Category Archives: humanities

national poetry month, exploring through maps

April is National Poetry Month. (Sure, why not? It has to be sometime, if we can’t have National Poetry Day year-round!)  There are several map-using-poetry-sites I’ve become aware of lately, including:

  1.  Places of Poems and Poets (part of an online poetry collection done by the libraries at the University of Toronto)
  2. Poetry Atlas (created/maintained by Tam Tam, a media company in the UK)
  3. a National Poetry Map, from poets.org
  4. a World Poetry Map, focusing on poets representing scarce-spoken languages, funded by the NEA and others.  (Is that really the dividing line between Europe and Asia? Really?)

Basically these are all mashups with point locations that document an author’s birthplace or native state/country, or maybe the landscape about which the poem is based, etc.  Simple geocoding or geotagging has taken place. So in every case the maps are simply an organizational template for the poems,  not something that necessarily give any new insights.

What would be even better?  A site that uses other geographical “filters” to discover poems.  That is, show me poems about waterfalls AND show me the images of where those waterfalls are.  Or, if it’s a poem about a gritty urban scene, show me some gritty urban scenes.  A poem about a historical time at a particular place?  How about linking it to HistoryPin or WhatWasThere?

And while we’re at it, how about a little audio, people?  Reading poetry is terrific, but I love listening to it too.  It’s easy to record someone reading a poem and link to that recording in the placemark.  It could even be done in native tongue and then a translation.  And, while you’re at it, how about with the sound of waterfalls in the background too?

If anyone knows any sites that creatively uses poetry and maps, please share them.

h/t to Google Maps Mania for some of the sites.

working with old maps

I’m still digesting the surplus of ideas, information, and stimuli that came through as overload during last week’s AAG conference in NYC.  One of the tracks that I’d have hoped to get to (if I could clone myself, and have the double arrive pre-loaded with more energy) was held at the New York Public Library, focusing on the use of historical maps and data in a number of ways.  I did have friends at those sessions, however, and one of them – Chris Gist from UVA- came to dinner one night full of enthusiasm for the plans around oldmapsonline.org.   I suppose such a wonderful level of contributed sharing was inevitable in today’s world of VGI.  Bring on the temporal/spatial change studies!

NYPL is also known for their innovative use of open-source tools to crowd source the georeferencing of their own collection of maps and images.

No man is an island, no place is a point

Rebecca Davis, my former colleague at NITLE, just hosted a Google+ discussion on possible ways that map-based stories can support student learning.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to join them, so I’m glad that she’s posted a summary of the session.

Linking place with narrative is central for spatially-focused digital humanities efforts.  Their comments on how to make projects collaborative are particularly important ones.  The tools themselves support collaboration by design, but managing that within an instructional setting requires careful forethought and planning.  As you’re designing the assignment, think through how you may separate content from technology knowledge. Don’t leave it to chance.  Like any group project, divide and conquer through chunks or phases. Train all students with the technologies, then allow for and recognize the natural tech leaders that will come to the forefront.  Provide them structured opportunities to help their peers.  Looks for ways to customize every possible aspect of the project, from on-the-ground field work to specially designed icons. Everyone naturally gravitates towards the visual media with these tools. Don’t overlook the audio possibilities, whether it’s music associated with the project as a whole, an overall narration, or authentic voices from the people of the place.  Experiment with lines and area (polygons) as indicators of locations too. No man is an island, no place is a point.

To move beyond tacking your info over someone else’s pre-digested map may eventually require dedicated programming efforts, but I’m certain we haven’t reached the ceiling for creative projects with simple tools.

Esri has a new page dedicated to Map(ping) Stories too.

The NEH is hosting two different Institutes this summer for those with grand ideas:

1) Spatial Narrative and Deep Maps: Explorations in the Spatial Humanities, at IUPUI in Indiana, and

2) Digital Cultural Mapping: Transformative Scholarship and Teaching in the Geospatial Humanities, at UCLA.

Mining (and then Mapping) Wikileaks

My colleagues from the University of Virginia have posted another step-by-step on their Spatial Humanities site, this one from Devin Becker, a digital initiatives librarian at the University of Idaho.   You too can follow Devin’s (tried and true) instructions and dive into Wikileaks yourself, with his 2-part example of the Afghan War Diary data.

One particularly great thing about this guide?   A simple entry to  Google Fusion tables, for those of us who haven’t had the time to play at all yet.  Thanks, Devin.

I tried to find a link to a website for Devin at the University of Idaho, and failed. But in the process I did uncover his cool design for Visualizing Metadata.  My library friends at Redlands will like this…

a new effort at geocoding from the Peutinger Map

Some maps were never meant to be georeferenced, and the Peutinger Map is one of them.  Here are some nicely  scanned versions of its sections.

But I do respect the efforts that some have made to scrape off the locations, do some creative and researched geocoding, and provide scholars with a digital tool that may provide an insight or two.   This is a new one that I just learned about, the Omnes Viae.  Locations are based on Richard Talbert’s work.

via Neatorama.

GIS and Spatial Humanites in NYT article

Some classic spatial history projects made the headlines in the NY Times today.  Many of these works can be explored in more detail in two Esri Press books (Placing History and Past Time, Past Place), both of which Anne Knowles edited.

NYT hat tip to Brett Bobley.

new DH Spatial site from UVa’s Scholar’s Lab

In 2009 I participated in an NEH-funded Institute at the University of Virginia, focusing on the exploration of geospatial technologies within humanities disciplines. Last week the Institute finally launched one of its deliverables, an online venue for further discussion and support of humanities-focused GIS and mapping projects.

The mix of elements on the sites reflects both the combination of voices heard at their two part Institute: one focused more for the developers, librarians, and support staff for (large) humanities projects, and the other on faculty themselves.  Jo Guldi’s short essays on historical spatial turns evident throughout various disciplines is a nicely produced asset for the site, and I hope more discussion ensues.  Though I myself contributed one of the Step-by-Step answers, I’m uncertain about the need for this section (since there are so many other venues for such information) and I wait to see what other contributions come forth.

What I also follow with keen interest is the balance between the use of open source and commercial tools by the GIS-focused DH communities.  Geospatial OS software and applications require a certain commitment of dedicated effort and specialized knowledge, a surprisingly uncommon combination at many institutions. The use of commercial software by default requires no less effort, but most schools are more likely to have support staff knowledgeable in its use.  NITLE has recently reinvigorated its Digital Humanities initiative, but small liberal arts schools are some of the least likely to have staff with competence and confidence to use geospatial OS tools.  Go figure.

GIS & the Humanities at UCSB, Day 2

The two-day mini-conference on GIS and the Humanities was sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UCSB.  Day 1 included talks by archaeologists, historians, and language specialists, among others, who all have their own reasons for exploring maps and mapping.  Greater insights, new insights, tools of an evolving trade, being known for doing something different.

Early on Day 1, someone in the audience asked what the forecast and progression for these major projects was.  In traditional humanities scholarship, you do a lot of reading and research, then you write it up in a book, then it’s published and it’s the end of a particular scholarly sequence, and there is public recognition of closure.  With some very large academic GIS projects, the “end” looks different, if there is one.  Maybe it’s the end of a data set, or the end of a particular set of questions. Or maybe it’s just the end of the funding source, and then the programmers are let go or move on to something else. Or when the lead researchers move to another institution.  Or the GIS software, or the optimized browser, or the computer’s operating system, changes, and there are no funds to pay for updating.  Those are ends too.

Can the massive projects be better “chunked” – so that you don’t spend multiple years on something and still have someone underwhelmed with the results?   Will you have plans for project sustainability be part of the original proposal?  Isn’t this part of why NSF now requires a data management plan?  Also reminds me of the resistance of some departments at some universities to admitting someone directly into a PhD program, rather than a MS/MA as a stepping stone.  If something happens (and something often does), you at least have some degree in hand, instead of being 7+ yrs into something with nothing to show.

Day 2 of the conference began with my own talk, about maps functioning as both metaphors and analogies, and the complexities of supporting an argument with maps.  I discussed Reg Golledge’s representation of increasingly clearer cognitive maps as a metaphor for knowledge in general, and a relevant one for experts using new tools to communicate about their subject area to novices.

Ian Gregory’s Mapping the Lakes District project was an example I highlighted for several reasons, mostly because I like the work.  It also illustrates a point of contention: that generating surfaces (such as making a kernel density surface from point data) requires careful attention to kernel sizes, and attention to the notion of “non-uniform distribution of space.”  GIS software typically assumes that an “event” – such as a point dot indicating a location mentioned by a character in an 19th century book – “could” happen anywhere (or at least to the edges of the map extent of that project, almost always a rectangular area defined by the data set with the largest geographic extent), and proceeds to create a surface throughout, showing relative density of where the data set indicates events occurred.  But in reality most events can’t and don’t happen everywhere across a wide region.  There are reasons why Coleridge and Gray went where they did, and where they didn’t, and people don’t move around in the ways that some surficial representations suggest.

For example, if you create a kernel density surface with known zebra mussel locations (mapped within a stream channel, for example), the software will return a rectangular area extending completely beyond the stream’s reach, miles away from the water where a zebra mussel lives.  With some GIS software it is possible to use “barriers” or “masks” to limit the analysis to occur only within one area or another, but this requires steps beyond the defaults (such as setting Processing Extent parameters as an Environmental Setting in ArcGIS10).  Guess I just like points and lines better than areas or surfaces to indicate where events and movement happen. When we don’t know exactly where an event took place, and a single point in an exact spot is misleading, then a generalized surface is possible but buffers and alternative cartographic representations are also solutions.

I showed examples of how the Google Maps API is becoming a standard platform for *any* kind of project requiring simple navigation, such as Google’s fractals program, and the Google Art project.  Of course no “north” arrow needed on the fractals…  I also talked about a few relevant humanities projects at Redlands, some of which are described briefly here, plus some efforts at representing mapped uncertainty and new approaches to documenting humanities-focused metadata. I think it went pretty well. Always hard to tell, and I read as much into what people don’t say as what they do.

Fellow geographer John Agnew (UCLA) was the conference’s second keynote speaker.  John is a senior scholar who has written prolifically about political geography and notions of space and place.  He focused on regional patterns of Italian politics of the last 20 yrs, some shifting and some enduring.  He ended with some examples of how geographically weighted regression (GWR) was being used at the municipal level to tease out local variability (of Italian electoral patterns).  For me the most interesting was the final discussion about space and place.  For John, it was clear that the GWR results were getting at place – that Town A is clearly a different place from Town B, a difference that had gone unobserved when both Town A and B had been lumped together within Province Y.  Because we had changed the scale of the aggregated data (going from province down to municipality), we did have finer resolution.  But to many in the audience, the choropleth maps did little to evoke that elusive sense of place that they expect to be able to find, somehow, in a map.  They were still seeing shapes colored blue or red, albeit somewhat smaller shapes than in the previous maps.  To an expert like John, the small shapes do embody the inherent “platial” differences he knows to exist, but the nuances were largely lost to the novice audience.  I think they were looking for something that more readily evoked the experience of place.

Ruth Mostern from UC Merced was up next.  She shared details of the Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty that she and grad student Elijah Meeks have produced, and talked about some of the recent influences on her thinking. These included Michael Curry’s 2005 article, Toward a Geography of a World Without Maps, plus writings in the landscape as narrative genre, including pieces by Doreen Massey and Tim Ingold.  These and other writings have clarified her thinking about how best to model history within a (geo)database. Not through administration, but through travel.  Not as structures, but as events and processes.

Highlights from the afternoon sessions included Ben Adams (grad student in computer science at UCSB) and his extractions of text from travel blogs with which he generated stylized senses of place (I really liked them; wish I could find something about it on the web to show).  I also liked the work by Marta Jankowska on slum mapping.

Mike Goodchild gave the concluding presentation, with a few remarks on the conference itself (perhaps too much worry and emphasis about the map; a possible shift to the nomothetic over the idiographic [yes, I had to remind myself what those words meant too], but a shift that is problematic with data that are increasingly resistant to generalization; perhaps this is a call to focus more on synthesis over analysis).  He talked about the realm of alternative spaces that we now study: cyberscapes framed by usage of Twitter, Facebook, and other digital social media, profiling the work of David Crandall and Matt Zook. He also reminded the UCSB community about their new academic minor in spatial studies.

Final thoughts: an interesting gathering, very worthwhile for the knowledge gained of new and innovative projects.  Some particularly relevant in my planning of our 2011 LENS Institute on Mapping Migrations.  Thanks, Ann and others, for the invitation.

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.

Mapping England’s Lake District

Ian Gregory and others from Lancaster University (UK) have applied GIS to literary studies of the English Lake District. Their Mapping the Lakes project has done an admirable job of moving beyond push-pins to some spatial analysis, as they make density maps of the sites where Thomas Gray and Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited and wrote about. Results? Differences in the patterns, with less overlap than many would have predicted. Also some interesting gaps where neither went. Could be networks of access, or vistas influenced by topography or vegetation.

These types of density surfaces always make me wish it were easier to apply “masks” or “barriers” to the analyses. Without that, we get too many false positives and false negatives. Many analyses assume a uniform distribution, that people *could* have gone anywhere across the landscape, when in reality we can’t, and we don’t.