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Mapping Main Street

Experiments in Estrangement at the Intersection of Social Science, Art, Design, Public Media and the Digital Humanities

Tuesday, October 20, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street, second floor

RSVP required for those attending in person (
This event will be webcast live at 12:30 pm ET and archived on our site shortly after.

Posted 10/20/09: Please also check out this conversation with the creators of Mapping Main Street.

Mapping Main Street is a collaborative documentary media project that creates a new map of the country through a dynamic visualization of stories, data, photos and videos recorded on actual Main Streets. The goal is to document all of the more than 10,000 streets named Main in the United States. The project is a co-production by Harvard PhD students Jesse Shapins and James Burns with public media artists Kara Oehler and Ann Heppermann. Partially supported by Maker's Quest 2.0 and the Berkman Center Harvard Graduate Student Awards, Mapping Main Street premiered in August on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.

Mapping Main Street originates with the simple premise that we are living in times of tremendous social, economic, political, technological and cultural transformation. Fundamental to all of these changes is a “crisis of representation,” both in terms of representational legitimacy and the re-presentation of change to the eyes and ears of the public. In contrast to a narrow definition of the political that is limited to the actions of major parties and deliberations in parliaments, our interest is to expand the field of the political and instigate new forms of collaboration across media and disciplines.

Not only issues, but also popular mythologies and common language are an integral part of a democratic culture. The images and turns-of-phrase circulating amongst today’s networked publics are crucial forces in shaping political sensibilities and capacities for action. One of today’s most prominent mythologies is “Main Street.”

With this luncheon talk, the creators of Mapping Main Street hope to gain specific feedback on how to further develop the project as an interdisciplinary research initiative between between the social sciences, art, design, public media and digital humanities.

About Jesse

Jesse Shapins is an urban media historian, artist, and theorist. He is currently researching experiments in mapping the perception of place across different media, including the extended genealogy of the city symphony genre and György Kepes and Kevin Lynch’s “The Perceptual Form of the City.” In particular, he is interested in tracing the transformation of artistic methods into urban research practices from the avant-garde of the 1920s into the design academy of the 1950s-1970s.  He is pursuing a PhD in the History and Theory of Urbanism, Film and Visual Studies, a dual degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the School of Arts and Sciences.

Shapins is author/curator of The Colors of Berlin (Prestel, 2005) and co-creator of Yellow Arrow, a seminal locative media project combining digital mapping, street art and mobile phones exhibited at MoMA and many other venues.

Shapins was Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture at Columbia in 2008, where he taught the studio/seminar “Critical Urban Media Arts: An Experimental Workshop in Urban Research, Mapping and Representation”. He is also co-founder and studio instructor at the Union Docs Collaborative, a new post-graduate program for interdisciplinary non-fiction media research and group production based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

About James

James Burns is a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at Harvard University, whose research ranges from market design and game theory to the economics of networks. James is also an avid photographer, mathematician, and coder.

About Kara

Kara Oehler is a Peabody-award winning public radio producer and media artist based in Brooklyn and Boston. Her stories and long-form documentaries have aired nationally and internationally on public radio shows including: This American Life, Morning Edition, Weekend America, BBC, CBC, Radio Lab, Re:Sound, Marketplace and numerous others.

About Mapping Main Street

Mapping Main Street is produced through the generous funding of Maker's Quest 2.0, an initiative between the Association of Independents in Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The project is also supported with funds from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The website was designed by the Mapping Main Street team and Local Projects.


Download media from this event here.

Past Event
Oct 20, 2009
12:30 PM - 1:30 PM