Telling Stories with Google Maps

We typically think of maps as a tool to get us from point A to point B—from where I am to where I want or need to be. Maps belong in our cars and on large signs at airports. But maps can also serve a more rhetorical function by making manifest where one place is in relation to another. Maps reveal relationships between places—between both physical/natural spaces and between social and cultural spaces. They reveal boundaries (natural or man-made), street patterns and names shaped by historical and cultural events, and voids where patterns (again, natural or man-made) break down.

Consequently, maps can be ideal for telling stories. Stories are, after all, about relationships. Relationships between characters and other characters, between characters and places, between characters and experiences. This is, perhaps, why so many authors include maps in their works. Readers like to be able to see the relationships between the places, events and characters they are reading about, and they like to be able to visualize those same places, events and characters in relation to their own lives.

Google Maps offers a feature called My Maps, which allows users to build and share personalized maps. Map-making storytellers can add pins to the map for readers to click on. Each pin can contain a video, photo, textual description and/or link for the reader. Using these various tools, the mapmaker can make visible the relationships between the people, events, places and experiences in the story he/she is trying to tell. The tools allow the mapmaker to develop a scheme to lead readers through the map in a particular order, or the mapmaker can allow readers to discover the sites along any path. The mapmaker tells his/her story by the places marked and by explicitly (and perhaps implicitly) revealing the relationships between them.

This feature of Google Maps provides a unique way to make a story visible and to emphasize the ways the spatial, social, cultural, and personal interact in ways that textual narrative may not make possible.

To learn more about how to create your own personalized Google map, visit this site or download brief instructions here.

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