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The Role of Political Geography for Meaningful Data Visualization

featured / economics / data visualization / conferences


I recently attended the inaugural edition of the Harvard Meeting on Political Geography sponsored by the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science. The goal of the meeting was to gather leading scholars in the field and allow them to share their cutting-edge research with one another. Presenters included political scientists and practitioners, and the topics varied from voting in South Africa to the role of infrastructure on democratic representation. The papers can all be found here. The keynote speaker was geographer Kirk Goldsberry. He discussed the concepts of thinking spatially and made an argument that maps are themselves an analytical tool. He also emphasized the idea that although maps have been around for centuries, they remain as one of the most effective methods for presenting analytical information.

During the break periods attendees were given the opportunity to learn more about mapping and presentation from the Harvard Center for Geographic Analysis. The tools and maps were incredible. For example I learned about Worldmap, which is an online tool that allows users with no knowledge of mapping and GIS to make great maps and share them with others. I also learned about the potential ways in which FMG could leverage such tools for creating products for clients.

Using these types of tools along with mapping developments in R and Stata we have a range of options. For example, we can easily create a map that overlays data of interest on top of various geopolitical boundaries and major roads. We can even map FMG's neighborhood:

FMG Ballston Arlington VA

Although these small, focused conferences do not include many presentations they are often very useful for picking up new techniques and networking. It was easy to see the increasing importance of visualizing data using maps. I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet scholars working in this field. Maintaining connections and interests via conferences like this keeps FMG on the cutting-edge of developments in the broader research community.

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