Data and statistics are wonderful: they help us make sense of our world by measuring, quantifying, and analyzing the events around us. But sometimes, data on their own can be hard to conceptualize – or even boring. Spatial data especially can benefit from different types of visualization to bring them to life. Enter story maps.

In middle school English, we made “story maps” by literally mapping out the elements of the books we read: putting the main character in one circle, the antagonist in another, the setting in a larger circle around them, etc. Today, rather than mapping out a story, I’m talking about creating a story (or stories) using a map. This type of story mapping uses geographic data and imagery along with text, audio, illustration, and/or other elements to guide the viewer toward a specific interpretation of the data.

Note that I said “a” specific interpretation of data, not “the” interpretation. A map (or even just a few imagery tiles) can tell as many different stories as there are storytellers. With that in mind, I’d like to share one story today, one that everyone in our Community of Practice is probably very familiar with: a story of the 2016 floods in northern Wisconsin.

This particular story and story map belong to Shujin Wang, a UW-Madison GIS Professional Programs student and intern at the State Cartographer’s Office. Shujin spent many hours last semester learning how to use Javascript and related applications in order to build a map that would help her tell this story in a visual way. You can find Shujin’s map fullscreen here, embedded below, or by clicking the “story map” link at the top of our homepage.

Shujin combined newer imagery tiles with older picture and video footage of the post-flood roadway damage in order to highlight just how destructive these floods were for Ashland County, but also the county’s resiliency and resourcefulness in restoring the damaged areas. As you travel through the map (roughly along Highway 13), compare the two sets of imagery – the differences are pretty incredible.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Shujin’s map is just one way to tell this story. Do you or your organization have a story map that you’re proud of? We’d love to see it! Feel free to comment on this post or send an email to with a link. We’d like to feature more story maps on this site in the future. If you’re interested in building a story map but aren’t sure where to start, we’d love to help with that, too!

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