Manifest density

· Miscellany

For years I’ve been bugging my friends about an untenable, unmarketable, too-expensive-to-produce idea for a dynamic atlas.

I’ve always been a huge fan of historical atlases, those books that show not just where the borders and populations are now but where they used to be and how they’ve changed.

What I like about the idea of a dynamic atlas is that you could layer a number of different groupings over the same base map: political boundaries, religious communities, language groups, ethnic migrations, elites vs. peasants, etc.

Wind them up and watch them spread, flow, retreat, consume, vanish. Things like that could be set to run automatically or work with some kind of slider so that the reader could control the rate of change displayed. I’ve imagined this would require a database schema, a lot of data, and a playback medium such as CD-ROM (which shows you approximately when this idea was gelling for me).

None of my friends in the multimedia publishing business, even those involved in developing reference materials, ever felt that this was a viabile commercial idea.

So I am greatly pleased to stumble upon Animated Atlas: Growth of a Nation, a Flash based illustration of U.S. history in North America, suitable for classroom discussions and casual fans of geography.

Thanks to Andrew Northrup (aka The Poor Man) for spotting this site. His take on it? “Thrill to the sight of Andrew Jackson’s disembodied head repelling the British from Nawlins in the war of 1812. It would repel me, too.”