• Project Critiques

    Pox Americana. http://usg.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=2c94e981a6c6485ab0e26bb680e0b063. Claudio Saunt and Elizabeth Fenn. [Landing Page contains About Us information]. 04 February 2019.

    This is a digital narrative using GIS mapping software to present a mappable range of smallpox cases during the New World epidemic of the disease between 1775 and 1782 (coinciding with the War of the American Revolution).  Presented on the eHistory hosting site, the map is the result of the data complied from written primary sources by Elizabeth Fenn for her book Pox Americana being placed into GIS.  In the words of Elizabeth Fenn, the creator, “GIS…displayed my data visually, across space and time.  As a researcher, I found this technology transformative.”

    There are two visual displays of the data based on zoom.  Further out, colours on the map denote location of cases and density of the cases.  At the bottom of the page, is a clock icon where one can view the progress of the disease over time. 

    Once sufficiently zoomed in, the cases are presented as ten different types of coloured dots on the map, with the colour denoting when the case occurred.  The cases which share a geographic location and arranged in a circle round a central pole.  A time lapse is not viewable on this level of zoom.

    The dots are clickable and provide a modicum of information about the case in question including the date, source, and a small excerpt of the written source.

    The navigation of the site is fairly straightforward.  The main actions are zooming in and out across the two zoom views, moving laterally across space, clicking on dots for more information, and watching the time lapse.  Apart from the ability to change the map background and jumping to a location, that is the extent of the site.  It is simple to operate and simple in its presentation.  However, this simplicity can leave the viewer wanting more.  One of the most interesting things about Fenn’s book Pox Americana was how she tied the 1775-82 Epidemic into the wider history of the war, Native-European relations, and westward expansion.  Here a lot of the data is at risk of just being there, without any tie-in to the larger narrative of the time.  There is little in the way of argument other than there was a very large smallpox epidemic at the time.

    Apart from the time lapse available on the wider view, there is little contextualization of the data.  As such, this almost feels more like a data source for projects, rather than a teaching tool.  Another annoyance is the way the GSI sets the dots with a spiral of cases around the location of the shared cases, because of the haphazard way the circles are organized.

    Taking the cases around Albany as an example, one can see the Schenectady cases are positioned on the east side of the city, despite Schenectady being west of Albany.  Given the imprecise placement of the dots, what is the point of having the option to give more map data in the background.  Why would a street view of the cases matter, if the dots are only accurate to within ~10-20 miles?  An example is given below:

    Ultimately, the site is a great map of visualizing the spread of the smallpox epidemic.  But it needs some more precise map plotting as well as more discussion or demonstration of how these cases and how this epidemic plays into the wider history of the time, aka the book Pox Americana.  Given the all this, I believe the site is best at providing information for academics about individual cases and areas of the epidemic with the map acting as an easy organizing factor.  For a wider public, the time lapse of the epidemic is the most applicable function.  Apart from the time lapse and the point and click for cases, this project could have been possible in a paper format.