GIS and the Spatial Humanities

I’ve now read several chapters of The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. I think my synopsis so far is that GIS is a tool to create narratives from deep mapping and spatial theory. The basic differences between the sciences and the humanities create the tension in the GIS debates. Science is concerned with hard facts and numbers. The Humanities are fluid, looking at the world around us and asking questions that may not be able to be answered. That would drive a scientist nuts. So deep mapping is the creation of more complex maps, that include the idea of place and envelopes a humanist’s work with things like texts and oral histories into a map experience. Spatial humanities looks at the big picture of time, space, place. Basically, maps are more than maps in the Spatial Humanities.


Fries worldmap 1522

World map of Laurent Fries, based on the Waldseemüller map of 1513. 
[Public domain, via WikiCommons - click map for source]

Ch.9, “GIS, e-science, and the Humanities Grid” focuses on the advent of e-science and some projects that reflect the difficulties in merging the humanities and science. The author discusses the three grids in e-science and their relevance to the Humanities: the access grid (cooperative, integrative, collaborative); the computational grid (computer skills required!); and the data grid (connecting online data sets and deep web linking — most useful for humanities work).  The author also discusses place-name difficulties in linking with e-science grids. Subject is always easy to use to retrieve data, but information retrieval by location and chronology is a lot harder and needs special tools such as GIS to help with the retrieval. He discusses a couple of projects (mostly in the UK) that are doing things like creating gazetteers (a sort of geographical dictionary) using census records. Where they fall short is in the data mining. But there is potential as long as humanists become more open minded. The future includes more development of the data grid to handle these sorts of projects, open standards that allow collaboration, and changing the mindset of humanists. GIS needs to move beyond a visualization tool and become a data tool to manage information.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 24th, 2014 at 9:29 am and is filed under Public History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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