Module 1

Basics of Story Mapping

Before we begin, where will we end? We hope that by the end of this workshop, you will feel comfortable creating a basic story map with StoryMapJS. What is a story map? A story map is an interactive map with narrative text and multimedia elements that can be built using a web-based authoring application, such as StoryMapJS.

The basic components of any story map are:

  • Base Map – A layer with geographic information that serves as the background for a story map. Some examples of base maps include street maps, topographic maps, and political maps.
  • Locations – Where does the action in a story happen? Those locations serve as the backbone of a story map and are pinpointed on the base map. Think of each location as a discrete slide in the story’s narrative.
  • Narrative Text – Each location can be described with narrative text that helps provide context for each of the locations and helps propel the narrative of the story map forward.
  • Multimedia – Each location can also be supplemented with a piece of multimedia, such as an image or video.

These types of maps have grown in popularity in the last decade and can often be found accompanying news articles or as standalone features.

Let’s start by looking at some examples 

Georgia Humanities’ Southern Literary Trail brings to life a route that highlights places that served as inspirations for some of the U.S. South’s most famous writers.

For an example closer to home, UW students created this A Peoples’ Landscape: Racism and Resistance at UW tour of the UW Seattle campus.

A story map doesn’t even have to be bounded by Earth’s geography. This story map looks at Arya’s journey in the Game of Thrones universe.

While some of these maps use advanced skills that we won’t have time to cover in this workshop, by the end of this workshop we hope you’ll feel comfortable creating story maps similar to the ones above and feel inspired to learn those more advanced skills on your own time.

Further Reading:

StoryMapJS isn’t the only platform on which to create story maps. ESRI also offers a story map authoring tool. The main difference is that ESRI software is proprietary and not open source. However, their tips and suggestions for creating good story maps can be universally applied.

ESRI Make your StoryMap Successful  

ESRI Nine Steps to Great Storytelling

The Basics of Design

“Most maps are designed to communicate and reveal information, knowledge, or an agenda to audiences.”

-Ian Muehlenhaus, Web Cartography: Map Design for Interactive and Mobile Devices

As you embark on your map-making journey, it will be important to keep certain principles in mind. Muehlenhaus states in the introduction to his book quoted above (and linked as “Recommended Reading” below) that all maps are a form of geocommunication — that is, they are created to communicate something about our geospatial environment. Ask yourself before you start creating your map, what are you trying to communicate about the geospatial environment of your story in your story map?

Once you have an answer to that question, that answer will drive all the design decisions that you make in the map-making process. “All design decisions, every single one, should be made with monastic obsession toward achieving your communicative goals,” Muehlenhaus writes. “All maps, regardless of type, need to be designed to communicate a message, information, knowledge, or argument in as effective a manner as possible.”

Before diving into StoryMapJS, you should think through the following questions (provided by Muehlenhaus) about your map:

  • Who is the intended audience for this map?
  • Which data will best communicate these things?
  • What are the one to five things I want this map to communicate clearly?
  • Which design elements will help the map user receive the message most clearly?

StoryMapJS also provides some design and story map structure tips on their website, which include:

  • Keep it short. We recommend not having more than 20 slides for a reader to click through.
  • Pick stories that have a strong location narrative. It does not work well for stories that need to jump around in the map.
  • Write each event as a part of a larger narrative.
  • Include events that build up to major occurrences — not just the major events.

Further Reading:

Introduction | Ian Muehlenhaus | Taylor & Francis Group ( from Web cartography: map design for interactive and mobile devices

Module 1 continued >