AfricaMap Release I, Beta An Infrastructure for Collaboration

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Benjamin Lewis

    Harvard University

  2. 2. Suzanne Blier

    Harvard University

  3. 3. Peter Bol

    Harvard University

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In November of 2008 the Phase I release (beta) version
of AfricaMap was made available to the Harvard community
and the public. The application can be accessed
AfricaMap sets out to address the problem of data availability
for Africa. Much public data exists, but it is so
difficult to discover, let alone obtain that many research
projects on Africa spend much of their budget gathering
data. Most people in Africa have an even harder time accessing
mapping of their own territories. When researchers
do gather data it is often once again lost because there
is no place to store it where it can be found.
The AfricaMap project represents a framework for organizing
Africa data which can also be applied to other
parts of the world. At its core is a digital base map of the
continent, viewable dynamically at a range of scales, and
composed of the best cartographic mapping available.
Behind the scenes a gazetteer starting with over 1 million
place names provides rapid navigation to specific
locations on a vast landscape. As more detailed mapping
becomes available it will be added to the system.
There is no limit in terms of hardware or software to the
amount of data that can be added to the system.
AfricaMap is not be tied to a certain discipline but is interested
in storing or referencing data from all disciplines.
AfricaMap will encourage collaboration. Researchers
will be able to define geographic areas of research so
that others can find out about their work. The system
employs a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), which
means that all the data that the system displays does not
have to be stored on AfricaMap’s servers. The data that
is stored on the AfricaMap servers is made available to other applications as map services
The idea for AfricaMap was developed under a Provost
Funds for Innovative Technology funded project that is
now being overseen jointly by Suzanne Blier and faculty
and staff at the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis
(Peter Bol, Wendy Guan, Ben Lewis). It has the dual aim
of supporting Harvard research that involves GIS work
on the continent and of making data created in the course
of research available to others.
AfricaMap System Characteristics:
Web-based – The system takes advantage of the latest
techniques for making large amounts of data and mapping
discoverable and usable through a standard web
Public access to holdings – Core holdings will be put
in the public domain or licensed using a Creative Commons
type license wherever possible. This means that
researchers anywhere in the world will be able to download
and use these original materials without major restriction.
Encourage replication – One reason Africa data is hard
to find is that the data which exists is not yet well replicated.
By contrast the base map for the United States
(the Digital Raster Graphics files) area easy to find and
exist on hundreds of servers.
Base mapping – Historic base maps for Africa are developed
by scanning, cropping, and georeferencing
maps from the Harvard Map Collection and elsewhere.
Maps are digitized at a range of scales and for a range of
time periods.
Dynamic gazetteer – The gazetteer together with the
base map form the core of the AfricaMap system. These
two datasets support one another over time, allowing the
gazetteer to grow and improve, which will make it easier
to find places on the base map.
Collaborative approach – Some tools to support collaboration
between researchers are provided. In the first
version a permalink feature will allow any view of the
system to be captured in a URL which can be shared. In
the next phase user created maps and map markup tools
are anticipated. Researchers will be able to download
base mapping and other datasets.
Multiple scales – The system will support research at a
variety of scales from sites or cities to country or continent-
wide projects.
Multiple media types – The system will support access
to many types of media in addition to spatial data, including
photos, maps, text, video, audio, and KML for
Google Earth display.
Long term data access – Once maps are scanned, digitized,
georeferenced it should not be necessary for anyone
in the world to repeat that work. Making digital
materials available over time is not easy because technology
changes. Techniques will be used to ensure long
term access to public domain digital materials wherever
Improves over time – While the Harvard Map Library
has large Africa holdings, it does not always have all
maps for a given series, and there may be important series
which it does not have. The goal is to fill in holes
in the collection over time by sharing with other libraries
and collections. Users will be able to submit data to
Harvard using an online form.
Usability – Ease of use is of primary importance. It must
be easy and quick for non-technical people to find the
information they need. Researchers are the end users of
this system and will be consulted frequently to guide the
design of the user interface.
Text-based search of contents – Google-type text search
against the contents of the entire system is possible with
results displayed on the map.
Interdisciplinary approach –- The system will bring together
mapped data (and facilitate the mapping of data)
from a wide range of disciplines including archaeology,
public health, history, linguistics, literature, zoology,
natural resources to name a few.
Global approach – The goal is to create a technical
framework to support research on Africa which could
also be applied to other parts of the world. It is hope
that aspects of AfricaMap will be useful for organizations
based in Africa whether it is the underlying data,
data hosting services, map services, or the AfricaMap
Scalable – The data in the system will be cached as it is
used. This approach greatly increases performance and
reduces server load, making the system far more scalable
than a traditional web-GIS.
Services oriented architecture (SOA) – The system will
support access by other web and desktop systems and
will in turn be able to access and display the maps on AfricaMap
directly via web services. This means that other systems will not have to download the data to access it
within their applications.
Cross Platform – AfricaMap can serve data services to
other types of GIS platforms including ArcMap desktop
and ArcGIS Server. In addition, AfricaMap can display
data served up from other platforms. Data formats
used will be open specification ones such as GeoTIFF,
JPG2000, KML, and Shape.
Open Source – The software that runs AfricaMap is
Open Source and available for users and organizations
inside and outside Harvard to obtain and build upon.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None