what Hahn has done here. His article starts out with a discussion of the mechanics behind web maps. Although many of us tend to think of web maps only in terms of street mapping, he rightly points out that “nothing stops us from tinkering with it to explore galleries of art, create fictional game worlds, learn human anatomy, or simply navigate a web page.”

From there, Hahn begins to create his Sherlock Holmes story map. While many stories are written with specific places in mind (how many novels have you seen that feature maps in the flyleaves?), it’s often hard for readers to picture how events in a narrative unfold in space. I think that making a map central to storytelling is a striking method of bringing a sense of place/space back into narrative. I have often thought about how museum exhibits could benefit from having more maps – especially interactive ones – but until I read this article I hadn’t given much consideration to how geospatial elements could be brought into works of fiction.

Another thing that I like about this article is the fact that Hahn takes you through the technical steps and the thought-process that led to his final product. You aren’t left thinking, “That’s amazing, but how did he do that?” For those with little experience and big ideas, these are exactly the sorts of articles we need. Better still, the code for the map is made freely accessible on GitHub and all his tools are open-source. Anyone who wants to make something like this is welcome to take inspiration from his previous hard work, and they can create a beautiful result for free.

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