Interactive Maps

Mapping Movies deploys GIS mapping as an iterative process of research and learning rather than as an engine for producing finished maps. Because GIS is “good to think with” (Klenotic, 2011, p. 60), its mappings represent an active form of spatial thinking about historical questions and processes. To promote discovery and exploration of cinema’s spatial history, Mapping Movies began offering in 2013 an interactive Web GIS experience using the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) developed by the University of New Hampshire. The server for ERMA/Mapping Movies went offline in July 2023, and work is underway to develop and relaunch the project’s online interactive maps using new, open source, cloud-based GIS resources. These maps will be released incrementally over the coming months, so check back periodically for new updates and new layers of information.

UPDATE (January 3, 2024)

Click on the map above to visit and explore a new test version of Mapping Movies Cloud on the ArcGIS online platform. Use the “+” and “–” tools in the top left corner to zoom in/out of the map (or simply double click on the map to zoom in; if using a mouse, the scroll wheel can also be used to zoom in/out). Buttons along the bottom of the map can be used to explore/extend the map by changing basemaps, viewing the legend, measuring distances, sketching/marking-up the map, and saving/exporting any map image that you may generate as a PDF or screenshot. When you select the “Map layers” button you will see three layers of data that you can interact with using several different tools (the fourth layer is a Web-based Tile Layer stored on a different server and so it does not show as an interactive layer). For each layer, interactive tools include: turn visibility of a layer on or off (eye icon located to the right of the layer’s name), adjust the transparency of a layer (first icon on left of toolbar), “swipe” a layer of data left or right to hide/show the data (second icon), view the data table attached to a layer (third icon), see detailed metadata “information” for a layer (fourth icon), add/remove a layer (fifth icon), and zoom to a layer (sixth icon). To see the data in 3D view, click on 3D and then choose “Add layer” to bring data into the 3D viewer. Note: when you return to 2D viewing the 3D layers can be removed to eliminate duplication. Read update below for more details.

In continuing to explore QGIS Cloud for mapping cinema history, I reached data storage limits (50 mb) of the free version of the platform when I attempted to upload a shapefile showing the geographic distribution of the U.S. foreign born population across 2,960 counties in 1910. I created the shapefile from U.S. census data in attempt to visualize the important context of immigration as an aspect of early cinema and show how this might relate to the distribution of motion picture theaters as gleaned from The Billboard’s published list in 1910 (see previous update below). The free version of QGIS Cloud works well for simple point data with few attributes, which was true of The Billboard 1910 list, but it does not work as well when attempting to situate such points in the dense and more complex attribute contexts afforded by U.S. census data. As an alternative, I turned to ESRI’s ArcGIS online free “public” account mapping platform, and hit the same data limits. However, my home University affords faculty with access to an ArcGIS online “organizational” account, which enables much larger and broader capabilities than the public account. Using this account, I created a web map that included my two layers of 1910 Billboard data on movie theaters (one layer for cities and a second layer for small towns), as well as my data layer on the distribution of foreign born U.S. population from the 1910 Census. The census layer was derived from data packaged for public use by the Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.  According to the NHGIS data dictionary and codebook, the number of foreign born residents in each county is stored in the column headed ‘a5b004’ and the total population for each county is recorded in the column headed “a22001.” I brought the data into QGIS and used the field calculator tool to determine the percentage of each county’s population that was foreign born, with the results stored in a new column headed “a5b005.” I then exported this data from QGIS as a shapefile that could be brought into ArcGIS online. In addition to these three layers, I added a fourth layer featuring a 1910 georeferenced map from the David Rumsey Collection showing U.S. railroads and railroad mileage between stops. The map was brought into ArcGIS as a web hosted Tile Layer served from the crowdsourced mapping platform. After creating my web map, I used ArcGIS online’s “Instant Web App” tools to convert it into an interactive atlas that enables users to explore the four layers of data in both 2D and 3D (the Tile Layer, however, is not compatible with the 3D viewer and cannot be added to the 3D map). To visit the test version of the ArcGIS online Mapping Movies Cloud web application, click here or on the map image above.

UPDATE (October 16, 2023)

Click on the map to visit and explore a new test version of Mapping Movies on the QGIS Cloud platform. Hover over the six navigation buttons along the right edge of the map to explore the layers of data and to change base/background maps. When the legend box appears, click the boxes to open a data layer and hover over the thumbnail image on the left end of the layer to view the symbol codes. Please note that as you zoom in and out of the map it may take a second or two for the map to redraw the theater locations so that they can be seen clearly at different scales. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for an update with more details.

I have begun exploring different cloud-based GIS mapping platforms for the next iteration of Mapping Movies. 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 by simply adding a plugin to QGIS desktop. To test QGIS cloud, I have used it to reproduce and share one of the first datasets that I had mapped on the old ERMA Mapping Movies platform, which was a mapping of 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 that were 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 on the map image above.