A Women’s and Gender Studies class learns about Geographic Information Systems in order to turn a massive map into an interactive crowd-sourcing project.
When the twelve students in Prof. Susan Harbage Page’s Women’s and Gender Studies 290 class had to design a final project, they thought big: A car-length map showing where catcalls and street harassment occurred on campus.
In keeping with the focus of the fall 2014, special topics course—“Art and Social Change – Making Invisible Borders and Boundaries Visible Through Site-Specific and Performative Art Interventions”— Page asked the class to produce a site-specific art intervention of their own. It had to engage the audience through some kind of participation. And it had to “shed light on things that weren’t really talked about,” said Anondo Banerjee (UNC ’15), a biology major and class member.
After several hours of discussion, the class opted to create the oversized map of campus and downtown Chapel Hill, and invite students to place a bright orange thumbprint wherever they had been catcalled or had witnessed catcalling.
“We had been talking about performances throughout the semester,” said Banerjee. “We couldn’t think of a better engagement than having the audience fill up the map.”
The classmates spent some 20 hours drawing a 12-foot by 15-foot canvas map that they unrolled on the bricks in front of Davis Library. By the end of their project, passers-by had left some 250 prints marking local incidents of street harassment, and the students knew they had an important document on their hands.
The class tapped Banerjee to figure out how to convert the physical map into a digital one, so that it would endure beyond the end of the class. “We thought it would be an interesting part of the greater campus conversation at UNC,” said Banerjee.
From Canvas to Screen
Since he had never worked on such a project before, Banerjee scheduled a consultation with Amanda Henley, Geographic Information Services librarian in the Davis Library Research Hub.
Henley worked with him to create an online map using ArcGIS Online, a computer system that allows the user to associate data with maps. She also recommended incorporating software called OpenStreetMap, so that anyone with a computer and an internet connection could add points to the map.
Finally, Henley conducted a bit of her own research to identify an annotation feature allowing users to add 160 characters of text to their map points. The story-telling dimension was one that the class had originally wanted to incorporate into their project, but could not easily do with the canvas map.
“This was my first participatory crowdsourcing project,” said Henley. “I had to figure it out because I knew that other people would want to do similar things in the future.” In fact, Henley has already recommended the software for other voluntary geographic information projects.
After working with Henley, Banerjee entered onto the digital map all 250 points that the class had collected. With OpenStreetMap, he added and labeled specific locations such as bars and restaurants.
The project team now had a single online location where Carolina students and others would be able to continue adding their own experiences with catcalling.
Banerjee and his classmates were thrilled with their final product and with the experience of working with Henley. “I can’t give her enough credit,” said Banerjee. “This project and the class itself showed me the power in maps.”
Page, too, is pleased with the outcome. “The students did a wonderful job of identifying an issue they cared about. They then used the strategies of artists and innovators to make catcalling visible, create dialogue, and ask questions about how catcalling fits into a wider social space of structural inequalities.”
Her special topics class has now been accepted in the curriculum as WMST 352, “Encountering Art in the Unexpected: Borderlands and Story in Contemporary American Art,” and Page says she looks forward to additional collaborations with the Research Hub and across disciplines.
The students “were able to have this finished product,” said Henley. “I think that’s pretty impressive for someone who hasn’t done that kind of thing before.”
To view the project, visit the map online.
Story by Mike Millner. Photographs by Jay Mangum.
Updated Sept. 24 and 25 to clarify information about the course and instructor.
- UNC catcall map online
- UNC Libraries Research Hub website
- GIS & Data Services at UNC Libraries
- Prof. Susan Harbage Page website