UND partners to create interactive, online atlas


North Dakota Atlas — printed. Photo via explore-northdakota.us

North Dakota has a reputation of being overlooked, but some UND faculty are setting out to change that.

The North Dakota Online Atlas project is a multidepartment collaboration at UND aimed to give the world a better understanding of North Dakota. This project aims to give people an easy-to-use way to learn about the state.

“Once students make changes, the ultimate goal is a Google Maps-like interface of North Dakota,” said assistant professor of Geography Michael Niedzielski. “There will be toggle readings and narratives, but there will also be an animation component.”

North Dakota has had a vibrant history, but Niedzielski said it’s not as well known as other parts of the country.

The goal of the people behind of the people behind the new atlas is to change that conception.

“The Midwest is often talked about as flyover country, and that all of the interesting places are on the east and west coast,” Niedzielski said. “We plan to put North Dakota on the map.”

For several years, Niedzielski has been teaching a cartography class, and every year his students created various maps of small sections of North Dakota. But this year, a brand new idea struck him.

“Earlier this year, I realized that Nov. 2 would be North Dakota’s 125th year of statehood,” said Niedzielski. “I wanted to make something that helped the community at large.”

Niedzielski’s cartography class is far from the only group involved in the creation of the North Dakota Online Atlas.

“We have people from geography, history, Native American studies, religious studies, philosophy, humanities, integrated studies, computer science and art departments working on this project,” Director of Humanities and Integrated Studies Tami Carmichael said. “Each group creates a narrative for the map.”

This is the first time an online interactive map of the state has been created on such a scale.

“We are trying to provide people with a living atlas of the state,” Carmichael said. “It will show cultural and religious shifts, immigration change and changes in population.”

Niedzielski also added that the American Indian Studies department will be working on the reservation boundary changes that have occurred throughout the years.

According to Niedzielski, trying to get so much information on an entire state is a daunting task, but many students have taken initiative to be sure it is done professionally.

“It’s a student driven project,” said Niedzielski. “They are talking about this, they are invested in this. It’s all about the students and it’s a project they can take pride in.”

Even with so many people working to bring the North Dakota Online atlas to life, it is still a very time consuming process. Niedzielski said that it should be ready for public use sometime in the summer of 2015.

“We can’t tell everything about North Dakota in one year,” Niedzielski said. “In subsequent years we will continue to add more.”

New history of the state happens every day, and the students and professors working on the atlas are prepared for that.

“We are making a project that can always be added to,” Carmichael said. “The end goal is that it may never end.”

Further information about the project can be found at http://arts-sciences.und.edu/geography/nd-atlas/.

Brendan McCabe is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected].