GIS and the Spatial Humanities

Our readings for this week–chapters 8 and 10 in The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship–directly address the fact that while GIS is a powerful tool, it is not ideal for the humanities for a number of reasons. Most importantly, “latent tension, if not direct conflict, exists in linking a positivist technology with predominantly humanist traditions,” (168) But rather than see this tension as creating a conflict, Trevor M. Harris, John Corrigan, and David J. Bodenhamer argue that a true “Humanities GIS” needs to learn how to use the possibilities of spatial technology in ways which are in line with humanities values and methodologies.

 Also, I really liked the idea in Chapter 8 that Geospatial Semantics Web might provide a “good enough” solution for many, if not all, Spatial Humanities challenges, while also reducing the disconnect between user and creator created by, among other issues, a lack of technical proficiency on the part of many humanities scholars and practitioners. They reference the famous “80/20” rule (which I never knew was invented by an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, until I read this chapter), to emphasize the point that while GIS technologies may not be perfect for humanities approaches, and while humanities users might not need or master all of the functionality of GIS technologies, we should be comfortable knowing that existing GIS approaches will be suitable most of the time, and that we can do most of what we need to do with a fraction of their possible utilities.

Given the sometimes daunting prospect of mastering all the tools we’ve looked it, these readings were a comforting return to perspective and a humanities-centric vantage.

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