In this post, I reflect on the possibility of building a spatial map of the information that is contained in the database. The initial challenge is to learn how to build such a map using HTML and Java. HILT and CHI introduced me to the basics of this work, but I would have to go further in order to make a useful map. This post considers a couple of the benefits and challenges that would come from doing so.

The main benefit is to increase the power of the database to let the user visualize and manipulate historic information for the purpose of understanding the world of hydroelectricity in late colonial East Africa. Mapping the flows of hydroelectricity that existed between the factories, mines, and plantations of this time period can give scholars a new window onto the economic and environmental relationships that structured people’s lives.

The main conceptual challenge is how to represent change over time across space through the use of a digital platform. Most network analysis and mapping tools are not geared towards presenting change over time, and those that do face limitations. One limitation is the fact that “time” does not exist uniformly, but requires representation in multiple simultaneous registers. A potential solution to this practical obstacle to the creation of a database that represents change over time is to overlay different cycles of time in the production and consumption of hydroelectricity. Relevant cycles include daily, seasonal, and annual patterns of use.

There is also the practical challenge of mapping historic data that, in some instances, lacks clear geographic coordinates. Overcoming this obstacle, I suspect, must require archival and field research to triangulate past geographies, and is not amenable to digital solutions.