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ASU students tell stories through interactive maps

LISTEN: Jonathan Davis - ASU graduate student

TEMPE, Ariz. — Some students at Arizona State University are testing out a new website that could provide benefits to business and education.

The university is the first to begin using a website and interactive mapping program called Mapstory, which is used to plot data and changes on digital maps over a period of time.

Jonathan Davis, an ASU graduate student who helps curate content for the site, said creating historical and interactive maps such as these have a lot of different applications.

“It’s a very powerful visual tool,” he said.

Davis said they create maps involving historical topics, such as the formations of Indian reservations and where they are located since the 18th century, or maps depicting battles during World War II.

“One of the stories I’m doing right now is the Battle of the Bulge,” he said. “A lot of times you just see a static map…but with this you can see the battle lines moving and see the tanks coming.”

Schools can use these interactive maps to make history lessons more interesting and impactful, Davis noted.

“When you read (history) in a book, you recognize that it’s at a place, you recognize that it’s a certain geography but it doesn’t actually hit home, it doesn’t actually come alive,” he said. “When we put these events on a map we get an actual conception of distance.”

Students have also used the program for mapping and showing other changes, one example is a story visualizing the change in sinkholes in Florida over time.

Companies can use the information such as this make business decisions about nearly anything that involves a historic timeline and geography, whether that is a new development or environment studies and impact, Davis added.

“They can look at (it) and be like, ‘OK, from this information this helps and maybe this’ll support or affect our decision,” he said.

Davis said he’s completed roughly 15 stories for the site mostly with historical content, and ASU is using the site to fulfill content and also test the site to notify the developer of any issues.