Timeline Atlas

Amina Brown

My thesis project is focused on forest kindergarten programs in the United States, and part of that is mapping the development of programs over time and across the world. This necessitates mapping both time and location without sacrificing the representation of either one. This critique focuses on the Timeline Atlas project, which is an “art and mapping project” that works to showcase both the elements equally. Designed by Stephen Cartwright, the project acts as a collection of individuals’ movements through time and space that hopes to inspire comparison of different people’s paths through life. Users are invited to use the “Add your timeline” tool to add their own journeys to the map and have them become a piece of the larger Timeline Atlas network. Using a three dimensional graph, the time, latitude, and longitude are represented to provide an effective and equal representation of the location timeline. The visual itself is a bare bones line graph that is presented twice. On the opening page, the line graph shown displays the paths of many individuals. While it does allow zooming and manipulation of the positioning, the latitudes and longitudes are easily lost in all the information. This issue is common when adding high volumes of observations to any visual, and while it may complicate the visual understanding of the various paths, it also highlights that the data included is very US-centric. I would argue that, in this case, the crowded information is actually beneficial as it allows the user to easily pick up on the absence of other perspectives and help start a conversation about inclusion in mapping and data collection. 

The data is collected via individuals inputting their own data, which is then added to a database. While this method of data collection is a good way to provide interaction with the map, it does have the potential to single in on a similar subset of individuals. Those with accessibility barriers such as lack of internet access, language barriers, or legibility issues are less likely to input their data and have their experiences showcased. In this case, it’s not a high stakes representation, so the bias towards US citizens using the tool is not as consequential, but I think it is still important to consider the implications of only representing a portion of the population. In the “Add your timeline” feature, you are also given a traditional OpenStreetMap view of your path. It is presented side by side with the three dimensional graph, which provides a nice contextualization of the new representation. I think this is especially important since while latitude and longitudes are a valid way to represent location, in their raw form, I think they lack recognizability and can be hard to place without the aid of a traditional map. 

    The line graph also provides a nice hover-over feature that allows the user to read what the name of each location is. This also provides the context, but again has a piece that falls just short of being mindful of mapping complexities. On a basic level, the label that shows up just has the city name, which doesn’t account for duplicates and also is using the name that the user identified the place as. While this is thoughtful in the way that it prioritizes the content in line with the user’s defaults, it could potentially stand to benefit from adding in any other names as well to serve as a reminder of the history of these places. In adding multiple names for locations, I think that the map would invite conversation on the various perspectives and histories that exist worldwide, specifically those that have been overpowered by colonialism. With that addition, and the ability to compare the types of trajectories that people with different backgrounds might have, I think this tool could be used to inspire viewers to think critically about different cultures, languages, and histories. It has the potential to show migration patterns, be they forced mass migrations (i.e. the slave trade, refugee crisises), the movement of nomadic peoples, or more traditional immigration patterns. In tracking the trajectories of many individuals, this project is aiming to show that the network of individuals throughout the world is a complex, interwoven web, and possibly could push the narrative that people may not be as different as they seem. Overall, I think that this approach is effective, and while I think there is space to add to the value of the map by incorporating other languages and cultures, it is already designed to showcase both the diversity and interconnectivity among all of its users. 

Taking another step back and looking at the approach to handling both time and location in one piece, I think the three dimensional graph (with the ability to rotate) is a nice step towards equally representing both qualities. Additionally, I think the rotation allows for a choose-your-own-adventure type experience by letting the user position it in a way to explore the variables they are looking to prioritize. 


    The intention of the prototype is to represent information about various forests kindergarten programs and the development of different programs over time. It’s also important to represent all the programs equally and not just focus on the ones that have gotten the most publicity in the past (typically the scandinavian and germanic programs). Using the three dimensional time mapping technique, I sketched out a version of the map that touches on the various programs. I also included labels that used the respective names that different regions have for the programs. If I were to iterate further, I think I would work to include a traditional map on the lat/long plane and also work to make sure that the appropriate characters are used in the names (for example, Japan’s is spelled out using latin characters rather than kana/kanji characters). In terms of my final project, I’m not sure that this is the best technique to prioritize the information that is needed, though I do think that the concept of having three equal variables will be important to keep in mind.

Data source: https://www.growingwildforestschool.org/post/the-brief-history-heritage-of-forest-schools-around-the-world 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *