Being involved in a number of projects with a spatial dimension, I’ve been teaching myself digital cartography for over a year. The code, however, is only half the story. Maps are not transparent depictions of reality, there are many problems, conceptual and technical, with combining older mapping technologies with modern cartography, and let’s not even get started on the problems of usability (the computer screen is as difficult as manipulating a fold-out map or an A-Z book).
One part of answering these questions is simply looking at what others are doing. So I’ve begun to compile a list of Digital Humanities projects where GIS (Geographical Information Systems) has a leading part. Aside from my own bookmarks, I’ve drawn on two similar lists: that at Historical GIS Research Network and the AAG Historical GIS Clearing House. It is a list of academic projects: although there are many excellent extra-mural mapping projects I specifically wanted to see how the digital and the humanities are combining in the university. It is also heavily weighted towards history and literary studies, as those are what I am involved in and know about. Please tell me of any other projects through the comments.
I’ve used GIS in a rather loose way, taking in what has been termed ‘neogeography’ and ‘webmapping.’ A couple of the projects I’ve listed don’t even aim to produce maps, but gazetteers of old place names, and utilize text processing technologies rather than anything that could be considered GIS. Part of this exercise is to see how space and place are being analysed, and what technologies are being used to do so; GIS seemed a useful catch-all term. I hope the purists will forgive me.
This list takes a snapshot of the state of the ‘spatial turn’ in (some of) the (digital) humanities up to early 2011. The technologies used fall into four types: flash animations, Google Maps, server-side delivery and old-style downloadable shapefiles. The focus is frequently based on geographical units – cities, regions, countries, continents – and less often on particular subjects. Suprisingly, there’s only one project on the Holocaust and that barely begun; I heard of two other projects, but both seem to be defunct. Further analysis will follow as time allows.
Thanks to all who responded to my query on the Humanist list; the relevant postings can be found in the March 2011 archives.