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The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship

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Geographic information systems (GIS) have spurred a renewed interest in the influence of geographical space on human behavior and cultural development. Ideally GIS enables humanities scholars to discover relationships of memory, artifact, and experience that exist in a particular place and across time. Although successfully used by other disciplines, efforts by humanists to apply GIS and the spatial analytic method in their studies have been limited and halting. The Spatial Humanities aims to re-orient—and perhaps revolutionize—humanities scholarship by critically engaging the technology and specifically directing it to the subject matter of the humanities. To this end, the contributors explore the potential of spatial methods such as text-based geographical analysis, multimedia GIS, animated maps, deep contingency, deep mapping, and the geo-spatial semantic web.

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1 Turning toward Place, Space, and Time

ePub

EDWARD L. AYERS

Just as many disciplines rediscovered place and space over the last thirty years, so did they rediscover time and temporal representation. A critical geography and a new historicism have reoriented many humanists and social science disciplines. Like the spatial turn, the temporal turn now grounds the analysis of everything from literature to sociology in new kinds of contexts. The exciting challenge before us now is integrating those new perspectives, taking advantage of what they have to teach us.

The spatial turn began within the discipline of geography itself. By the early 1970s, geographer Edward Soja observes, many people in the field “sought alternative paths to rigorous geographical analysis that were not reducible to pure geometries.” In this new critical geography, “rather than being seen only as a physical backdrop, container, or stage to human life, space is more insightfully viewed as a complex social formation, part of a dynamic process.” By making this argument, geographers opened their discipline to humanists and social scientists who found congenial both a skepticism toward positivist social science and a focus on the texture of experience.1

 

2 The Potential of Spatial Humanities

ePub

DAVID J. BODENHAMER

Space is everywhere, and its definitions are legion. We are inherently spatial beings: we live in a physical world and routinely use spatial concepts of distance and direction to navigate our way through it. But this routine and subconscious sense of space is not the one that engages us as humanists. We are drawn to issues of meaning, and space offers a way to understand fundamentally how we order our world. Here, contemporary notions of space are myriad: what once was a reference primarily to geographical space, with its longstanding categories of landscape and place, is now modified by class, capital, gender, and race, among other concepts, as an intellectual framework for understanding power and society in times near and distant. We recognize our representations of space as value-laden guides to the world as we perceive it, and we understand how they exist in constant tension with other representations from different places, at different times, and even at the same time. We acknowledge how past, present, and future conceptions of the world compete simultaneously within real and imagined spaces. We see space as the platform for multiplicity, a realm where all perspectives are particular and dependent upon experiences unique to an individual, a community, or a period of time.1 This complex and culturally relativistic view of space, the product of the last several decades, has reinvigorated geography as a discipline, just as it has engaged scholars within the humanities.

 

3 Geographic Information Science and Spatial Analysis for the Humanities

ePub

KAREN K. KEMP

Geographic Information Science (GISci) is the science behind the technologies of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). As a science, GISci evolved in a context of precision, quantitative measurement, and notions of accuracy. As such, it might seem that its technology has little application in the humanities where imprecision, qualitative information and individual, sometimes conflicting, interpretations of “facts” are the norm. Fortunately, GISci has a strong intellectual foundation in the discipline of geography, a field that sits astride the science/social science divide, and its practitioners are generally comfortable addressing the challenging issues that arise when we attempt to represent the complex and ever changing places in which we live within the rigorous structure of the digital computer.

In a somewhat circular definition, GISci is an information science that focuses on the collection, modeling, management, display, and interpretation of geographic information. It is an integrative field, combining concepts, theories, and techniques from a wide range of disciplines, allowing new insights and innovative synergies for increased understanding of our world. By incorporating spatial location (geography) as an essential characteristic of what we seek to understand in the natural and built environment, geographic information science and systems GIS provide the conceptual foundation and synergistic tools to explore this frontier.1

 

4 Exploiting Time and Space: A Challenge for GIS in the Digital Humanities

ePub

IAN GREGORY

Most information is explicitly or implicitly concerned with theme, time, and space. Much humanities scholarship is concerned with a theme and how it varied over time and/or space. Handling space and time together is difficult, and this complexity has often led scholars to focus on either change over time, the domain of historians, or variations over space, primarily studied by geographers. Arguing that history is the study of time and geography the study of space overstates the divide between the two; however, it is fair to say that history is concerned with the study of periods in the past, while geography is the study of places on the Earth’s surface.1 As time is clearly a central concept to period and space is important to place, the difference between space and time appears to be a central reason for the disciplinary divide between history and geography. History has what Monica Wachowicz calls a time-dominated view, while geography has a space-dominated view.2 Many academics within and beyond these two disciplines have long argued that the division between time-dominated and space-dominated approaches is counter-productive and a more integrated approach is needed. This has been taken furthest in physics where Einstein’s work has moved the discipline beyond seeing space and time as separate but related concepts to a single concept of space-time. Arguments also have been made by geographers, historians, and others that to understand the human environment we need to move towards a concept of space-time.3

 

5 Qualitative GIS and Emergent Semantics

ePub

JOHN CORRIGAN

The possibilities for qualitative Geographic Information Systems (GIS) rest largely on the prospective successes of humanities researchers in interrogating GIS in a way that will compel its adaptation to humanities data. One way of characterizing what is at issue in that turn as it now has begun is to observe that GIS ontology currently privileges disambiguation in its organization of knowledge, while in the humanities, it is trust placed in the slipperiness of data, in its status as multivalent, equivocal, and protean, that determines the processes of its sorting and analysis. Our imagining an eventual common ground that escapes the dread gravity of this seemingly perennial problem—a problem articulated in many ways since the Enlightenment as a “war” between science and its epistemological competitors—might be well served by our focusing on ways of exploiting opportunities for multimedia GIS. The challenge is to construct a spatial multimedia that is coherent and productive even while remaining emergent. In simpler terms, we need a more fluid and ambiguous GIS.

 

6 Representations of Space and Place in the Humanities

ePub

GARY LOCK

Space and place are complex and elusive concepts1 so any representation of them (which according to my dictionary is something that “corresponds to, or is in some way equivalent or analogous to”) is immediately contentious. Or is it? Through this chapter I would like to intertwine notions of landscape with those of representation, partly because landscapes are obviously spatial at one level but also because landscape is a humanizing theme which draws together many of our disciplines.2 Considerations of landscape have also brought to the fore a tension which is central to forms of spatial representation: both landscape and maps are at the same time a representation of material phenomena and an interpretation formulated around and within subjective meaning. So, to answer my own question, it is possible to have representations that are not so slippery and contentious, indeed we all regularly use maps, or these days more likely sat-navs in our cars, which perform in an acceptable functional way via an accepted code of symbolic representation that attempts to avoid subjective interpretations (although we still get lost!). The oft used quote from the influential Chorley Report,3 “GIS [Geographic Information Systems] are the biggest step forward in the handling of spatial data since the invention of the map” is interesting here as it implies a technology that can go beyond the traditional map into new realms of representation. Twenty years on though, the challenge is still whether we can take subsequent arguments and theoretical constructs and percolate them down into practice, particularly the difficult practice that involves GIS.

 

7 Mapping Text

ePub

MAY YUAN

This essay centers on the idea that innovative semantic syntheses and geo-referencing methods can enable transformation of text to maps. Hence, the attempt is to explore the possibilities of projecting text to produce maps and enabling maps to tell stories. Both stories and maps are important and effective frameworks of learning and understanding the world for both children and adults.1 Humanities Geographic Information Systems (GIS) must incorporate the ability to represent narratives in GIS databases and map texts to offer the geographic contexts of stories. By doing so, we may be able to realize Sir C. P. Snow’s vision of “the third culture” that bridges scientific and literary disciplines.2

Text is one, if not the, major form that records the human experience with an epistemology of reality. Dumbrava argued that text converts experiences to discourses and enables us to perceive experiences of others and other times.3 One effective means of communicating experiences in text is through metaphors that bridge the gap between concrete experience and revelation of reality. Consequently, text becomes the space of “culturalization” that transforms history to culture with common ontological and epistemological dimensions of comprehension and sense making.

 

8 The Geospatial Semantic Web, Pareto GIS, and the Humanities

ePub

TREVOR M. HARRIS, L. JESSE ROUSE, AND SUSAN BERGERON

The so-called spatial turn in the humanities represents a complexity of ideas and applications and the term is in dire need of unpacking. At the very base level the spatial turn represents an awareness of the significant role that space plays in human actions and events, and specifically the influence that space plays in humanities disciplines. Without question, the spatial turn has been heavily driven by the growing awareness and availability of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).1 There have long been exchanges between geography and the humanities that extend as far back as Carl Sauer’s inaugural work in cultural geography and his use of examples from history, archaeology, and cultural landscape studies.2 Historical geography has certainly been at the forefront of this symbiosis in seeking to explore geographies of the past through a blend of human geography and the historical method.3 It is not surprising then that the early usage of GIS in the humanities has been predominantly in historical GIS, which has drawn upon the primary strengths of GIS in the areas of mapping, gazetteers, and vector boundary delineation to support the geographies of major databases such as historical censuses and the production of atlases. Significantly there has been little demonstrated use of GIS in the humanities that draws upon the extensive spatial analytical sophistication of the technology. In the disparate, largely uncoordinated and application-driven foray of GIS into the humanities, mapping has been without question the dominant expression of the geospatial turn and in many ways the (re)discovery of the power of the map has become synonymous with the spatial turn.

 

9 GIS, e-Science, and the Humanities Grid

ePub

PAUL S. ELL

The development of electronic resources for use by scholars in the humanities has proliferated at a dramatic pace over the last twenty years. Although scholars might feel that few resources are available to them, this is likely not to be the case. Much effort, and funding has been devoted specifically to create e-resources, ranging from highly specialized and subject-specific material to, and of more import to most scholars, what might be termed strategic or key resources. These latter resources might be considered strategic because of their spatial spread (i.e., they provide information for a spatially large area), their spatial granularity (providing information at a detailed spatial level), their chronological depth (data available over long time-periods), or their contextual nature. They are consulted and used by relatively large numbers of scholars, forming, if not a core foundation for their research, at least a backdrop. Such e-resources vary in their nature and include national censuses, socio-economic surveys, the work of mapping agencies, thematic collections of monographs, manuscripts, and journals, and so on.

 

10 Challenges for the Spatial Humanities: Toward a Research Agenda

ePub

TREVOR M. HARRIS, JOHN CORRIGAN, AND DAVID J. BODENHAMER

This book set out with the ambitious goal of critically engaging domain experts in the task of examining the role of GIS technology and spatial concepts in the emerging field of the spatial humanities. The resulting chapters explore both the potential of GIS as a core component of the spatial turn and the role of geographical space as a conceptual framework in the humanities. The basic premise under examination is whether the powerful spatial data management, functionality, geovisualization, and mapping capabilities of GIS, combined with a spatial perspective, can provide new insight in humanities scholarship. We have chosen not to develop case studies to illustrate the use of GIS in specific humanities disciplines but rather have sought to identify the present status, history, and nature of the challenges facing the spatial humanities. We also have set out to explore critically the theories, concepts, and methodologies redolent in GIS usage and the spatial analytic perspective in humanities scholarship. In common with humanities scholarship in general, we sought not to develop an authoritative or ultimate answer to the role of GIS in these disciplines but to probe for new questions, develop new perspectives, advance new arguments and interpretations, and recursively shape the interface between GIS and the humanities and between humanists and GIS scientists. In exploring these multifaceted relationships we see the beginnings of a research agenda that is formulated on understanding the core elements of a reoriented humanities scholarship where space and geographical concepts play a greater role in framing scholarship in both the humanities and GIS communities. Likewise, we see opportunities for GIS to experiment methodologically and technically in ways that bring it into closer collaboration with the agendas of the humanities.

 

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