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Mapbox is a commercial suite of mapping tools supporting the creation of simple, attractive, modestly-interactive embedded maps. Mapbox maps may accommodate point value or coverage data uploaded in .kml, .json, or .csv format. In addition to the base maps provided by Mapbox through the web-based Mapbox Editor application, map themes can be built from scratch using the Mapbox Studio desktop application.

Mapbox themes can be easily used as map tiles outside of the tool itself; Mapbox tiles are widely used as base maps in interactive digital humanities projects, even if the project is supported by a different tool, such as Leaflet. Map data can be exported easily from  as either .kml or .json, and code is provided to facilitate embedding.

Mapbox plans vary widely in price, though a free option is available. The free “Starter” option allows for the upload of only one custom base map, and only 100 MB of storage are provided. Superior features are added gradually to the various grades of paid Mapbox plan. Because Mapbox was created for corporate use, the “Standard” and “Premium” plans assume a monthly visitor count and technical support requirements above and beyond the needs of a typical digital humanities project.

Example Applications

While Mapbox’s default and custom basemaps are used fairly extensively in projects running on Leaflet and other web-based mapping platforms, the author is not aware of any digital humanities projects which use Mapbox exclusively.

Digital Humanities Potential

If the goal of a digital project is to create a single-author map with text-value explanatory tool tips, and if there is no need for data manipulation functionality or multimedia, Mapbox may be an excellent choice. Its maps are simple to build and edit, and can be easily embedded elsewhere on the web; furthermore, especially with the use of Mapbox Studio, they are far more visually customizable than other simple mapping tools.

Mapbox maps are temporally static, and are thus unsuited to digital humanities projects requiring the display or manipulation of time data. Historical projects should be limited to a single historical “moment”—a snapshot, for instance, of the social network of artists or writers living in a particular geographic area within a given date range. Project creators should be cognizant of the limitations to this approach; it may chafe a humanities scholar to represent a person or concept as a single, unmoving data point on a map, and Mapbox has an extremely limited capacity to bring ambiguity to this representation. A map created in Mapbox should be a supplement to the humanities research project, rather than the research project itself.


Despite being a commercial product, Mapbox is very supportive of data-sharing. The tool is extremely useful for the easy conversion of .csv to .kml or .json, the creation and modification of attractive base maps, and creation of point, line, or polygon files through the “Draw” function. Data can be easily exported from Mapbox after creation, and can then be used across multiple tools and platforms.

 This may account for its heavy use as a component of Leaflet projects; in addition to providing handsome map tile options, Mapbox can process and export .json point values, which can then be installed into Javascript maps with relative ease. Similarly, Mapbox’s .kml outputs are compatible with Google Maps and Google Earth (and thus with Hypercities and Google Fusion Tables), as well as with most desktop GIS applications. Thus, even if Mapbox is chosen as the sole tool for a particular digital humanities project, it offers the distinct advantage of easily sharing data with other scholars.


Mapbox’s limited functionality makes it a poor candidate to be the sole platform for any but the simplest humanities mapping projects. Generally, within the digital humanities, Mapbox is much better suited for use as a supplementary tool; the exception is in applications where the resulting map is secondary to the remainder of the research, or in which map display needs are exceptionally simple. (As simplicity is a rare and suspicious commodity in the humanities, Mapbox’s applications remain relatively limited.)

Mapbox Studio presents an appealing option for creating and modifying map tiles for use elsewhere, but the application’s technological demands are very high, such that the user must have access to a relatively new and high-powered machine to run the program; furthermore, these technical requirements cannot be easily found on Mapbox’s website. This presents a significant obstacle to Mapbox’s use as a supplementary resource.

Name: Mapbox

Governing Body: Mapbox (for-profit corporation)

Price: free (Starter), $5/month (Basic), $49/month (Standard), $499/month (Premium)

Best Disciplinary Fit:

  • individual or social network-level histories
  • event mapping and other "historical snapshots"


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