#DH2018 Poster Presentation: The Spatial Humanities Kit

The Spatial Humanities Kit, w/ Jamie Cohen

This poster session showcases “the spatial humanities kit”: a combination of gear, open source code, and teaching materials for narrative GIS projects (http://spatialhumanitieskit.org/). The kit was derived and assembled from two international mapping projects executed by students and guided by faculty at Molloy College and Hofstra University. The kit includes the following gear and code, all of which will be available for faculty to interact with at DH 2018: an introduction to GeoJson with code also applicable for Mapbox, Open Street Map, and ArcGIS, an Insta 360 Camera, Snapchat Spectacles, two Garmin ETreX 20x GPS devices with preinstalled maps, a Samsung 360 Camera, a chicken foot tripod, Samsung Gear Oculus HMD, user cell phone cameras, a Skyroam Global Hotspot, a GoPuck Qualcomm Charge 3.0, and a GoPro Session.

Project Description & Framework:

The spatial humanities kit is a durable toolset designed to fit in a backpack. The gear and code that it features are meant to combine and enhance two approaches to GIS related work in the humanities. First, the combination of gear included in the kit is designed for their user to narrativize the spaces that they map. Following Jason Farman’s approach to locative media, the gear’s use is predicated on two concepts in particular, “site specificity” and “urban markup.” Site specificity, as Farman defines it, pertains to “the unique qualities of a unique location that cannot be transferred onto another place,” whereas urban markup refers to “the various ways that narrative gets attached to a specific place in a city.” The spatial humanities kit is designed to capture both.

In the summer of 2016 students at Molloy College traveled to Northeastern Ireland and documented their trip under faculty guidance via the spatial humanities kit and an Omeka archive (http://molloymediaarchaeology.org). Students documented and narrativized their experience of urban and rural space, historical sites, and religious sites, combining the unique qualities of each location (GPS coordinates, landmarks, etc.) with a linear telling of their site specific experiences. In the summer of 2017, the project was refined and expanded to Hofstra University. Students used the kit under faculty guidance in Italy to research and report on social inequality, government corruption, recovery and revitalization, and media change in earthquake damaged L’Aquila, the Naples region of Scampìa, and the Roman town of Frascati (http://lhscmediaarchaeology.org).

Ultimately, both projects, especially in their map’s function as an artifact, play with the spatial humanities use and function. Where our use of the kit has emphasized autoethnography, social good, and bringing accountability to historical narratives, the spatial humanities kit offers an alternative approach to humanities GIS projects and the discipline’s preoccupation with space-time. Consider Ian Gregory’s engagement with Doreen Massey’s work in “Exploiting Time and Space: A Challenge for GIS in the Digital Humanities”: “Time is needed to tell the story of how an individual place developed to become what it is now, however without space there is only one story and thus the risk that it is seen as the only possible story and the inevitable story.” Thus far, the spatial humanities kit has expanded the narrative possibilities of humanities GIS projects by multiplying narratives about spaces that are mapped.

Interactive Experience:

Our proposed poster session will offer faculty the opportunity to learn what the spatial humanities kit is, how they can adopt it, and how students can operationalize it. In addition to the kit itself, we will offer faculty syllabi, access to the Molloy and Hofstra University projects, as well as the source code for our maps. Our goal is to maximize the use and function of the kit by making our work, and our student’s work, more broadly available. Further, we aim to approach the interaction between tools for digital storytelling and approaches to spatial humanities differently by combining both toolsets with their attendant pedagogical applications.

Response After Initial Review

We would like to thank our reviewers for their comments and attention they gave to our proposal.

First, we would like to address Reviewer Two’s concern for how temporality is deployed in the abstract. We agree with Reviewer Two. We quote Dr. Massey’s work not to draw a divide between space and time in spatial humanities projects, but rather to draw them closer together. The Spatial Humanities Kit prioritizes the users’ ability to narrativize space in addition to plotting points on a map. This captures the users’ experience of that space, as well a contingent perspective on that location. The Spatial Humanities Kit multiplies the spatio-temporal relation, rather than limits it. We will clarify this on the project’s site and accompanying materials. Reviewer Two’s request for pictures and descriptions of the gear included in the kit is forthcoming. We are currently building out our website for the project; we are also creating a zine that contains pictures and descriptions of gear, links to code, and suggested teaching materials to hand out at DH 2018.

Second, we would like to address Reviewer Four’s comments about the kit, maps, and usefulness of play as an entry point to spatial humanities. First, we believe our kit is well suited for students and faculty who are looking to create entry level, mobile, and adaptable spatial humanities projects. We did not frame it as a kit for large-scale research projects or design it to rely on hefty funding sources. It was first assembled at a SLAC where students have few resources and faculty have high teaching loads. The kit, as well as the maps one can produce with the kit, can be created anywhere, with any assemblage of gear faculty and students have access to. It is intentionally designed for individuals who want to learn and play with concepts, technologies, and methods applicable to the spatial humanities.

Further, play is a legitimate entry point into intellectual work of any kind. Kant’s “free play of the imagination” is an apposite description of this entry point. The kit introduces students and faculty to a rule-governed methodology for narrativizing space in the times they have access to it, but without determining what particular rules should be applied in advance. This type of pedagogy is common and effective at SLACs of all kinds. The kit enhances it both technologically and conceptually. Finally, our site will include a video for our Ireland trip that showcases both faculty and student experiences of the mapping project. This will address Reviewer Four’s concern that the projects produced using the kit lack an underlying narrative.

In sum, we would like to clarify our poster session proposal. Our poster session will showcase a combination of gear, code, and teaching materials for narrative GIS projects. Faculty will be able to handle the gear, explore the maps, and will receive a zine filled with teaching materials, links to code that they can adapt, and descriptions of the gear.


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