[Humanist] 24.660 GIS in scholarship

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Jan 21 11:59:30 CET 2011


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 660.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Øyvind_Eide <oyvind.eide at iln.uio.no>                     (38)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?

  [2]   From:    Moacir <moacir at uchicago.edu>                              (69)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?

  [3]   From:    Bill Kretzschmar <kretzsch at uga.edu>                       (10)
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?

  [4]   From:    "H. Lewis Ulman" <ulman.1 at osu.edu>                        (41)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?

  [5]   From:    rasmith at tamu.edu                                           (4)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?

  [6]   From:    Elijah Meeks <emeeks at stanford.edu>                        (15)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 11:14:26 +0100
        From: Øyvind_Eide <oyvind.eide at iln.uio.no>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?
        In-Reply-To: <20110120073054.5D0B9D7419 at woodward.joyent.us>


Den 20. jan.. 2011 kl. 08.30 skrev Humanist Discussion Group:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 655.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>        Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2011 12:32:04 -0600
>        From: "Cogdill, Sharon E." <SCogdill at stcloudstate.edu>
>        Subject: role of GIS
>
>
> Colleagues -
>
> At my university, a vice president has been arguing that there is no  
> place for a GIS (geographic information systems) curriculum because  
> now everybody can get that kind of data and everyone can make maps.  
> To me, the fact that people who take photos with their digital  
> cameras or mobile phones also can see and make use of the  
> coordinates means that we really must teach about that: not only are  
> there really bad maps out there, but people need to be able to  
> interpret that kind of data.

It is just rubbish. I will mention but two reasons:

1. Access to map data, especially vector data which is needed for many  
types of analysis, is very difficult for many areas, where the only  
sources for data of respectable quality are the national mapping  
agencies. Google maps for rural areas? Forget it.

2. GIS is way more than making maps. Analysis in archaeology is but  
one example. For one set of examples among many, look through any  
proceedings from the CAA (Computer Applications in Archaeology)  
conferences.

I think you will find it easy to collect enough evidence to close this  
case. If evidence has any effect in cases like this one.

Kind regards,

Øyvind Eide
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Unit for Digital Documentation, University of Oslo



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 11:35:59 +0100
        From: Moacir <moacir at uchicago.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?
        In-Reply-To: <20110120073054.5D0B9D7419 at woodward.joyent.us>

Thinking that GIS has no place in a curriculum anymore because of the
proliferation of GPS devices and (let's say) Google Maps strikes me as
a rather ill-informed position to take, considering practitioners of
GIS have not even figured out what it is (or what the "S" in it stands
for). How can a moment be over before it is even a moment?

During the past two decades, geography journals have repeatedly flared
up with arguments over whether GIS is a tool or a science (thereby
becoming a (sub-)discipline), whether use of GIS automatically aligns
the practitioner with the military/corporatist history of GIS, and
whether such a thing as a qualitative GIS can possibly exist, thereby
"freeing" GIS from its allegedly quantitative and positivist roots.
Recent articles by Marianna Pavlovskaya give general histories (and
useful bibliographies) of the debates, from John Pickles's broadsides
in the late 90s to Mei-Po Kwan's feminist rehabilitation of GIS in the
last decade.

Furthermore, collected volumes published in the past few years, like
Hillier and Knowles's "Placing History," published by ESRI (the
publishers of the ArcGIS software package), and Cope and Elwood's
"Qualitative GIS," published by Sage, give accounts of several GIS
projects that could simply not be accomplished without GIS (as well as
geography!) training that goes beyond hours of asking the internet for
driving directions or geotagging photos.

What the vice-president seems to have in mind is what many have called
"Neogeography," the sort of DIY punk geography that could be the
equivalent of the cheap handheld movie camera or portable four-track
recorder. But film schools did not close because of the cheap handheld
(this seems a useful comparison to me), nor did, and this is vitally
important, film studies departments or the companies that make large,
pro cameras.

That is, neogeography is a new approach to the creation/collection of
geographical data, but the old forms (census tract tables, for
example) have not lost their importance at all--nor have they become,
I suspect, more intuitive. Similarly, assuming that GIS is "only"
making maps on Google Earth would probably be considered an insult by
even the people whose chapters were rejected in the volumes mentioned
above.

Additionally, for historians, the ease of creating maps of today's
world means virtually nothing when what one cares about is the world
from over a century ago--a massively labor-intensive project
documented, for example, by Anne Kelly Knowles in her effort to
imagine, using GIS software, what General Lee was able to see from his
post at Gettysburg. The data she used was not available to
"everybody." She had to create the data by hand from historical
topographical maps. That also means she had to know--have been
trained--how to create that data.

Finally, I can give my own personal experience, which was that of a
year-long course in GIS, for which a course in statistics (not
ownership of a Tomtom) was a prerequisite. Outside of a short unit on
using GPS devices to make a small map of campus, nothing we did in
those 30 weeks fits the description of Neogeography given on Wikipedia
(or is recognizable in the VP's concern). An iPhone won't teach
spatial analysis, how to measure clustering, what a nearest neighbor
is (and why that is or is not important), how to correlate income data
from the federal census with crime or transportation data provided by
the city, or even a basic personal (non-academic) question, like,
"where should I live if I want to live within 200m of the subway,
within 20km of work, in a neighborhood with an average per capita
income of at least $20k, and with < 20 property crimes in the past
month?"

Hopefully this email has given some arguments (and suggestions for
further reading) about how GIS (or geography) can't be simply brushed
off because of the ease with which one can make "mashups" on the
internet.

--m

-- 
Moacir P. de Sá Pereira
PhD Candidate, Dept. of English Language and Literature
University of Chicago
http://moac.ir/ | moacir at uchicago.edu



--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 14:36:37 +0000
        From: Bill Kretzschmar <kretzsch at uga.edu>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?
        In-Reply-To: <20110120073054.5D0B9D7419 at woodward.joyent.us>

The key function of GIS is not cartography, the fact of a map, but instead the way that researchers can associate information selectively with maps. GIS makes displays with layers, each one with characteristics of different kinds, that can be overlaid to form a composite digital picture. The underlying value, however, is the use of geography as an organizing device for information, in our case all kinds of cultural information. Cultural geographers have been telling us for a long time that "place" is really a proxy for the human behavior of all kinds that takes place in different locations. GIS is an essential tool to help us unpack the complexity of places. Yes, anybody can now make a simple map, although most people just stick with the road maps or satellite images that Google, Microsoft, and others make readily available. A GIS curriculum for humanists should, besides introducing technical tools, discuss how different aspects of culture might usefully be associated with places. The forthcoming MLA volume on Digital Humanities will have a chapter (by yours truly) that illustrates basic GIS concepts for language and literature, which will be immediately transferable to history and other aspects of the humanities.

Bill
__________________________________________________
Bill Kretzschmar
Harry and Jane Willson Professor in Humanities
Dept of English, Park 317, Univ of Georgia, Athens, GA  30602
Tel: 706-542-2246; Fax: 706-583-0027; www.lap.uga.edu


--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 10:04:05 -0500
        From: "H. Lewis Ulman" <ulman.1 at osu.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?
        In-Reply-To: <20110120073054.5D0B9D7419 at woodward.joyent.us>

Hi, all. On 1/20/11 2:30 AM Sharon Cogdill (Hi, Sharon!) wrote:

> At my university, a vice president has been arguing that there is no place for
> a GIS (geographic information systems) curriculum because now everybody can
> get that kind of data and everyone can make maps.

There are many factors to consider in curricular decisions, but it just
doesn't make sense to argue that a university doesn't need a GIS curriculum
because GIS data and tools are readily available. You've already stated the
most obvious counter-arguments: universities need to teach subjects
precisely because our students encounter those subjects in their daily,
civic lives or because those subjects are critical to some area of human
endeavor.

We have heard a similar argument about teaching digital media: over 95% of
our students own a networked computer and they all have access to digital
media production tools, so we soon won't need to teach digital media
production or analysis. The opposite seems to be true. As access to and use
of digital tools increases, there's a greater need to teach students how to
use those tools well and responsibly in academic, civic, and professional
contexts, where habits transferred from pop culture forums may work against
them.

Complicating your question is the fact that GIS is an inherently
interdisciplinary field with many curricular approaches. At Ohio State, we
have a GIS and Spatial Analysis focus in our Geography Department
(http://www.geography.osu.edu/gis-and-spatial-analysis) and a Mapping and
GIS Laboratory in the College of Engineering
(http://shoreline.eng.ohio-state.edu/), and researchers in History, Dance,
Art, English, and who knows where else actively incorporate GIS into their
research and teaching. I employ GIS in textual editing, working with
students to encode geographic data into TEI documents and display it for
readers use networked GIS applications.

Cheers,

Louie 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
H. Lewis Ulman, Associate Professor
Director, Digital Media Studies
Department of English
The Ohio State University
353 Denney Hall
164 West 17th Avenue
Columbus, OH  43210

Phone: (614) 292-2275 <> E-mail: ulman.1 at osu.edu
WWW: http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/ulman1/



--[5]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 10:30:08 -0600 (CST)
        From: rasmith at tamu.edu
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?
        In-Reply-To: <20110120073054.5D0B9D7419 at woodward.joyent.us>

> At my university, a vice president has been arguing that there is no place for a GIS (geographic information systems) curriculum because now everybody can get that kind of data and everyone can make maps. To me, the fact that people who take photos with their digital cameras or mobile phones also can see and make use of the coordinates means that we really must teach about that: not only are there really bad maps out there, but people need to be able to interpret that kind of data.

That argument sounds to me a bit like this: "Everybody has access to a
calculator now, so we should stop teaching mathematics." 

Robin Smith



--[6]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 10:20:00 -0800 (PST)
        From: Elijah Meeks <emeeks at stanford.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.655 role of GIS in scholarship?
        In-Reply-To: <20110120073054.5D0B9D7419 at woodward.joyent.us>

Sharon,

Historical GIS is one of the most mature digital humanities disciplines, and your university vice president is conflating the availability of convenient spatially aware media with the rigorous understanding of spatio-temporal phenomenon.  As you stated, the situation is in fact the exact opposite to what he describes:  That maps and spatial media are easy to make increases the importance of curriculum and scholarship directed toward spatial media.  Stepping away from the historical sub-field, GIS is incredibly high-visibility across disciplines and professions and so even from a practical or professional point of view the inclusion of spatial analysis and spatial statistics using typical GIS packages and methodologies would just seem to be good business sense for higher education.

The high-availability and low-cost-to-entry tools that he's referring to are extremely unsophisticated and their representations of reality and the implicit arguments of those representations should be drawn out and examined through scholarship.  So, whether it's the use of such methods for the advancement of research in history or other humanities disciplines, or whether it's the examination of "truth" and "reality" as represented by these ever-more common geographically aware tools, we need to advance scholarship through understanding and investigation of what is commonly known as GIS.

Best,
Elijah

Elijah Meeks
http://dhs.stanford.edu
Digital Humanities Specialist
Academic Computing Services
Stanford University
emeeks at stanford.edu
(650)387-6170




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