Perspectives on Cultural Space: the Case of Moscow

The Task

“Cultural mapping” is generally understood to refer to the process of 1) documenting cultural resources and 2) making that information available with an eye to facilitating certain forms of investment and engagement.

These days, one of the key concerns of those producing cultural maps at almost any scale is to generate information about the complex, often unpredictable and intangible ways in which cultural activity manifests in space (urban or otherwise). Let’s imagine that we accept the premise that the definition of cultural space ought to be sufficiently broad as to encompass not just the relatively visible institutions of “high” culture – institutes, institutions, monuments, etc. – but also the diverse assemblage of everyday, occasional, and often invisible cultural activities in which inhabitants of the given region participate. What, then, should a cultural map look like? And just as importantly, what kinds of new research questions can we generate through the process of cultural mapping?

The Method

For the purposes of this lab we broke into small groups. Each group generated an answer to the following question: What should a cultural map of the city of Moscow look like?

To that end, each group selected a georeferenced map of the city from a gallery provided. The maps were produced at different times and scales, for different purposes, and by different cartographers. Some have explicit cultural content, while others do not.

The guidelines were as follows:

1) Pore over the map and identify what it tells us (argues, claims, suggests, insinuates, etc.) about the cultural space of Moscow;

2) Produce a series of annotations (points, lines, or polygons; minimum 5 per group member) that make the map’s rendition of cultural space explicit and interactive. Each annotation (or “record” in Neatline’s vocabulary) must be timestamped and include a short text (300 words is a good max target) explaining the significance of the delineated space. Bear in mind that a good annotation offers information and/or analysis but also a pathway to additional information about the subject – a means of digging deeper. In some cases this might mean a hyperlink to a related site, in others an image. Bear in mind too that we are looking for quality, not quantity in these annotations.

3) Introduce a similar quantity of new complementary/contradictory/related information to the map. This information will provide a more nuanced – or simply more diverse – understanding of the kind of cultural practices/relations suggested by the map. This work might include creating records that represent public events, literary references, photos, memories, etc. It might include creating a GIS layer (or 2 or 3!) fed into Neatline via WorldMap. Whatever the format of the new content, be sure to come up with a strategy for differentiating it, visually, from the content you pull from the map itself.

4) Together, your group will produce a brief text describing the project as a whole. This text should include an enumeration of at least 4 research questions generated by your work.

5) Produce a “short-stack” of blog posts documenting your work: 2 blogs per group member. You are welcome of course to post as often as desired throughout the lab, and to share notes both on the mapping process and on the insights that might (or might not) arise. Please assign the tag “Lab2” to all relevant posts, as well as 2-3 thematic tags.