Earlier this afternoon, during the A-session of the 13th biennial Rhetoric Society of America conference, I was involved with a panel called “Novice Topoi: A Special Session on the Amateur.” I hope to have time to say more about it later. For now, I thought I’d mark the occasion by posting what I contributed–an experimental Flash map that uses movie clips as place-markers. There are a few things in the map I’d like to adjust, but all in all I accomplished what I set out for: 1.) square with something I didn’t know how to do when I agreed back in September to be a part of the panel and 2.) push my thinking about what is possible (and what is pleasurably worthwhile) where mapping and distant reading intersect (this for Ch. Five of the diss., which I will be drafting throughout June; maybe I should say “everywhere drafting” given that June includes those trips to Albuquerque and Hershey, Pa.).
Here’s the informal statement I handed out at the gallery/panel:
In this experimental Flash map, I have tried to create a simple, direct cartographic experience fashioned from twenty years of author-location metadata derived from College Composition and Communication. Sixteen frames are assigned to each issue of the journal (i.e., 64 frames per year; the file progresses at 12 frames per second); in the first frame for each issue, a series of short movie clips (or “blips”) initiate, touching off at each of the institutional locations from which an article was published in the journal. For each subsequent publication from a given institutional location, the instance of the blip appears slightly larger (i.e., the diameter grows by two pixels). Thus, markers associated with programs such as Michigan Tech and Ohio State, appear larger and larger over the span of the two-minute piece. By factoring in a temporal dimension, the map is coded with what Denis Wood, in The Power of Maps, identifies as “thickness.” From “Everywhere Drafting,” perhaps we can apprehend patterns at a scale not commonly available to readers of individual articles within the journal.
But this is a gallery/panel on the amateur, right? And so I should acknowledge that I had no certain idea how this would work or whether it would work at all. I set out to see what would happen, taking another Flash-based mapping project as one I would try to approximate. And I know very little about Flash. I dabble with it, find myself confused, often uncertain of all that a knowing user could create. I do know that such a map can be generated automatically from a data-set (one day I will learn how), but I produced the map by hand from a twelve-page list of articles and institutions. Roughly half-way in, I realized that my method for “placing” the slowly growing increments was flawed. Because I was using constant X-Y coordinates for each institution, as the movie clips grew larger, they gradually became farther and farther displaced from the anchor point, which was, I learned (the hard way–by messing it up), not at the center of the clip but at the upper left-hand corner. Painstakingly, amateurishly, I managed to correct the problem.