GIS & the Humanities at UCSB, Day 1

The Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UCSB just hosted a 2-day mini-conference on GIS and the Humanities.

Friday morning opened with a trio from UCLA.  Diane Favro focused on the Digital Roman Forum and spoke of her wish to create digital environments within which we could have a real walk around. She says it’s place, space, and pace we need.  Elaine Sullivan, an Egyptologist who worked on the Digital Karnak Project, spoke of the two courses (this one on learning with Google Earth & GIS, and this one that’s focused on research) that she’s leading for UCLA undergrads.  It’s funded by their Keck Digital Cultural Mapping program. Several weeks ago several of us from Redlands went to UCLA to watch her students present their projects and left greatly impressed.  Tim Tangherlini gave a delightful presentation about his study of the folklore collected by Danish folklorist, Evald Tang Kristensen.  Here’s an example, profiling the work of five storytellers through the use of visualizations and mapping. He noted that GIS has helped highlight some of the differences between regional collecting patterns that had otherwise been overlooked.

David Rumsey gave a keynote presentation in which he praised the value of digital tools to enable close, distant, and dynamic readings of maps.  His map collection, and his generosity in sharing it with the world, are remarkable contributions to this field of humanities-focused GIS work. He’s currently hard at work to provide us with georeferenced versions of many of his maps.  New to me: he does the georeferencing work all himself, and he praises GlobalMapper in helping him do it.

In the afternoon the Stanford group shared the stage.  Nicole Coleman and Dan Edelstein shared the Mapping the Republic of Letters.  Their “dashboard” interface of information is lovely, and the 2.0 version of the representation of the flow – not yet on the web – is even nicer. Somehow I had the impression that Voltaire was the only subject, but in fact there are many case studies available.  Nicole came out with one of my second favorite phrase of the day: “I need a hyperlink into electronic enlightenment.”   Zephyr Frank rounded out that session, asking how mapping changes how arguments are made.  He shared several components of his Terrain of History project, including this visualization of Yellow Fever and the Rio Slave Market.  The Rio Slave Market one is reminiscent of Agent Based Modeling.

The day finished with 3-5 minute lightning talks.  The inimitable Waldo Tobler was up first (a lightning talk? really? the man could talk – in an informed manner – for days on end).  Top statement of the day goes to Waldo: he’d just heard several Stanford folks talk slightly indirectly and obliquely about how to interpret the role of fluctuating distance in their respective projects, so he opened with, “Of course, Stanford doesn’t have a geography department, so they wouldn’t know about the distance decay function.”  [Strong laughter and cheers from the geographers in the room.]  Other highlights included Kitty Currier from the UCSB geography department sharing her work with mapping soundscapes; I think this is one of the examples she included of work in London.  Finally, some of the Google Earth and Google Maps student projects that UCSB artist Lisa Jevbratt shared were playfully imaginative.  The class was focused on these applications as “Artistic Tools and Environments.” Probably will be hard to figure some of them out without some explanation, but they’re worth exploring. Making on-the-fly projections of where we might expect to find a rainbow was a popular one.

Final thoughts for Day 1:  the words “compromise” and “imposition” were used a number of times when people commented on their uses of GIS for humanities projects.  Much of what we saw focused on digital mapping (i.e., web-based, Flashy or Java scripted animations, or Google Earth/Maps). The use of commercial GIS and “deep” spatial analytical questions, or answers, was largely absent.

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2 responses to “GIS & the Humanities at UCSB, Day 1

  1. Thank you for this very useful write-up. Looking forward to Part II!

  2. Pingback: Beware the Ides of March! « A Lively Experiment

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