26 March 2008

Mapping and the Web

A map, used in conjunction with a lecture, to describe the events of the American Civil War battle of Gettysburg, has become the subject of a minor controversy.

My father and I made at least two visits to the battlefield, so there's a good possibility I've seen it. Even if I haven't, I can well imagine what it's like. The map will show the terrain contours and key buildings, and small electric lights come on and off at various points during a short lecture. There used to be something similar showing Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign in 1862 during the same conflict at a museum in the Shenandoah valley. These sorts of things were staples of growing up in a military-history-loving American household in the 1960s and 1970s.

That said, I'm not sure it's worth preserving. It would be far more effective, as the comment about the boy downloading a game off the Internet makes clear, to use some computer game engine and accompanying maps, stuck on the Internet, for people to view. Or at least one could have an audio-visual installation showing them in the visitor's centre. The case for preservation rests entirely on whether these kind of 'electric maps' represent a significant cultural stage. In which case it belongs in a museum of museum technology, and not as part of a battlefield monument. In an age when the dates of Gettysburg might be unknown to more than half of secondary school students, information must be provided in a way that will grab their attention, and not that of their grandparents.

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