Thursday, August 7, 2008

Uses for Google Earth

One day last year I was tootling around in Google Earth, which is a fun place in which to tootle, and happened to be tootling through the Alps. The Simplon Pass, to be precise.

The view was incredibly dramatic, and I suddenly realized that this would be a great vehicle for any sort of narrative that involved travel. I thought first of my Virtual Pilgrimage, but I reconsidered and chose instead a merchant route over the Alps (because I wanted that Simplon Pass view). It so happened that I had a route with at least some good specifics from Peter Spufford's book, Power and Profit, a really excellent work on late medieval economics.

My idea was to create a route in Google Earth that students could follow, reading text and viewing pictures along the way. This involved writing KML, which was no small undertaking. I retained the help of a student in our Academic Technologies unit, who built the skeleton and gave me enough to work with. From there, I tweaked heavily.

The result is satisfactory, though not brilliant. There's not a good way to incorporate multiple pages or images at a single stop. There's not a good way to include large sections of text.

But overall, the result is quite good. Students start in Paris and follow a series of obvious next clicks, moving south through France, Burgundy and Savoy, over the Alps at Lake Lucerne, then down along Lake Maggiore to Milan. I definitely can envision other such journeys, including ones by sea, around the Mediterranean or into the Baltic.

If you have Google Earth, you may wish to talk a walkabout yourself. You can begin here: