Mapping Movies

Exploring the landscape of moving pictures. Because movies come and go, theaters rise and fall, and the audience has to be in place.

Mapping Movies is founded on a simple premise: Where we watch movies matters. To understand the powerful role that movies play shaping culture and identity, we first need to know where they have been seen. We then need to know how they got there, when, under whose auspices, and in what physical conditions and social contexts they were experienced, interpreted, discussed, regulated, acted upon, and remembered by diverse audiences.

Whatever the environment – open air, tent, barracks, theater, town hall, church, airplane, hotel, home, school, mobile device, or elsewhere – Mapping Movies explores how people and movies intersect in places that vary and change over time. The goal is to discover the social, technological and industrial forces that create the infrastructures for these intersections, and to map the cultural networks and patterns formed through and upon them. By placing histories of movies in geographical contexts, the project explores the relations between media access, landscape, community, demography, transportation, modernization, and memory. It also probes the limits of mapping as a method and mode for historical research and public engagement.

Mapping Movies is committed to a vision of mapping as a heuristic process of research and learning. Rather than producing finished maps or closed narratives, the site seeks to create space for users to explore shared data and interact with multiple information streams in an open-ended way. Designed to stimulate new research and encourage serendipitous discovery, the project will incorporate a wide mix of historical artifacts and spatial data from both formal and vernacular sources. These materials will reflect the perspectives of multiple spatial locations and social experiences that together constitute a people’s history of movies.

Jeffrey Klenotic pioneered Mapping Movies as a desktop Geographic Information System (GIS) in 2003. In 2013 the project entered phase two by going online using the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) web GIS platform created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of New Hampshire (UNH). ERMA/Mapping Movies grew and developed for ten years before its server went offline in July 2023. Work is now underway to deploy new, open source, cloud-based GIS platforms to launch an even more accessible and collaborative version of Mapping Movies into its next decade and third digital phase. These resources will be made accessible via the “Interactive Maps” page of this blog. In the meantime, an archive of map images showing the geographical range and historical richness of ERMA/Mapping Movies will soon be published in the “Visualizations” page of this blog as a record of that pivotal phase of the project.

UPDATE (October 16, 2023): I have begun exploring different cloud-based GIS mapping platforms for the next iteration of the interactive, online component of the Mapping Movies project. QGIS offers a free cloud platform (QGIS Cloud) that facilitates the basic visualization and exploration of data online. Though the free version of the platform has a limited range of tools, and does not permit the exchange of data via downloads, it does offer a quick, free, and open source way for those who are familiar with the desktop version of QGIS to easily share their work so that it can be explored interactively by others. To test QGIS Cloud, I have deployed it to reproduce and share one of the first datasets that I had mapped on the old ERMA Mapping Movies platform, which was a list of U.S. moving picture theaters published in The Billboard magazine over several months in late 1910 and early 1911. This map does not show the locations of individual theaters. Instead it shows the total number of theaters known to be open at that time in what The Billboard characterized as “principal cities” and “small towns” across the United States. I will continue to add new data layers to this map in the coming weeks, so check back to see how it evolves. To visit the test version of the Mapping Movies Cloud website, click here or skip over to the “Interactive Maps” page of this website and click on the QGIS Cloud map image at the top of the page.