Nothing is ever objective in mapping. Nothing. Thinking about this concept is truly scary. The reality of the matter is, there is no objective reality. This semester, I have grappled with this issue more than I could have ever imagined in the subjective reality that is my brain. Through multiple Skype dates, scholarly articles, and numerous interactive maps, I think I’ve come closer to understanding the issues of mapping out data as well as some possible techniques that can help appease, but not completely dissolve said issues.
The first issue derives from a Skype date with dance historians Harmony Bench and Kate Elswitt. In our conversation, Harmony and Kate elaborated on the difficulties of representing data in both an accurate and meaningful way. Like our project, the two stressed the importance of acknowledging sources and their limitations in representation of data instead of downplaying it. Another way that they put it was just as there is no way to write objectively, there is no way to represent visualizations of data objectively. However, contemporary society has a tendency to accept these representations as truth without questioning. Harmony and Kate also praised the utility of technological mediums as tools to influence action within the public. One of their central points was to keep asking the question, “What does it do?” In this way, we can take the subjectivity of maps in stride and use them to make arguments that could not have been conceived in any way other than visually1.
Yet with this visual representation, there exist several more difficulties, which leads to my second issue. As I said previously, the display of information can never be represented objectively, but it also can never be represented accurately. Diana Sinton approaches this issue in her work, “Critical Spatial Thinking,” in which she describes the difficulties of spatial representation of data. Sinton makes the distinction between error and uncertainty when speaking on this issue. She defines error as an objective inaccuracy, and uncertainty as the result of these inaccuracy, as well as other factors, such as the inexact knowledge of the world. In reality, there is no way to depict geographic data 100% accurately, because of the Earth’s minute imperfections2.
Of course, if we were to take these accounts as they are, we would be stuck in an endless loop of uncertainty and paralyzing doubt. In this way, it is important for us to take these difficulties in stride and remain simultaneously cognizant and flexible. As I continue to pursue representation of musicological data in a visual/geographic way, I will keep these considerations in mind, and use them to further influence the way I develop my research.
1 For more information on the collaborative work of Harmony Bench and Kate Elswitt, see: Harmony Bench and Kate Elswit, “Mapping Movement on the Move: Dance Touring and Digital Methods,” Theater Journal 68, no. 4 (December 2016).
2 Diana Sinton, “Critical Spatial Thinking,” The International Encyclopedia of Geography, ed. Douglas Richardson, Noel Castree, Michael F. Goodchild, Audrey Kobayashi, Weidong Liu, and Richard A. Marston (Hoboken: Wiley & Sons, 2017), 2-9.