Revising Humbead’s Revised Map of the World

mapping cultural data in the sixties folk music revival.

Earl Crabb & Rick Shubb, Humbead’s Revised Map of the World, 1968.


Reports from the Revising Humbead’s Project.

Principal Investigator

Michael J. Kramer


Humbead’s Revised Map of the World reimagines the globe from the perspective of the West Coast folk scene and emerging hippie counterculture. First printed in 1968, with subsequent iterations produced in 1969 and 1970, it was created by Rick Shubb and Earl Crabb, two Bay Area folk music aficionados. Like Saul Steinberg’s famous New Yorker magazine cover View of the World from 9th Avenue, published in 1976, Humbead’s is meant to be a funny artifact that cartographically distorts Euclidean space and Mercator projection in order to suggest a more perceptually accurate “mattering map.” It also contains over 800 names in its “population,” some expected, others quite surprising. This project allows us to harness digital technology in order to better understand how this historical mattering map mattered.

Questions we ask include: how do we address the challenge of annotating Humbead’s Map‘s dense, detailed information? Might we use multimedia annotation to return sound to a map whose visual cartography was originally inspired by music? Can we experiment with interface design and interactive navigational approaches that dramatize the map’s many components, revising the map’s representations yet again, so that the historical significance of this artifact emerges more robustly through iterative, interactive versioning? We investigate if existing mapping and visualization tools (Mirador, ArcGIS, Topotime, Neatline, Storymap.JS) support these aims. Can they handle historical mattering maps such as Humbead’s? How might we supplement their functionalities and affordances? What new code, software, or plug-in development is required?

Our technical inquiries are in service of unleashing the full humanities significance of Humbead’s and mattering maps like it. In our case, digitally exploring Humbead’s Revised Map of the World fosters fresh insights into modern American cultural history by revealing the understudied significance of traditional music and cultural heritage on the West Coast. With its increasingly postindustrial, futuristic setting during the decades after World War II, the West Coast witnessed a folk music revival that rejected static notions of authenticity and roots. Instead, the music generated wild, new imaginings of social affiliation and association.

Humbead’s Revised Map of the World humorously catches these. In doing so, it points to a serious reconsideration of how folk music and ideas about cultural heritage on the West Coast, as compared to the more studied East Coast and South, helped reshape local, regional, national, and global conceptualizations of connection and belonging in 1960s America. Its humor serves to establish bohemian codes modes of social boundary making: the more you get the jokes and references, the hipper you must be. At the same time, it also reveals the porousness of social worlds—the folk revival and the later rock counterculture; esoteric interests in fantasy and science fiction alongside, say, the Beatles and other pop music icons; LSD drug culture and broader networks of musical activity (as explored by Jesse Jarnow in his book Heads); the lurking presence and deadly serious implications of geopolitics such as the Vietnam War deeply incorporated into domestic life and culture. The map also makes things invisible and unmapped in terms of what it does not include.

On the original 1968 version of the map, graphic designer Shubb and conceptualizer Crabb (later a pioneering computer programmer) display key sites of the 1960s urban folk revival as a playful Pangaea. Locations such as Greenwich Village in New York City, Berkeley in California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts are large, while the “Rest of the World” has been moved to a small island on the margins. Key neighborhoods, performance venues, and public locations appear more prominently, sometimes whimsically placed. The idea for the map originated in 1967 when Crabb remarked to a hitchhiker from Berkeley to Kansas City that he should ask for rides to New York City since “it was closer.”

Early documents about and sketches of the map exist in the Earl Crabb Collection at the American Folklife Center can be included in a digital presentation. So too can two later versions (the 1969 map adds more names; Shubb completely redesigned the 1970 version). Humbead’s Revised Map has another quality too: it is extraordinarily rich with historical data. With the help of friends, Shubb and Crabb created a “population” of over 800 names. They appear in minute script on the sides of the map and include famous folk revivalists (Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Woody Guthrie), local participants in the Berkeley folk scene, and more surprising figures (Charlie Chaplin; Bugs Bunny). The mix of names and the remix of locations on Humbead’s Revised Map offer a promising way to study how networks of participants imagined and constituted a musical and cultural folk revival “scene” on the West Coast in the 1960s.

Much work has been accomplished in digital humanities on mapping and visualization using techniques from GIS, however less has been done with mattering maps such as Humbead’s. For instance, how might we register and study humor when it gets mapped spatially? How do we study the constituent elements of the map in relation to each other and in relation to Euclidean space, to Mercator Projection maps, to time, and to historical contexts? How do we bring back sound and music to annotations and navigations of visualization that was, after all, inspired by aural experiences of the folk revival?

Humbead’s map poses particular technical problems for online map navigation and interface design because of its oscillations between a macroscopic, bird’s eye view and very dense, clustered, almost microscopic details. How does a user navigate between these different levels digitally? How do we design comparisons to other versions of the map itself or to other folk revival mattering maps such as the Dorothea Dix Lawrence’s Folklore Music Map of the United States, made in 1945, or more recent digital music maps such as Alan Lomax’s Global Jukebox project? How might the digitized map relate to other archival sources, such as a 1968 Berkeley Barb article that comically describes the creation of the “Charchild-Denson Identifier of Humbead’s List of the World’s Population”? Can digital navigation dramatize the interplay between immersive experiences of the folk revival and more conventional overviews of its history?

The map also poses technical challenges for displaying multimedia annotations: how does one store, link, and keep up to date multimedia to details on the map in a useful interface? Does one attempt to draw from linked open-source data on the web (Wikipedia, sound libraries) or is it more effective to create an independent database of fair-use clips of sound and image? How does one design this database of annotative information and metadata to generate a robust framework for exploring relationships and networks represented on the map? If existing tools are not adequate, how do we begin to address what changes to them or new software is required? Asking these questions, the project probes the possibilities of the IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) in relation to data-rich artifacts, experiments with existing digital mapping software, and investigates the potential of digital animation and augmented reality for revealing new aspects of the map and its data.

For scholars, digital analysis of Humbead’s Revised Map of the World is full of potential discoveries about modern United States cultural history. This is particularly the case in terms of the understudied 1960s West Coast folk music revival. Most histories privilege the East Coast and Southern facets of the folk revival story, concentrating on when Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 or the sectarian leftist political ideologies that saturated the folk revival in New York City or the obsession with Southern rural culture among young urban elites in the East and Midwest.

Humbead’s Revised Map, as its name suggests, offers a different mapping of the revival. On the West Coast, the binaries of old and new, rustic and futuristic, premodern and postmodern possessed their own peculiar dynamic. The Northern California economy of the post-World War II decades, for instance, saw entities such as Silicon Valley erupt directly out of orchards and farmlands with no intermediary steps from an agricultural to a post-industrial economy. This new economy arose in a setting of postwar abundance, but also on top of older traditions in which the lines between bohemianism and radical politics were more fluid than elsewhere.

Humead‘s humorous, surprising revisions bring us into this West Coast perspective. At the same time, Humbead‘s is a world map: it points to networks of people, places, sounds, and symbols within an increasingly global, mass-mediated consciousness. Its surrealistic geography contains both microscopic and macroscopic information about region, race, gender, class, music, humor, politics, and culture in late 1960s America and the world as a whole. Moreover, the map’s exclusions are as crucial as its inclusions. Exploring the map digitally can better reveal what it elides as well as what it portrays in terms of the history of the folk revival, Cold War California, the West Coast, and modern American and transnational cultural history in general.