By Alyssa Long
To kick off the History of Art and Architecture's Digital Image Lab series, UC Santa Barbara Geography professor Keith Clarke led a Wednesday afternoon mapmaking workshop. "Anybody can sit down in front of a computer and make a map," he said. Though the process initially seemed complex, Clarke showed how digital programs have made it easier to create and access maps.
Clarke teaches several cartography classes at UC Santa Barbara and has also written numerous textbooks, for which he has created maps and illustrations.
He opened his workshop by explaining the internet’s impact on cartography. Originally, maps were produced by central mapping agencies, but the internet has made almost all mappable data publicly available online.
“Maps belong to more than just geography,” he said. “Anyone can now map almost anything.” The turnout for his workshop proved the point. The room was filled with graduate students and professors from several disciplines, including Religious Studies and Art History. Clarke delved into the many user-driven websites full of open-source data and maps that anyone can use, even without a background in geography.
Clarke showed workshop attendees the interactive map of UC Santa Barbara, the result of 15 years of independent study research by students. The map includes everything from bike paths to the locations of recycling bins. A degree of interactivity is now expected of digital maps, he said, because anyone with basic knowledge of coding can make a geographical illustration into a data-rich map.
With a few clicks, Clarke was able to construct a map of where President Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border fence would be, drawn from a public compilation of data.
Clarke showed attendees multiple cartographic resources, including GIMP and Inkscape, free programs that he personally uses to illustrate maps. “You have unlimited scope to make Earth look like whatever it is you want it to look like,” he said, demonstrating a program called Flexprojector, an interface for creating world map projections.
For the second half of the 2-hour workshop, attendees experimented with creating images using the programs that he had mentioned, under his guidance.
To learn more about mapping and data visualization, keep an eye out for more workshops from the Digital Image Lab series: Mapping. Professor Swati Chattopadhyay will discuss the Mapping Urban Materiality project during the winter quarter.
Alyssa Long is a second-year student at UC Santa Barbara majoring in Communication. She is a Web and Social Media Intern with the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.