Language and Culture Archive of Ashkenazic Jewry Digital Archive User Guide: Mapping Answers to Questions

This is a guide to using the Digital Archive to the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (

Tools for GIS mapping

Columbia Libraries' Digital Social Science Center has a guide to using various mapping tools that might be useful in creating a map of LCAAJ data.

Some recommended tools include:

  • QGIS
  • Carto
  • Google Earth

Lea Schaefer on Digital Mapping the LCAAJ

Mapping the data


A map of all answers to a question can involve as many as 640 data points, if all respondents to the Eastern and Western questionnaires are included. 

Before the data can be mapped, the actual answers need to be separated from any accompanying notation.  See the section on Understanding the Answers for more details.

Since many respondents provided more than one answer to the questions, and since, in a rare number of instances, more than one respondent was interviewed for a given locality, the researcher will need, before or during the process of mapping, to select the forms he or she wants to privilege in mapping.  Conceivably, researchers may also sometimes decide that certain forms represent minor variants of one another, and ultimately to represent them with a single single symbol. 

Researchers working with this data traditionally began by making a list of the answers for each of  the interviewees, identified the different types among them and the symbols and/or colors to represent each, and then drew them manually onto a base map, which indicates the location of each of the interviewee location. A copy of that map is available for download on the left. Printed copies are also available at the Digital Humanities Center in 305 Butler Library on the Columbia University campus.

This kind of map can still prove useful in the initial process of sorting out the answers.  It could also, is in the past, still  be used as the setting for  the end product of one's work, but since such maps can be shared only as image files and because so many powerful new computerized options are today, we would urge researchers to consider digital mapping tools for their final product, so that research on parts of the questionnaire can be shared with others and eventually used for more complex analysis of the data.

A variety of tools are available for mapping, whether online or on an individual desktop, including QGIS, Carto, ArcGIS, and even Google Earth.  More information about these tools and their use can be viewed using the link to mapping information from the Libraries' Research Data Services on the left-hand side of this page.  All of these will accept a tab or comma delimited text file with mapping information and geographic coordinates, so working with these answers in a spreadsheet environment is the approach we would urge researchers to take.  That spreadsheet at a minimum should include place name, geographic coordinates, and the answers and accompanying notation, but additional metadata, such as country name, LCAAJ region, LCAAJ linguistic topic, etc.  will make for more powerful filtering and analysis of the spatial data.  While it is of course possible for researchers to  create spreadsheets on their own, we would urge considering the option the LCAAJResearch Workspace, where we can provide spreadsheets of OCRed data as a starting point, along with the other metadata already assembled by the project team.  It can also serve as a place for the community to work together on mapping, to avoid duplication of effort and to create more quickly a large collection of maps for collective analysis.