Bethany Nowviskie

institute for enabling geospatial scholarship

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Last year, the UVA Scholars’ Lab hosted a local, semester-long faculty and grad student seminar on geospatial technologies in the humanities.  We used, as a jumping-off point, Martyn Jessop’s assessment of factors contributing to a surprising “inhibition” of the use of digitized maps and GIS among humanists. That GIS, an important tool for scholarly engagement with space and place across the disciplines, has been slow to penetrate the digital humanities — a population generally receptive to new practices and technologies — begs a discussion of issues at once historical and methodological, institutional and pragmatic. The seventh annual Scholarly Communication Institute, to be held at UVA Library in a couple of weeks, will take this issue up in a concentrated way, as we focus on spatial technologies and tools: the institutional, methodological, and interpretive aspects of GIS in the context of scholarly communication.

The “inhibition” question demands serious engagement by scholars, programmers, librarians, and advocates for shared data and transparent, flexible, open services. To be effective, this engagement must come at many levels simultaneously: we must work to build core infrastructure to support GIS and leverage the strengths of (primarily government and academic) data providers; we must carefully analyze past successes as well as failures in the digital humanities in order to move forward with more robustly-imagined scholarly projects; and we must interrogate both a toolset that has evolved to suit scientific inquiry (that is, positivist models of physical behavior and dense, detailed, precisely-defined data sets, generally synchronic) and our own inherited systems for interpreting the human record within a spatial field. Above all – because place and space, whether specifically geo-referenced or wholly conceptual, are common denominators in humanistic disciplines – we must make a concerted effort at supporting and understanding what it is that we do, when we “do GIS.”

Today, I’m proud to announce that the Scholars’ Lab has been funded by the NEH to host three tracks of an Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities, on the theme of “Enabling Geospatial Scholarship.”

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sketching ivanhoe

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The publication of Johanna Drucker’s new book, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing, has sent me back to my notebook of drawings from our SpecLab and ARP days, the period from roughly 2000 – 2006 when, first as a grad student and then as a post-doc, I worked closely with Johanna and Jerry McGann on the lunatic fringe of digital humanities. (Jerry and I had gone down the rabbit hole some years earlier with the Rossetti Archive as well.)

These are a few of my sketches for the last iteration of the Ivanhoe Game, the one that’s still available for play. I must confess — as much as I loved the design process in all its stages — that I haven’t played a really good game of Ivanhoe since we moved away from the more prosy and simple interfaces of the Turn of the Screw game (undertaken when Geoffrey Rockwell was a visiting scholar at UVA and I wrote moves like this) and the Haruki Murakami / D. G. Rossetti games I played in the wee hours of the night with my first baby sleeping in my arms. (The Rossetti one, on Jenny, in which I imagined a company specializing in flesh-bot reproductions of Victoriana, was re-printed by Laura Mandell at Romantic Circles and in Jerome McGann’s Like Leaving the Nile.)

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Creative Commons License This site uses a heavily modified version of Bryan Helmig's Magatheme. Work at http://nowviskie.org by Bethany Nowviskie is always CC-BY. Want to know why? The falling letters are by Wayne Graham. He kindly made them to replace a set I designed in Flash in the late 1990s and had in place for more than 17 years. Not a bad run! Ave atque vale.