Developments in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) over the past few decades have been nothing short of remarkable. So revolutionary have these advances been that the impact of GIS on many facets of government administration, industrial infrastructure, commerce, and academia has been likened to the discoveries brought about by the microscope, the telescope, and the printing press. While concepts of spatial science and spatial thinking provide the bedrock on which a broad range of geospatial technologies and methods have been founded, the dialog between the humanities and geographic information science (GISci) have thus far been limited and have largely revolved around the use of ‘off-the-shelf’ GIS in historical mapping projects. This limited engagement is in stark contrast to the substantive inroads that GIS has made in the sciences and social sciences, as captured by the growing and valuable field of a social-theoretic informed Critical GIS. Not surprisingly, the humanities present additional significant challenges to GISci because of the complexities involved in meshing a positivist science with humanist traditions and predominantly literary and aspatial methods. And yet it is the potential dialogue and engagement between the humanities and GISci that promises reciprocal advances in both fields as spatial science shapes humanist thought and is in turn reshaped by the multifaceted needs and approaches represented by humanist traditions. We use the term spatial humanities to capture this potentially rich interplay between Critical GIS, spatial science, spatial systems, and the panoply of highly nuanced humanist traditions.
The use of GIS in the humanities is not new. The National Endowment for the Humanities has funded a number of projects to explore how geo-spatial technologies might enhance research in a number of humanities disciplines, including but not limited to history, literary studies, and cultural studies. The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health also have supported projects related to spatial history, such as the Holocaust Historical GIS (NSF) and Population and Environment in the U.S. Great Plains (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development). Although successful by their own terms, these projects also have revealed the limits of the technology for a wider range of humanities scholarship, which an increasing body of literature discusses in detail. Chief among the issues are a mismatch between the positivist epistemology of GIS, with its demand for precise, measurable data, and the reflexive and recursive approaches favored by humanists and some social scientists (e.g. practitioners of reflexive sociology) who wrestle continually with ambiguous, uncertain, and imprecise evidence and who seek multivalent answers to their questions. The problem, it seems, is both foundational and technological: we do not yet have a well-articulated theory for the spatial humanities, nor do we have tools sufficient for the needs of humanists. Addressing these deficits is at the heart of much current work in GIScience and in the spatial humanities.
The panel, composed of scholars who have successfully blended geo-spatial technologies with cross-disciplinary methods in a variety of projects, will discuss how these digital tools can be bent toward the needs of humanities scholars and serve as a platform for innovative work in humanities disciplines. Emphasis will be on three important themes from the spatial humanities that also address the broader interests of the digital humanities:
After an introductory framing statement by the moderator, panelists will each take no more than 10 minutes to offer reflections and experiences drawn from their own projects that will address one or more of these themes. Several questions will guide these presentations:
Following the presentations, the moderator will guide a discussion among the panelists and with audience members to explore these themes further in an effort to distill an agenda or, more modestly, a direction for future work.
Bodenhamer, D., J. Corrigan, and T. Harris, eds. (2010). The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. Bloomington: Indiana UP.
Daniels, S., D. DeLyser, J. Entrikin, and D. Richardson, eds. (2011). Envisioning Landscapes, Making Worlds: Geography and the Humanities. New York: Routledge.
Dear, M., J. Ketchum, S. Luria, and D. Richardson (2011). GeoHumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place. New York: Routledge.
Gregory, I., and P. Ell (2008). Historical GIS: Technologies, Methodologies, and Scholarship. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Knowles, A., ed. (2008). Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press.