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.”