Interdisciplinary effort at UND aims to create a ‘North Dakota Online Atlas’ in celebration of 125 years of statehood


Amy Halvorson

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Arts & Sciences


The University of North Dakota's Department of Geography, in collaboration with several other units on campus, is embarking on The North Dakota Online Atlas project, an interdisciplinary and collaborative effort to develop an online atlas of North Dakota in celebration of 125 years of statehood, which officially was observed on Nov. 2.

The other UND units involved in the project are the departments of American Indian studies, anthropology, computer science, history, integrated studies, religious studies, and visual arts.

The project is led by Michael Niedzielski, assistant professor of geography, and Tami Carmichael, associate professor of humanities and integrated studies, with support from Debbie Storrs, dean of the UND College of Arts & Sciences, as well as Michael Jacobs, former publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.

The project will analyze data from the state and create maps designed to show changes over the last 125 years of North Dakota history. Unlike a traditional road atlas, the online atlas will be thematic, showing demographic, economic and social changes to North Dakota over time.

"An online atlas, such as this, will show not only the changing demographic and social conditions in our state over time, but may reveal the complexity of those interactions and how they are still playing out today," said Niedzielski.

In the first year of this project, during fall 2014, four groups were formed, combining students from Niedzielski's course on "cartography and visualization" with the research and aesthetic talents of the other partnering departments as part of an interdisciplinary practicum.

"A foundation of interdisciplinary of scholars, students and community members, unified by a common mission—to tell the story of North Dakota—will lead to broader perspectives and a greater value for the project as it grows in the years to come," said Carmichael.

Each group is responsible for telling the story of a chosen theme through maps, graphs and narratives. Two other groups are working on the technical and artistic design of the interactive atlas.

In addition to being a scholarly research project for UND students and faculty, the North Dakota Online Atlas will serve as a resource for policy makers, community members and Pre-K-12 educators across the state. A major appeal of the project's scope, looking at all of North Dakota, is its ability to increase community engagement.

"North Dakotans will have a unique information tool designed to reveal what they have in common in terms of changes over time, religious affiliations, population shift and so on," said Niedzielski. "This information is in an elegant, easy-to-understand format, and will allow them to be more engaged citizens."

A constant challenge for mapmakers is representing data in ways that are conceptually accurate, easy to understand and provide users with an intuitive interface for a better experience. One of the teams is tasked with working on the design and will create a content management system capable of working with graphic representations that are both dynamic and aesthetically pleasing.

"Designing these maps with an audience's needs in mind will take the project from interesting to arresting," said Carmichael. "Data, no matter how interesting, requires analysis and a pleasing presentation in order for it to be useful."

The North Dakota Online Atlas has set the summer of 2015 as a goal for launching the interactive site.