The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship

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9780253222176: The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship

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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About the Author:

David J. Bodenhamer is Executive Director of the Polis Center and Professor of History at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

John Corrigan is Lucius Moody Bristol Distinguished Professor of Religion and Professor of History at Florida State University.

Trevor M. Harris is Eberly Professor of Geography and Chair of the Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

This book proposes the development of spatial humanities that promises to revitalize and redefine scholarship by (re)introducing geographic concepts of space to the humanities. Humanists are fully conversant with space as concept or metaphor—gendered space, the body as space, and racialized space, among numerous other rubrics, are common frames of reference and interpretation in many disciplines—but only recently have scholars revived what had been a dormant interest in the influence of physical or geographical space on human behavior and cultural development. This renewal of interest stems in large measure from the ubiquity of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in contemporary society. From online mapping and personal navigation devices to election night maps colored in red and blue, we are more aware than ever of the power of the map to facilitate commerce, enable knowledge discovery, or make geographic information visual and socially relevant.

GIS lies at the heart of this so-called spatial turn. At its core, GIS is powerful software that uses location to integrate and visualize information. Within a GIS, users can discover relationships that make a complex world more immediately understandable by visually detecting spatial patterns that remain hidden in texts and tables. Maps have served this function for a long time: the classic example occurred in the 1850s when an English doctor, John Snow, mapped an outbreak of cholera and saw how cases clustered in a neighborhood with a well that, unknown to residents, was contaminated. Not only does GIS bring impressive computing power to this task, but it is capable of integrating data from different formats by virtue of their shared geography. This ability has attracted considerable interest from historians, archaeologists, linguists, students of material culture, and others who are interested in place, the dense coil of memory, artifact, and experience that exists in a particular space, as well as in the coincidence and movements of people, goods, and ideas that have occurred across time in spaces large and small. Recent years have witnessed the wide application of GIS to historical and cultural questions: Did the Dust Bowl of the 1920s and 1930 result from over-farming the land or was it primarily the consequence of larger term environmental changes? What influence did the rapidly changing cityscape of London have on literature in Elizabethan England? What is the relationship between rulers and territory in the checkered political landscape of state formation in nineteenth-century Germany? How did spatial networks influence the administrative geography of medieval China? Increasingly, scholars are turning to GIS to provide new perspective on these and other topics that previously have been studied outside of an explicitly spatial framework.

Spatial humanities, especially with a humanities-friendly GIS at its center, can be a tool with revolutionary potential for scholarship, but as such, it faces significant obstacles at the outset. The term humanities GIS sounds like an oxymoron both to humanists and to GIS experts. It links two approaches to knowledge that, at first glance, rest on different epistemological footings. Humanities scholars speak often of conceptual and cognitive mapping, but view geographic mapping, the stock in trade of GIS, as an elementary or primitive approach to complexity at best or environmental determinism at worst. Experts in spatial technologies, conversely, have found it difficult to wrestle slippery humanities notions into software that demands precise locations and closed polygons. At times, applying GIS to the humanities appears only to prove C.P. Snow’s now-classic formulation of science and the humanities as two separate worlds.

One of the problems, perhaps the basic problem, is that GIS was not developed for the humanities. It emerged first as a tool of the environmental sciences. Oriented initially around points, lines, and polygons, it found quick acceptance in the corporate world and, with its close cousin, GPS, spawned a host of location-based services. Its uptake in the academy was slower, although by the 1980s it was possible to speak of a "spatial turn," a re-emergence of space and place as important concepts in the social sciences, driven in large measure by GIS and other spatial technologies. Humanities too experienced a spatial turn—and a temporal turn in the New Historicism—but its spaces and places were metaphorical rather than geographical constructions. Although GIS has gained a small foothold in specialty areas such as historical GIS, the technology that drove a social science agenda for two decades had little salience for humanists, who saw scant potential in it for answering the questions that interested them.

Significantly, the discipline that provided the home for much GIS development and application, geography, found itself divided over the technology in ways that mimicked the concerns expressed by humanists about quantitative methods generally. The central issue was, at heart, epistemological: GIS privileged a certain way of knowing the world, one that valued authority, definition, and certainty over complexity, ambiguity, multiplicity, and contingency, the very things that engaged humanists. From this internal debate, often termed Critical GIS, came a new approach, GIS and Society, which sought to re-position GIS as GIScience, embodying it with a theoretical framework that it previously lacked. This intellectual restructuring pushed the technology in new directions that were more suitable to the humanities. The aim of this book is to seize the momentum generated by the long debate in geography and use it to advance an even more radical conception of GIS that will re-orient, and perhaps revolutionize, humanities scholarship.

The power of GIS for the humanities lies in its ability to integrate information from a common location, regardless of format, and to visualize the results in combinations of transparent layers on a map of the geography shared by the data. Internet mapping has made this concept widely recognized and accessible, but this use of GIS only hints at its potential for the humanities. Scholars now have the tools to link quantitative, qualitative, and image data and to view them simultaneously and in relationship with each other in the spaces where they occur. But the technology currently requires that humanists fit their questions, data, and methods to the rigid parameters of the software, which implicitly are based on positivist assumptions about the world. We seek instead to conceptualize spatial humanities by critically engaging the technology and directing it to the subject matter of the humanities, taking what GIS offers in the way of tools while at the same time urging new agendas upon GIS that will shape it for richer collaborative engagements with the humanistic disciplines. It will not be sufficient for the humanities to draw piecemeal from the vocabulary of spatial analysis redolent in GIS or simply to adapt the current state of GIS technology to specific research. Rather, genuine advancement of scholarly investigation of space in the humanities will derive from investigators’ successes in effecting a profound blending of research languages and in organizing sustained collaborative experimentation with spatially-aware interpretation.

To date, studies using GIS in historical and cultural studies have been disparate, application driven, and often tied to the somewhat more obvious use of GIS in census boundary delineation and map making. While not seeking to minimize the importance of such work, these studies have rarely addressed the broader, more fundamental issues that surround the introduction of a spatial technology such as GIS into the humanities. There are core reasons why GIS has found early use and ready acceptance in the sciences and social sciences rather than in the more qualitatively-based humanities. The humanities pose far greater epistemological and ontological issues that challenge the technology in a number of ways, from the imprecision and uncertainty of data to concepts of relative space, the use of time as an organizing principle, and the mutually constitutive relationship between time and space. Essentially, GIS and its related technologies currently allow users to determine a geography of space. In the context of the humanities, we seek to move GIS from this more limited quantitative representation of space to facilitate an understanding of place within time and the role that place occupies in humanities disciplines.

Seeking to fuse GIS with the humanities is challenging in the extreme. GIS is a technology that generates geometric abstractions of the real world that can be mathematically integrated to provide a powerful spatial analytic system. Such a positivist science sits uncomfortably with the varied philosophical and methodological approaches traditionally pursued in the humanities. The qualitative-based humanities are problematic for a quantitative technology. Quantitative representations of space fit more comfortably with the sciences and social sciences than they do with qualitatively-based humanities. GIS is spatially deterministic and requires landscapes and societal patterns and processes to be tied to the spatial geometrical primitives of point, line, polygon, and pixel. The mathematical topology that underpins GIS brings its own data representations in the form of raster, vector, and object forms. The attribution of these geometric forms lends itself to the classifications of natural resources, infrastructure, demography, and environmental phenomena rather than to the less well-defined descriptive terms and categories of the humanities. Spatio-temporal GIS, or the ability of GIS to handle space and time concurrently, also remains unresolved, which makes current technology difficult for time-based humanities studies. Data and the representations of phenomena, then, are singular factors that challenge the fusion of GIS with the humanities. Yet the GIS abstractions of space, nature, and society, while posing substantial prob...

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Descripción Indiana University Press, United States, 2010. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. Nº de ref. de la librería AAJ9780253222176

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Descripción Indiana University Press, United States, 2010. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. Nº de ref. de la librería AAJ9780253222176

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