Monday, May 5, 2008

Who killed the electric map?

I just found out today that Gettysburg National Military Park has disassembled and is in the process of replacing the battle ground electric map. You can read details about the map here, but in short it is a large model of the battlefield landscape with light bulbs, each controlled to turn on and off to show troop movements and activities during the battle.

You can see a 7 minute clip of the map in action (with night vision), here:

I viewed that map in the mid 90's while working on an archaeological survey in the park. The room was dark allowing the bulbs to stand out, but you could not see the lanscape. Also, the narration was a bit on the long monotone and slow side. While informative, it was boring. Of course, this is from the perspective of someone who consumed large amounts of T.V., video games and comic books growing up. Back in the 1930s this animated map was the cat's pajamas. That's right, the map has been in service since the 1930s.

I can certainly understand the Park Service position, it does take up a sizable amount of space (30x30 feet, not including the seating around the map), it is antiquated compared to today's standards, and I imagine a great deal of effort goes into maintaining it. While I am sorry to see it go, it certainly has value in itself from a cartographic historical perspective. I hope it can find a home, but don't hate the park service for this decision. The marketability of the map simply is not there in an age of short, fast paced internet ready videos interspersed with action sequences to keep the today's visitors attention. Thank you Hollywood.

For now, the map will remain in storage until a use can be found for it. They plan on replacing the map with a movie or two which would orient the visitors to the battlefield... no word on whether they will include an updated CGI map like the "Map Room" at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

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