StoryMaps: A place-based form of historical narrative

Professor Elizabeth Tulanowski‘s introductory class on Geographic Information Systems at Colorado State University exposed me to ArcGIS tools. Developed by Esri, the world’s leading supplier of GIS software and tools, ArcGIS tools are not open source. They are, however, available to most students and academics through institutional access. There are many open-source versions of ArcGIS Pro like ArcMap and QGIS, but it is true that the usability and advanced mapping functionalities of ArcGIS make it a preferable tool among GIS users and scholars working with spatial data. Like Omeka, ArcGIS StoryMap helps us visualize and present information to broad audiences. Differently from Omeka, it is not meant as a virtual exhibit of cultural resources, but rather a visual representation and place-based form of historical narrative.

ArcGIS StoryMaps’ dashboard and the published story maps within Clemson University’s organization profile.

In the summer of 2022, the Geospatial Centroid at CSU hired me as an intern to work on a StoryMap project for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. I reviewed data from 1998 to 2022 and identified specific locations of projects that were awarded the County’s Small Grant for Community Partnering Program. After geolocating each of the awardees, I used ArcGIS StoryMap to create a place-based narrative about the twenty-five-year history of the program, and the different grant categories each project fell into (check out the full version of the storymap here).

StoryMap “Small Grants for Community Partnering Program.”

The screenshot above shows the basic layout of every story map: the textual information follows the visual component which is often an embedded Web Map or Web Application produced in ArcGIS Online. In the “side-by-side” layout, the viewer can either scroll through the text or interact with the Web Map. Above, you can see the Web Map includes a legend and showcases six different grant categories symbolized by different colors. But the story map creator can choose whether or not to show a particular layer of information for a specific slide of the story map.

Here, the same Web Map was used to create an interactive Web Application in which the funding distribution and the population density were the relevant layers of information. In this stage of the story map, the user can expand the Web Application and interact with the different layers, either choosing to hide or visualize them. The overlap of different data provides significant insight into the criterion for awarding the Community Partnering Program Award throughout the county.

Historians benefit from locating history in space and having a visual understanding of spatial patterns across time. As a presentation and communication tool, ArcGIS StoryMaps goes beyond placing history: it provides a meaning – and not necessarily chronological – narrative with embedded historical argument that benefits from multiple layers of information.

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