The “Places & Spaces: Mapping Science” collection at the University of Indiana http://scimaps.org/maps/browse/ includes many aesthetically pleasing, information-filled figures, maps, and other graphics. I arranged to talk with the director of Places & Spaces, Katy Börner, so as to explore the tension between map as representations of reality (which Places & Spaces exemplified) and as devices that show the way-providing a guide for further inquiry or action. I let her know that I was interested in how new angles of representation (as were evident in Places & Spaces) can inform (or not) the ephemeral, pragmatic maps my students make during their research and writing.
Katy Börner described how her background as an engineer led her to be interested in tool. Tools her group has developed for analysis of large data sets allow us to explore when, where, what, and with whom (e.g., in what networks). These tools can be put in the hands of policy-makers, funders, research agencies (e.g., so NSF can identify who good reviewers are). One resource is a data base of scholarship (most biomedical) that has 25m records (http://sdb.cns.iu.edu). Such a database affords lots of room for exploration, which is a key aspect of her course on informational visualization. Another emphasis is on focus (“high-level resolution”) and context (which is characteristic of Places & Spaces). By implication, Börner’s response to the tension I identified is to say there is lots of room for exploration once one has access to a super-large data base and some tools (presented in tutorials that accompany http://sdb.cns.iu.edu.