Oct. 25th: Testing Map Scholar and ArcGIS by Plotting 1812 Forts and Battles

After looking at how to map the past and going through the GIS workshop, I decided to compare and contrast Map Scholar with ArcGIS. Map Scholar is a program from the University of Virginia made freely available to the public to use however. ArcGIS, on the other hand, is a program that requires payment (unless, like me, you’re able to access it through your university). They are both programs that allow the user to create and share geographic stories and information. My personal experience was much better with ArcGIS compared to Map Scholar. Part of this may be due to the fact that our class had a workshop where we learned the basics of ArcGIS, and I was left to learning Map Scholar on my own. However, regardless of the workshop, Map Scholar is a much more complicated and less user-friendly program compared to ArcGIS.

Map Scholar has three different guides, all of which go into different amounts of detail and discuss different aspects of the program. The first guide you see when you click on the “build” section is a developer guide. Below this is the full guide to Map Scholar. However, there is a third guide, the “user guide,” which I could not find on their website and had to google (it was hidden in a different section, away from the “build” menu). In total, these three guides amount to over 45 pages. I admittedly didn’t read through all of that, but I skimmed the parts I thought I needed and had a lot of trouble trying to do what I thought were basic things with Map Scholar. 

It would have been really nice to have some of the information in the guides moved into the actual builder. Once you start working on your map, there is no information or help to be found (except within the external guides). I really wish that Map Scholar told me what certain buttons did, or how to begin, without having to read an entire manual. They do have one area where there is a guide, however, I found that it did not work. 

This is the Map Scholar interface. Here, I was attempting to show the various battles and forts on the map, but the points disappeared anytime I clicked off of the map.

Within the map you are able to add lines, markers, and shapes (see above). I was under the impression that these would stay on your map and become public once you shared your map. However, anytime I added markers or lines, they would disappear as soon as I edited the map in any other way. I managed to save the markers, but when I loaded them the text disappeared, and added a random yellow image near one of my markers (see below). Even after loading them, they would disappear if I clicked anywhere off of the map (like to the right, editing the text or pages of the story map). 

To the right are the various ways you can add text, images, etc. to your project. I was only really able to get the text and images working, although I tried a few other things (like overlaying an image onto the map, which didn’t work).

I had a few other problems, either bugs or issues with the program. While I was editing the details of the map and text (on the right side of the images above), the map would sometimes disappear completely, leaving an empty space on the left. This was fixed by zooming, but it was rather problematic to have happen while trying to edit other aspects of the project. Another problem I had was with uploading images; I got them to work, but when it told me to define the exact sizes, it didn’t seem to work. I was either able to make the images way too big, requiring scrolling to see the full thing, or so small that I had to zoom in to see them properly. 

Finally, when I felt I had done enough to publish as a test, I came across my last problem: it doesn’t tell you how to view or share your project once you publish it. I had to reopen the 3 different guides and search for a way to share them. It turns out that, instead of giving you the link, it wants you to copy and paste the URL for sharing and type in your project number. However, the link they have in their guide has a typo, which took me a few extra minutes to figure out and finally get the link to share my test.

Overall, while some people were able to put together a decent project using Map Scholar, I found it very frustrating. Nothing about the program is intuitive or user-friendly. If you are planning on using Map Scholar, be prepared to dedicate a lot of time towards reading, and even more time towards trial and error when things don’t go quite as they are supposed to. 

As a comparison, I tried to do what I envisioned on Map Scholar using ArcGIS. I found the entire process so much better using ArcGIS. I was easily able to do exactly what I wanted with the map, which was to add markers for some of the forts and battles around Niagara during the War of 1812. I did this by creating a spreadsheet, saving it as a csv, and then uploading the file into my map. It’s a little more work than placing the points down, but it’s more precise (and it actually stays on the map). I was also able to easily find and overlay two early-1800s maps that show the old forts, something I tried for a while but couldn’t figure out with Map Scholar. I was very happy to find adding text on ArcGIS didn’t cause the map to disappear, like with Map Scholar, as well. And finally, when I went to publish my ArcGIS story map, it sent me directly to the published version so I could copy and paste the URL to share (instead of having to dig through the manuals and use some trial and error to figure out how to share). 

Here is the link to my Map Scholar project: http://www.viseyes.org/mapscholar/?2807. There isn’t a lot to see on the map, as my points kept disappearing, and the images and text were just short tests (note how they block the map when opened). Compare that to what I did with ArcGIS here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/547dd798209f4acc835c02df6fb01ac5. ArcGIS has a lot more going on because it was easier and took much less time.

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