Our reading this week seems to, at least in a small way, bring us back to our readings and discussions a few weeks ago about whether or not cultural heritage should be digitized or not, and the potential problems with doing so. While that discussion was mainly taking into account the importance of the items and heritage to groups of people, and how it should or should not be shared, the readings by Patricia Seed suggest that digitizing other forms content, specifically maps, can also have significant drawbacks that in some cases outweigh the benefits.
The practice of digitizing maps, according to Seed, has many important benefits for those who want to have access to them without needing the original copy or a large print reproduction. The reality of accessing maps prior digital scans and photographs of the original physical copy did not allow for easy viewing and comparisons to the original maps to be made. Now, rather than taking a large book or a cut out page to a location of an original map to compare the two, everything can be stored on a flash drive that can be plugged into any computer.
However, Seed argues that there are potential serious drawbacks if great care is not taken to preserve the original integrity of the work. In the reading, Seed recalled when she requested to view a scanned copy of an original map at a museum, and noticed that it differed greatly from the copy that was for sale in the gift shop. She explained that the employee at the museum stated that the scanned document was edited to make it more visually appealing for sale. This editing of the map ruined the integrity of the map, as locations were now inaccurate on the edited map, and any scholarly use for the edited piece was no longer possible (Seed).
Unlike the preservation needs for cultural heritage as we previously discussed, digitizing maps presents issues that are not issues of who should be able to access the material, rather the issue is how accurate it the material. The fact that digital reproductions of maps can fall victim to Photoshop editing and the inherent limitations of the scanning process means that the viewer should never take what they see when viewing maps accurate without any doubt. How accurately a digital map is depicting the source material can be very accurate or very inaccurate, and other sources should be considered before making a determination on the accuracy of a particular piece.
Now, to turn your attention to the map posted above, it is clear that this is the type of map that you would have to use other sources to interpret to determine the accuracy of the digital copy. Without viewing the original work, you may say that this map looks accurate, the colors look vibrant and there does not appear to be any distortion on any of the ample lines on the map. However, we have no way of knowing that this reproduction of the original map is completely faithful to the source map. For example, some of the many rivers and borders on the map may have been retouched in editing post scan if there were damaged or faded on the original. If this were the case, depending on how much care was put into retouching the lines, the accuracy of the map may be compromised.
Seed, Patricia. “A Map is not a Picture: How the digitial World Threatens the Validity or Printed Maps”.