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  • Writer's pictureKevin Haynes

Telling Stories with Maps: How GIS is Changing the Narrative Game

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are an increasingly important tool for storytelling. GIS technology allows users to create and manipulate maps, as well as analyze and visualize spatial data. By combining GIS with narrative techniques, users can create compelling and informative stories that are grounded in a sense of place. In this blog post, we will explore the relationship between GIS and storytelling, and discuss some of the ways in which GIS can be used to tell stories.


First, it is important to understand what we mean by "storytelling" in the context of GIS. At its core, storytelling is about using narrative to communicate information and ideas. Stories have a structure, a beginning, middle, and end, that allows information to be conveyed in a logical and memorable way. By using GIS to create maps that illustrate key points in a story, and by using spatial data to analyze and support those points, storytellers can create a compelling narrative that is both informative and engaging.


One way in which GIS can be used for storytelling is through the creation of "ArcGIS story maps." Story maps are web-based applications that combine maps, multimedia, and text to tell a story. Story maps are easy to use and can be accessed on any device with an internet connection. They can be used to tell a wide range of stories, from the history of a place to the impacts of climate change. By combining maps, multimedia, and text, story maps create a rich and engaging experience that helps users understand the significance of the story being told.


Another way in which GIS can be used for storytelling is through the analysis of spatial data. Spatial data, which includes information about the location and distribution of things, can be used to support a wide range of stories. For example, data about the distribution of pollutants in a city can be used to tell a story about environmental justice. Data about the location of businesses in a neighborhood can be used to tell a story about economic development. By using GIS to analyze spatial data, storytellers can create narratives that are grounded in data and that help users understand complex issues.


In addition to these specific applications, GIS can also be used to enhance storytelling in more general ways. For example, GIS can be used to create maps that help users understand the context of a story. Maps can show the location of key events, the distribution of resources, and the relationships between different elements of a story. By providing this context, maps can help users understand the significance of the story being told.


GIS can also be used to engage users in the process of storytelling. For example, by creating interactive maps that allow users to explore data and information on their own, GIS can create a more immersive and participatory experience for users. By providing users with the tools to explore data and information on their own, GIS can help users understand the significance of the story being told in a more personal and engaging way.


Here are a few ways in which GIS is changing the narrative game:

  1. Visualization of Spatial Data: GIS technology allows for the visualization of spatial data, which means that data about the location and distribution of things can be presented in a visual and engaging way. Maps can be used to show the relationships between different elements of a story, such as the location of events, the distribution of resources, and the impacts of environmental changes. By using GIS to visualize spatial data, storytellers can create narratives that are grounded in data and that help users understand complex issues.

  2. Integration of Multimedia: Storytelling with GIS is not limited to just maps. GIS technology can be used to integrate multimedia elements, such as images, videos, and audio, into a story. By combining multimedia with maps, storytellers can create a more engaging and immersive experience for users. For example, a story about the history of a city could include images of historic buildings and audio interviews with people who lived there.

  3. Interactive Storytelling: GIS technology allows for interactive storytelling, which means that users can engage with and explore the story on their own terms. Interactive maps can be created that allow users to explore data and information on their own, which creates a more personalized and engaging experience. By providing users with the tools to explore data and information on their own, GIS can help users understand the significance of the story being told in a more personal and engaging way.

  4. Contextualization: Maps created with GIS can help provide context to a story. By showing the location of key events, the distribution of resources, and the relationships between different elements of a story, maps can help users understand the significance of the story being told. Contextualization is especially important for stories that deal with complex issues, such as environmental change, social justice, or economic development.

  5. Collaborative Storytelling: GIS technology allows for collaborative storytelling, which means that multiple people can contribute to the creation of a story. Maps can be created and edited by multiple people, which allows for a diversity of perspectives and ideas to be incorporated into the story. By involving multiple people in the creation of a story, GIS can create a more inclusive and representative narrative.


GIS is an important tool for storytelling. By using GIS to create story maps, analyze spatial data, provide context, and engage users, storytellers can create compelling narratives that help users understand complex issues in a memorable and engaging way. As GIS technology continues to evolve, it is likely that we will see even more innovative and exciting ways in which GIS can be used for storytelling in the years to come.


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