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AfricaMap: Making the Past Useful

Location: Ballroom III Level: Novice

For hundreds of years, colonial and post-colonial powers have been mapping Africa and the rest of the world at a wide range of resolutions, for many time periods, and for critical subject areas, but it is an understatement to say little of this valuable spatial information has been made public even in the most basic ways, for viewing, sharing, analyzing. Instead the data resides in map collection drawers of government, academic, and private collectors with no publicly accessible metadata record to alert anyone to its existence.

At the same time, the much loved web 2.0 GIS frameworks developed in the last several years contain little or no historical depth. It is rare to find GIS data online that goes back 20 years, and unheard of to find spatial materials depicting conditions on the ground 50 or 100 years ago. Yet this data exists and we will propose inexpensive ways to make it public and accessible. We will present our work with AfricaMap and the Harvard Map Collection as an example of what is possible in a short time frame with few resources.

We will propose ideas for workflows to make it easy for organizations with historic maps to share them with organizations that don’t, while getting credit and maintaining control of the materials. This approach will use open source software and well proven map sharing technologies to make it inexpensive for organizations to start sharing the wealth of their collections with others.

AfricaMap as it currently stands is a simple spatial framework that is starting to bring together and make searchable the best public spatial data for Africa (and other regions) across disciplines: history, anthropology, social science, natural sciences, art. AfricaMap contains a million place names and includes the largest online collection of US and Russian map series data, as well as many other unique layers.

The AfricaMap framework, (also known as HUG) is open source, and scalable, and can be used to gather and visualize spatial and non-spatial materials for any part of the world. The framework was released in November of 2008 and has been used as the basis of several other applications: The Boston Research Portal, a Vermont Geology Portal, East Asia Map, Harvard Forest Map, and soon Middle East Map.

Ben Lewis

Harvard University

Ben Lewis is currently with the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University. Before that, Ben was a project manager with Advanced Technology Solutions of Pennsylvania, where he lead the company in adopting platform independent approaches to GIS system development. Ben studied Chinese at the University of Wisconsin and has a Masters in Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. After Penn, Ben worked at the U.C Berkeley GIS Lab, managed the GIS group for the transportation engineering firm McCormick Taylor, and coordinated the Land Acquisition Mapping System for the South Florida Water Management District. Ben is especially interested in technologies that lower the barrier to GIS access.