In the second floor hallway in Lynchburg City Hall, a map breaks down the ethnic makeup of the city with plotted points, revealing — in one quick snapshot — the city’s demographic information with just a few words and an image.
Elsewhere, data is communicated with a map of pigs per square kilometer in China. Online, an interactive “Map of the Internet” shows — by corresponding circle size — the biggest websites as defined by the number of people who use the site globally.
Whether of interest to business owners, journalists, educators or the curious, maps have been used as more than just a way to get around. From the first roughhewn maps of Europe to a means for planning battle strategy, maps often are used to communicate knowledge in a unique way and — more recently — have become interactive through technology.
Tracy Hamilton, a Sweet Briar professor of Art History, recently was selected to be one of 16 fellows to participate in the first Kress Summer Institute on Digital Mapping & Art History. There, she will begin to learn how to create an interactive and online map for her work.
Her project will document five French queens and one countess and their artistic patronage in medieval France during the 1300s. The artworks commissioned by the royal women will include illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, stained-glass windows and even funerary and coronation processions.
“It’s really how I see things,” Hamilton said. “When I’m talking about these women, I picture [where they are].”
Hamilton has been a Sweet Briar professor since 2001. Her family already has flown to Pamplona, Spain for the summer — an opportunity she savors to educate her children — so she can be trained in using Geographic Information Systems for her project.
Sweet Briar College, which she calls “absolutely gorgeous,” has been Hamilton’s first job out of graduate school. She received her master’s and doctorate degrees in medieval and French art history at the University of Texas, Austin.
A Charlottesville native, Hamilton didn’t see herself returning to Central Virginia for work. She also was unsure about her professional career until, as an art history major at the University of Delaware, she was encouraged by professors to continue her art history education.
“I probably knew [I wanted to do this] as an undergraduate,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t know it in high school… I just had these really wonderful professors at Delaware who really encouraged me to go on.
“It was really almost as I was completing work at each level that it really occurred to me, ‘Okay, this is something I can do.’ I still think, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I can’t possibly do that,’ and there you do, and there you are.”
Hamilton wrote her doctoral thesis on Marie of Brabant, the Queen of France and a native of northern France, or modern-day Belgium. Her idea for her first book and eventually her mapping project started with 13th century French queen.
Hamilton noticed in her research Brabant had commissioned artwork between Paris, France and Brussels, Belgium, creating her own road and connections.
“I thought that was really interesting,” Hamilton said. “What a way to make a point: ‘I am both of these.’”
Stephen Bragaw, chair of the Sweet Briar College Department of Government and International Affairs, said Hamilton’s work conveys complex work in coherent ways.
“The thing that [Hamilton is] working in particular, you can see the real connection between the art and the development of the art and the spread of commerce and the spread of religion,” Bragaw said.
Hamilton said she wants to take the mapping project and “make it all about Europe and the Mediterranean. Include men. Expand timelines. Trace origins about material.”
Bragaw said the digital humanities isn’t a trend, but is here to stay, both in the education world and outside of it.
“For me, using these types of interactive maps… is a great way to tell the story of electoral politics,” Bragaw said.
Besides the sprawling maps of Nov. 6 elections, interactive data increasingly is used for journalism websites, professional sports and government transparency.
The Lynchburg City ParcelViewer, a Geographic Information Systems map like the one Hamilton will be making, is used to map real estate info, such as property value, acreage and current owner.
“There’s been a real growth of digitized mapping,” Hamilton said.
About five years ago, the college had a Sustainability Colloquium to discuss ways for students to be aware of community resources. Out of it came an idea for one of Hamilton’s favorite courses: Land is Art, a course which merges art and geography.
For her, pictorial education is a way to teach because it’s the way she thinks about things.
“It came out of something that was going on in my brain at the time and took these different routes and, yes, ‘Land is Art’ is very much part of that exploration,” she said.
For the course, students would look at the historical context of Sweet Briar campus buildings and their architecture. As a former plantation which used slaves, Sweet Briar has a unique transition from agriculture estate with serfs to a place of higher education.
It altered the way students thought about their campus and about art, she said.