Myself and Jon Bounds are working on creating a map of musical activity in Birmingham. As part of the AHRC KTF, Interactive Cultures sent us to the Cultural Mappings; Cities, Landscapes and Memory Symposium. Jon has provided the following report for us from the event:

The cultural mapping symposium at Liverpool University pulled together a lot of people doing real research into using maps with various cultural data, it also attracted myself and Jez Collins of the Birmingham Music Archive.

Mapping is a simple and powerful concept, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as the research community calls it – the rest of the world would say “putting data onto maps” – all sorts of connections can be made between different data sets, or between geographical features or even the emotions of the content.

I thought the most interesting project we heard about was Mapping The Lakes. The talk by Dr David Cooper focussed on the techniques used to place the notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the work of Thomas Gray on maps of the Lake District that they were writing about, and a little on the kind of information that they could draw out from that.

While the intersections of literature and cartography discussed were interesting – the possibilities and the questions that the research raised were even more fascinating. The methods they’d used to analyse the text (including some automation of place search) were very analogous to things that the “mash-up” culture of social media is producing.  Compare for example the interactive maps from the Lakes project with the “Half Map Half Biscuit” map of every place mentioned in Half Man Half Biscuit songs (very relevant to the Liverpool area of much of the work discussed) and the similarities rather than the differences are what comes to mind.

Closer links between the University based cultural mappers and the social media types like myself (in industry or privately) could be very much mutually beneficial. The academics have some fine ways of working and real knowledge about the possibilities of mapping, but they’re often using proprietary data and closed systems – which restricts the sharing and the cross pollination that mapping enables. They also struggle with the sustainability of projects – what to do with the data once collected, or how to display or continue to store it when project based funding comes to an end. This is something that opening up to the “community” online could solve – not to mention the way that social cultural information can be mapped by those involved in or experiencing the culture themselves, removing a layer of abstraction and spreading the data collection.

I know that Jez and myself came away with a lot of ideas of using mapping for the Birmingham Music Archive – from a map of every Birmingham place mentioned in a lyric, to thought about how a future BMA database could work best. Exciting times for everyone interested in the relationship of culture to place, the technology is finally catching up.

Jon Bounds
http://jonbounds.co.uk

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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