Posts Tagged Spatial Humanities

GIS and the Spatial Humanities

Feb 24th, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

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.

Visualizing and Mapping Cemeteries

Feb 23rd, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

Initially I was agonizing over this project. I know what I want to do, but I don’t know how to express it exactly (even after reading the first four chapters of The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship – Bodenhamer, David; John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris). I found a pay site called but since it’s pay for use, I couldn’t decide whether their format is useful or not for mapping cemeteries. Supposedly they have software you can use to map any cemetery. So that didn’t help with my idea, which follows:

Eventually this is something I’d like to do on a larger scale (meaning, lots and lots of cemeteries – a big project [as opposed to the definition of scale in GISci, referred to on p. 33 of the aforementioned book]), but I will start with three cemeteries that I have spent way too much time trying to analyze and understand from far away and using only the resources I can dig up online and here and there. They all reside within a few miles of each other in the township of Mad River, Champaign county, Ohio. Two are family cemeteries and have not had burials in over 100 years, and the third is still used today. My ancestors from this county are buried between the three. One is the Zerkle Cemetery, off Coffin Station Road and Thackery. (GPS Coordinates: Latitude: 40.0428363 and Longitude: -83.8979884) The next is about 1/2 mile away, the Shaffer Cemetery, same cross streets. (GPS Coordinates: Latitude: 40.0467251 and Longitude: -83.8849324) The final cemetery is the township cemetery, Terre Haute Cemetery, off Storms Creek/55. (GPS Coordinates: Latitude: 40.0522805 and Longitude: -83.8807657).

I have lists of burials from the Shaffer and Zerkle cemeteries from the DAR, the WPA, the Champaign County Genealogical Society, Find-a-Grave, BillionGraves, FamilySearch, US GenWeb, and probably other places. For Terre Haute, I haven’t spent much time on it. It is maintained by the Mad River Township Trustees, so I assume I can acquire a list from them. If not, I know there are several of the former sources that have a listing for Terre Haute, I’d just have to take into consideration the time frame the list is from, since there are still on-going burials in the cemetery. My idea is to create a database of all these lists that first reveals differences between the lists (who’s missing, etc); and then create a map of the location of each burial ~ which will reveal (hopefully) who is missing and where there are gaps in the burials.

I wasn’t sure how to do this but then I found a website discussing a 4-H project done in Iowa for a computer company to develop cemetery mapping software. (See here for the full story and pictures. ) The kids plotted the GPS coordinates and three months later found out that was not what the company wanted. They then had to go back and start over, with the help of their county GIS coordinator. They had to create shape files, use aerial photography, and it took them 5 years to complete the first section of the cemetery.

That being said, I realized my little Ohio project is not something that 1) I can accomplish before mid March or 2) that I can accomplish unless I physically go to Ohio., because in all these cemetery lists there are no designations or coordinates for the exact locations for the burials. So for this phase of the project, I need to pick a local cemetery. My first thought was the Pioneer Cemetery in Phoenix.  I know they have been taking photographs of their cemetery – they were doing that the last time I was there – but am not certain for what purpose. I guess I can get in touch with them and propose my idea. I think that I will have to take a much smaller piece to work with to get it done in time. But as far as what this will tell me, I really don’t know, as I am not familiar with the cemetery other than I’ve been there before. I don’t know what records they might have, or whether they’d even be interested in something like this.  Second choice, if they are not interested, I thought possibly of All Faiths Memorial Park in Tucson. This will be a little harder to do, due to distance, but I thought it might be interesting to map the Our Lady of the Desert mausoleum. I’m sure THAT has never been done! But I’m pretty sure I have no idea what that would tell me. I could create a virtual tour of the mausoleum though, it’s not very big. I at least would find that interesting, as my parents are buried there; not sure if anyone else would.

Anyway, I will hopefully be working on getting the Ohio version of this project off the ground over this summer. Wish me luck.