Digital Project

Interactive Mapping with Leaflet

Nancy Um, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Integrating technology into the classroom can be a key vehicle for overturning the model of hierarchical expertise transfer because the resulting knowledge flows are inherently more circular.

Nancy Um collaborated with her students on an interactive mapping project as part of the graduate course, "Art/History in the Digital Age," which she taught at Binghamton University in Fall 2020. When determining the research and storytelling tools to teach emerging art historians, Um focused on mapping as a critical exercise. As her work on the Indian Ocean continued to extend in scope, Um found that she needed to create her own maps to capture the movements of objects across widespread geographies, from the Red Sea Region to China and beyond. She learned to use Leaflet, a JavaScript Library for interactive web maps, with the programming language R in order to advance her own research and to teach her students. For the class, Um produced a video tutorial on Leaflet; and another on spreadsheets for humanities scholars that included guidance on creating a dataset (see the classroom project). Um concurrently created an interactive map as a companion to the presentation delivered with Meha Priyadarshin, "Four Objects on the Practice of Transoceanic Material Culture Studies;" and Alyssa Abesamis, an MA student in her course, produced another map that drew on data from the Public Art Network. Each student in Um's seminar was required to produce their own map, or work together in groups to do so. They failed, iterated, and succeeded together in a dialogic process of teaching and learning. The exercise was aimed at expanding understandings of how art historical narratives can be shaped by a commitment to working both visually and spatially. For Um, mapping introduced new geographical conceptions and new spatial ways to see the world and chronological divides differently. In addition, it infused her course with bracingly critical and collaborative pedagogical work.

Nancy Um is Professor of Art History and Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Inclusion at Binghamton University, State University of New York. An active participant in digital art history initiatives, her research has charted trans-regional and multi-sited Oceanic perspectives on the material, visual, and built culture on the Arabian Peninsula and around the rims of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

Image credit: Unknown, Sea Sculpture, c. 1725, underglaze cobalt blue decorated porcelain cups fused to a coral growth. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.