Blog Post

Visualizing My Interdisciplinary Field (Part 1)

Visualizing My Interdisciplinary Field (Part 1)

I've recently been researching and attempting to visualize my field. I'll share a little background about my program and then the first part of what this visualization process looks like. 

My Ph.D. Program--Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media--is an interdisciplinary program between the Communication and English departments at North Carolina State University. One of the final courses that we take, before moving on to comprehensive exams and the dissertation process, is aimed at helping us develop a sense of the field in which we'll be working. This process has taught me that it's particularly important to do this for those of us who will be working in an interdisciplinary field.

Most of my cohort is doing work that doesn't properly belong in any single traditional discipline. This means, first, that there aren't that many people doing exactly the type of thing we'd like to be doing. Instead we are each drawing inspiration, methods, and ideas from a wide variety of scholars across different fields. To start this semester, we were tasked with identifying and researching the top 30 scholars we are likely to be in conversation with during our career. 

One of my cohort members, and fellow HASTAC scholar Jason Buel, decided to locate these scholars visually using Google Maps. I've found that process to be particularly helpful, and thought it might be helpful to share the process since so many of us in HASTAC are working in interdisciplinary ways. 

If you're signed into Google, then from the Google Maps search box, you just have to move down to the "My maps" area and click "Create":


From there, you can search for any location as you normally would in Google Maps. Once you find it, you can just click the "Add to map" link, and the balloon will turn from green to red, adding it as saved spot on your map:

In order to associate each college with the scholar, I'm clicking edit, which opens up a box where information can easily be typed in:

Another member of my cohort has also discovered that if you have a spreadsheet that contains the location and names, Google Maps can pretty easily import this data and automatically place the pins for you. That could make things a little easier if you plan to store your information in that format from the start. 

What I ended up with was a map like this:

Seeing this information displayed in this way helped me realize a few connections I hadn't previously made. First, I was actually pretty surprised that I didn't have anyone from my list in California. But looking around, I noticed some clusters. The northeastern portion of the U.S. and Canada was predominantly Media/Communication Studies related scholars. The England group was more philosophy of information and critical cultural studies, and Australia represented the Deleuze studies scholars. 

I'm still tweaking the list of scholars as I narrow down and refine my dissertation topic, but this seemed like an interesting enough experiment that it was worth sharing. You can access my full map here. If you create one, please share it in the comments so I can check it out! And if you can think of other scholars I should consider who might match my interests, I'd love to hear those ideas as well.

Are there other interesting take aways from a visualization process like this one? 

In the next part, I'll share one more simple visualization that's been interesting to ponder. 

Part 2 is now available here




Thank you for sharing this fantastic exercise and your resulting discoveries. I really like the idea of mapping a network of cohorts. Are you also contacting each? This task - "we were tasked with identifying and researching the top 30 scholars we are likely to be in conversation with during our career" - sounds far more valuable than taking a grad seminar class that has a final essay as its culminating project. I am inspired!

Amanda Starling Gould


Happy to share! And I definitely agree something like this makes a lot of sense, especially when we're writing papers for so many other classes. It's a meaningful captstone type of activity. We haven't officially been taked with contacting them, but that's a good idea. Personally, I probably won't reach out to all 30; however, there are quite a few I have some type of connection to through current colleagues, or the department. Have you contacted people in that way? Any tips for those kind of "cold calls"?




My method so far has been to reach out via digital channels, using email, Facebook, Twitter. I try to be bold but deferential. And it has worked. I have reached out to those on my 'rockstar' list and I have been successful in 1) inviting them to Duke for events (working with venues and groups and conferences that might help support such a visit) 2) inviting them to join my class - in person or via the web in some capacity - to participate in our activities and conversations and/or to join us in a capacity such as a "Visiting Twitter Scholar" 3) inviting them to particpate in projects for which I am editor. I have not only developed lasting relationships and new connections but I have learned SO MUCH from them. In my experience, people have been really lovely and, if they have time to engage, they do.

**Right here on HASTAC is another way to make these sorts of connections**

I do have a colleague who, when taking an entrepreneurship class, was tasked with cold calling potential business mentors. She said she was told to choose 6 people to call and to ask each 1) what is your favorite part of the job you do? 2) what is your least favorite part of the job you do? 3) who are six other people who I might speak with? You could, of course, change the questions but you might give it a shot. When formulating questions, maybe ask friends and current colleagues what types of questions they would be willing to engage if contacted by a junior scholar who had identified him/her as someone that junior scholar wanted to learn from.

I am sure others here might have much better advice so I hope others will chime in!


Do report back if you give it a try!

Amanda Starling Gould



I also recommend you making this post public if you've not already done so. You have such a great write-up here to share, and by opening it to the larger HASTAC community, you'll capture some more senior scholars who I am sure will have some helpful advice on contacting your network.

Amanda Starling Gould


Thanks so much for sharing what's worked for you. I love these ideas, particularly the creative Invited Twitter Scholar! I will definitely be trying some of these out in the weeks to come. I've also made sure the post is pubilc. 


I love this visualization! Seeing where trends may geographically also seems useful not just for mapping contemporary sites of interdisciplinary study, but also noting trends of where scholars move over time. That is, it would be interesting to create maps of a few dominant scholars in some of your fields to see which institutions they've moved between over several years.

Great work!


Thanks for the comment and the cool idea. I haven't had a chance to exlpore it much, but the Maps tool has the ability to create different layers, and I think that could work well with you suggestion of inlcuding institutional movement. One of my cohort members had mapped the dissertation advisors of each of his scholars on a separate layer, which was also interesting to see.