Our goal in the Mapping for Good series is to bring light to projects that use maps and geospatial data to make the world a better place. In some cases, the mission may be very specific: we’ve covered organizations that take photographs of just one part of the world to create an environmental record; and wrote of an even more localized effort to map health trends within the City of Chicago. Sometimes, however, the effort to make data available in one locale can grow into a mission to address mapping needs across the entire globe.
Such is the case with WorldMap, a “collaboratively edited, multilingual, free internet mapping electronic media site open to everyone that is house at the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University.” Though WorldMap’s breadth now covers thousands of datasets and spans the entire world, it evolved from an initial project called AfricaMap. AfricaMap is a website started in 2007 by art historian Suzanne Blier and GIS scientists Ben Lewis and Wendy Guan (it is of note that Lewis also developed the first peer-to-peer GIS system).
The essential goal of AfricaMap was to unite a wide range of cross-disciplinary information in a single, centralized mapping environment, from health data to linguistic layers, infrastructure and transportation datasets, and with the ability to load high resolution satellite imagery in the background. Over time the ability for users to upload data themselves was enabled, and soon the desire and need to expand the project beyond the scope of Africa became apparent.
WorldMap’s current range of applications is vast, spanning from personal use to large-scale projects operated in partnership with international organizations.
Here are just some examples of its scope:
- The United Nations uses WorldMap to address the illicit trade of flora and fauna in East Africa.
- WorldMap collaborates with Emory University to make available data from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Database.
- The American Theological Library Association (ATLA) partners with Harvard and WorldMap to share information from its ATLA Religion Database on the site.
Most importantly, WorldMap is free and open to everyone. It is this unfettered access that gives the project its true value, as allowing anyone to use it inevitably promotes collaboration between groups that would otherwise struggle to connect across physical, technological or bureaucratic boundaries. With anyone able to upload map layers and datasets, users and organizations alike are better able to visualize data and find spatial relationships that may not otherwise have been discovered.
If you would like to learn more about AfricaMap and WorldMap, or are interested in trying it out for yourself, we encourage you to do so by visiting worldmap.harvard.edu.