Bill Pascoe, System Architect
We mostly worked on this software in Awabakal and Worimi land and water. I lived in Mulubinba, or Newcastle, which means ‘place of ferns’. Since 2022 I’ve lived in Naarm, in the lands of Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung of the Kulin Nation.
Time Layered Cultural Map is a platform of digital mapping tools that aim to make digital mapping easier for humanities researchers.
2021: TLCMap funded by a 1 year ARC LIEF grant
2022: Funded by a ARDC platforms grant
2023: Funded by a 1 year ARC LIEF grant
TLCMap is free, and as much as far as possible doesn’t require log in. We focus on public and open data, open standards and open source. You may need to create an account if you wish to create and save data, as you need an account to save it to.
Humanities Digital Mapping Needs
Maps are not just 2 dimensional pictures of a geographical region. Our initial analysis of humanities mapping needs showed that maps come in many forms, and digital humanities researchers work with maps in many ways. These can be briefly summarised with the following themes:
- Temporal maps, such as timelines and journeys. Time is especially important for humanities researchers as we seek to understand more about the history of ideas and events.
- 3D visualisations, virtual and augmented reality.
- Quantitative analysis of spatio-temporal data.
- Collections. Geolocating items or images in a collection or database is a common need.
- Text. Finding and mapping place names within texts or texts themselves.
- Mobility. This includes individual journeys, itineraries, and quantities of objects or people moving from place to place.
- Multimedia. Maps can come in many forms, such as stories, directions, songs, paintings and dances.
Software Ecosystem – Compatability not Competition
The aim of TLCMap is not to replicate functionality you can get elsewhere, but to provide mapping tools for humanities mapping that are lacking in other GIS systems. This means we try to make components that can work alone, but also can work together as part of a greater whole, or workflow.
KML, GeoJSON and CSV
This means using open standards so that data can be imported and exported. We focus on CSV (Excel spreadsheets can be saved as CSV) and the mapping file formats KML and GeoJSON. By using open standards and open data we are compatible with other systems. You can export and import data to and from other GIS systems, or transport to and from databases and other applications.
No project without a platform. No platform without a project.
Development is driven by the needs of humanities projects to ensure it is useful. We also focus on making sure any development for a project can be used for other similar projects. TLCMap is ‘infrastructure’ – rather than be a specific project on a specific topic, we build systems that make humanities mapping projects possible, or quicker, easier and lower cost. You don’t need to be an IT or GIS expert. We focus on Humanities researchers needs that aren’t met by other software which might typically be designed for science or commerce. To ensure this infrastructure is not a ‘solution looking for a problem’, no features are developed without there being researcher projects that need them as use cases, proof of concepts and demonstrations.
Information about places, and visualisations of it of contributions of humanities information, by making it useful to individuals for individual projects. We have a 5 year institutional commitment to support the platform, and any work you put in can be exported for use in other systems, so your work won’t be locked in, lost or wasted. The most important thing is that TLCMap is useful to humanities researchers, so your feedback helps drive our development in the right direction. Development is always ongoing. Don’t wait until it is ‘finished’ to start using it, as it will never be finished. Use it for what you can at the moment, and let us know what you wish it could do. Having said that, we aren’t Google or Microsoft. We are a small team with limited resources so all suggestions are heard, they must be prioritised and it may take time to respond.
Humanities researchers are often interested time as well as space – the history of how things came to be, narratives of biography, journeys and so on. Sometimes we are interested not only in things that can be measured across time, but changes in categories, systems of thought, ontology and changes in structures themselves, within which phenomena can be measured. Time is conceptualised in ways not limited to scientific methods, and not limited to time series analysis that may be found in GIS systems.
For example: Sometimes we do use scientific methods, such as looking for demographic correlations like whether arrests correspond with income levels. However, we might also be interested in highly contingent historical events, that don’t repeat and have countless causes and effects, not just the statistical analysis of consistently measured events in a controlled environment. For example, what happened when the first fleet arrived at Sydney Harbour, the death of emperor Qin, the discovery of radium etc. Digital Humanities is not just about applying IT and scientific techniques to humanities but, equally, adapting IT to some fundamental epistemic and ontological differences in Humanities.
In the field of digital mapping, one simple way of addressing this difference involves exploring and connecting information across datasets or through ‘layers’ in both space and time, or simply linking geolocated entities to other resources such as multimedia, or records in other datasets.
We might also be interested in other ways of structuring time that can’t be fixed to a point on a timeline, such as cyclical time. Some of the more experimental TLCMap development is to support these structures beyond a basic timeline.
Also, many IT systems, including GIS systems cannot handle dates prior to some point in modern history, such as years before an arbitrary moment in modern history (such as 1900), without 4 digits (such as 786AD or 10,000BC). Although not relevant to all, it is a crucial hindrance for many projects.
TLCMap supports any date in the formats YYYY-MM-DD, DD/MM/YYYY, or YYYY, with any amount of years, and with a minus sign to indicate BC dates, eg: -10000.
For more information on how TLCMap handles time, see the main map course section on Time.
TLCMap is not a map of ‘all the culture’ in Australia – yet in a way it is.
Sometimes people have the impression that TLCMap is a single map of ‘all the culture’ in Australia. To make such a thing is, of course, impossible. The amount of information on the map would be impossible to navigate. Nobody could claim to provide a single authoritative version. It could never be completed as culture has endless nuance, is ongoing, and there is always new research.
Also, the needs of humanities researchers are often idiosyncratic, and need customisation for that particular project. This is a big problem for IT platforms, which must find ways to establish methods that can be used in common by many people.
TLCMap can be used to easily create web maps to augment their research. It can also be used to provide a map interface to larger projects with large databases, or interfaced with in more advanced ways.
TLCMap creates tools that enable humanities researchers and others to create maps, to link these maps to other information, media and database, specific to their idiosyncratic needs, and to contribute these maps to a spatio-temporal index that can be searched by time and place and other factors. A ‘deep map’ of a wide range of information, deepening the meaning of places, for those who view this information. Places, people and events become connected and associated with each other through this information, in a wider web of meaning in context.
The Gazetteer of Historical Australian Places is where most spatio-temporal information is aggregated. It’s like a growing spatio-temporal index of humanities information. It includes:
- Two national scale aggregated data layers of place names in Australia – the Australian National Placename Survey (ANPS) and the National Composite Gazetteer (NCG)
- Large institutional spatial collections, such as AustLang and AusStage.
- Many layers on various subjects contributed by researchers who have used TLCMap for their projects.
Importantly, you can search within and across these layers. A search is conducted not just on layer metadata for finding map layers on a topic, but within each place on a layer.
All this means that the ‘map of culture’ can continue to grow, without any single dictatorial authority, catering to a wide range of needs for different types of information, and people can search within and across all these spatio-temporal layers. Simply asking ‘what is here’ with a search, can reveal many events and entities associated with a place leading to datasets perhaps on the biography of an travelling musician, on the demographics of convicts, on the meaning of the placename in Indigenous language, newspaper articles on 19th century bushfires, accounts of missions, and its mention in fiction and so on. These individual points and datasets can also link out to their sources and to other tools that provide functionality relevant to that resource.
Main Tools and Features
In it’s first year TLCMap began with a very ambitious program of development, trialing many prototypes to meet many different needs and attempting to closely integrate with many 3rd party systems.
Following this, we consolidated development to focus on those systems that were most successful and in demand, responding to user feedback and testing. In particular we focused on the Gazetteer of Historical Australian Places, which is the main application which all TLCMap systems integrate with.
- Gazetteer of Historical Australian Places
- Map Views – these can work alone but are most easily accessed through GHAP.
- Quick Coordinates
In response to feedback and thanks to a second ARC LIEF grant new developments are underway in 2023:
- Indigenous guidance and collaboration: including collaborative projects, paid consultation and Indigenous research fellowships.
- Geolocating texts: Automatically locating places in texts (such as a book) or collections of texts (such as articles from Trove) using AI; presenting maps and texts side by side, each linked to each other; and allowing manual correction of them.
- Sentiment analysis of places in texts: having geolocated texts, provide automated summaries of qualitative information about them from the text.
- Mobility: Designing data structures and visualisations for representing movement of quantities and types of objects or people over time.
- Spatiotemporal metrics: Easy to use statistical and ‘hotspot’ analysis of spatial and temporal data.
- Mapping colonial and historical Census data: locating and mapping placenames and some associated data from the historical and colonial censuses.
- Place Identifiers: Defining an implementing policies for unique identifiers of places within TLCMap and gazetteers.
- More researcher projects and datasets across disciplines.
- New and better features for GHAP.
Future development we hope to pursue includes:
- Mapping movement in cyclical time
- Mapping across multimedia
- Processing of large institutional collections to provide spatio-temporal indexes and interfaces to them.
- Closer engagement with community