Paper: Maps of Daesh

Paper: Maps of Daesh

Paper: Maps of Daesh

The Cartographic Warfare Surrounding Insurgent Statehood 

The ongoing Syrian civil war raises new cartographic challenges, including the ethical question of how the self-proclaimed Islamic State should be represented. States and news organizations face a conundrum: by mapping IS territory, they implicitly acknowledge its statehood. I investigate how different mapping methods carry different connotations for representing the strength and nature of the terror state, arguing that the statehood the IS is symbolically contested through cartographic choices that reflect the diverging interests of map makers.

Based on a comparative study, this article investigates the visual languages of IS sanctuary maps as published by news agencies, intelligence agencies, or circulated by the insurgents themselves. I argue that the statehood of territory held by the IS is symbolically contested through cartographic choices that reflect the diverging interests of the map makers. Beyond official representations, the article also considers the maps created by amateur conflict mappers and visual forensics experts, who extract and cross-reference information from social media including posted cell phone and drone footage, georeferenced tweets, and satellite images. I argue that the novel visual strategies developed by these practitioners for presenting visual evidence emphasize nonrepresentational aspects of cartography and represent a countermodel to established cartographic languages that follows an indexical rather than iconic or symbolic paradigm. 

Link    Pdf      Link to the Map Archive 

Pdf with original figures from the paper 

Tracings of original images by Azam Majooni





Art of the March Boston

Art of the March Boston

Art of the March Boston

Just-In-Time preservation and documentation of 6000 protest signs of the Women’s march protest that took place on Jan. 21, shortly after President Trump’s inauguration. After the event, protestors arranged their signs along the fence of the old graveyard at the Boston Common. Struck by this ephemeral monument, a group of colleagues including Nathan Felde, Alessandra Renzi, Lucas Freeman, Alifa Rachmadia and myself spontaneously arranged for a collection of the signs after we learned that they were bound for disposal. With the help of volunteers, we collected, stored, sorted, classified and digitized every individual sign, which is currently the only complete collection of protest signs covering a major event. 

Credits: Initiated by Alessandra Renzi, Nathan Felde, Dietmar Offenhuber. Visualizations & Web: Siqi Zhu, Navarjun Grewal, Christopher Pietsch, Colleen Curtis

Press coverage:

Zamudio-Suaréz, Fernanda. 2017. “In Discarded Women’s March Signs, Professors Saw a Chance to Save History.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 24.
Fleming, Nicole. 2017. “Volunteers Begin to Sort through Signs from Women’s March.” The Boston Globe, April
DeRuy, Emily. 2017. “Boston’s New Accidental Archive of Protest Posters.” CityLab. January 26. 
DeRuy, Emily. 2017. “What Happens to Those Posters From the Women’s Marches.” The Atlantic. January 25. 
Annear, Steve. 2017. “Professors Stash Boston Women’s March Rally Signs to Preserve a Piece of History.” The Boston Globe, January 23. 

Visit Art of the March Website

Video by Emily Gordon, Ellie Lacourt, Connor Lewis.
Urban Radiance

Urban Radiance

Urban Radiance

A visual companion for the essay “Sticky data – context and friction in the use of urban data proxies.” published in Data and the City. ed. Rob Kitchin, Tracey P. Lauriault, and Gavin McArdlel. New York: Routledge. [pdf]

What have global data sets that estimate population density, economic productivity, measles outbreaks, rural poverty, resource footprints and electrification rates, urbanization and suburbanization, or average wages in common? They are all based on nighttime imagery of city lights captured by the Operational Line Scanner (OLS) sensor on the satellites from the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).

What should later become the workhorse of geographers and economists was initially a completely accidental by-product: of a cold-war era military satellite program—launched in the 1950s by the US Air Force for estimating cloud cover and precipitation for reconnaissance missions. Army engineers discovered that the sensors were sensitive enough to capture the artificial radiance of cities during moonless nights without cloud cover.

In 1978, Thomas A. Croft published the first global composite of night-time images in the Scientific American. At that time, the image data had to be manually stitched together from analog films ejected in capsules from the satellite, which had to be laboriously recovered by the military. Today, the Black Marble data set has become one of the most popular motifs of space imagery.

While DPMS images are usually used to show regional differences, this project visualizes the temporal change in urban radiance from 1992 until 2015. It is the first interactive visualization of radiance time series data.

Link to project

Indexical Design Conference

Indexical Design Conference

Indexical Design Conference

Symposium curated at Northeastern University.

Indexical Design addresses the difference between data and evidence. The symposium explores the physical trace and its role for making sense of the world. We will investigate the different scientific, aesthetic, and rhetoric techniques for making traces “speak.”

Information visualization is traditionally concerned with the symbolic languages of charts, maps, and diagrams. Its underlying data are also symbolic representations: the results of processes encoding traces and events. At the same time, traces such as tree rings, fingerprints, or ice core samples are also visualizations that we can directly experience.

Traces, like data, are often assumed as being “given,” but again, like data, they are revealed through measurement. How we perceive traces is a result of how we frame them. The symposium proposes “Indexical Design” as a new paradigm for data visualization that is specifically relevant for fields that deal with traces, markers, and indices; fields such as microbiology, forensics, or citizen science. We will bring together experts from these and other fields to investigate the physical manifestations of information and discuss the role of design in framing how these traces speak to us.

Slides from my opening remarks

Graphic design: Pedro Cruz, Tom Starr

Dep. Art+Design: Judy Ulman, Zohreh Firouzabadian, Chris Franson, Alison Kelly, Doug Scott, Ann McDonald, Kristian Kloeckl, Tom Starr, Nathan Felde
Northeastern Center for the Arts: Bree Edwards, Tom Vannatter, Terri Evans, Daniel Lim
Student volunteers: Aldo Viramontes, Armin Akhavan, Lia Petronio, Navarjun Grewal, Ryan Morrill, Andrew Tang, Kim McDevitt, Jinni Luo, Irene De La Torre, Jessie Richards, Maaria Assami
Special thanks to Mary Sherman

With generous support by
Goethe Institute: Christoph Mücher, Annette Klein
Swissnex: Cecile Vulliemin, Arthur Emery

Photo May 27, 3 47 43 PM

Conference program with built-in Cyanometer, a device for measuring the blueness of the sky. Designed by Pedro Cruz and Tom Starr

Excavating a 2002 piece – wegzeit

Excavating a 2002 piece – wegzeit

Excavating a 2002 piece – wegzeit

An old project, part of my thesis in architecture 2002: an early web-3d visualization project introducing different cartogram techniques and methods of urban time-space representation using real-time traffic information. Since the technology used then does no longer work (Virtools), I tried to salvage what still worked for the video.


The work investigates how non-linear space, i.e. space structured by relative units, can be used in architecture using virtual environments. The method is based on the concept of relative space used in human geography and analytical cartography. The example of Los Angeles provides a dynamic view of the city and its states of movement. A view that differs substantially from usual architectural representations. In the course of the work, six prototypical models for the representation of relative spaces were developed, each of which emphasizes different properties of the underlying relative space. The proposed models are implemented as dynamic virtual environments that change their shape and extent depending on the local size of the thematic parameter under consideration and on the chosen reference point.

From the Vectors Journal introduction:

“When you ask someone in Los Angeles how far it is from the beach to downtown, he or she will answer with the number of minutes it generally takes to traverse the distance rather than noting the number of miles. This system of defining and representing distance has recently been codified for use on the California Department of Transportation’s large LED “Freeway Condition” signs, which offer up-to-the-minute projections of estimated drive times: “8 minutes to downtown;” “22 minutes to 605 freeway,” and so on. Intrigued by the shift from the absolute units of distance traditionally used to describe space to the relative space of approximate drive times, Dietmar Offenhuber undertook an investigation of other examples in which data about the city is visualized in relative terms. The result of his work is Wegzeit, which uses six 3-D mapping paradigms – or cartograms – to visualize the city according to a range of conditions and interests.”

Feature in vectors online journal 2005
Link of the original 2002 project
pdf of thesis (in german)
Siggraph 2002 short paper