Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship
In April of 2008, Literary and Linguistic Computing published a survey of factors contributing to a surprising “inhibition” of the use of digitized maps and Geospatial Information Systems in the digital humanities (Jessop 2008). That GIS – important for scholarly engagement with geography – has been slow to penetrate a population generally receptive to new practices and technologies begs a discussion of issues at once historical and methodological, institutional and pragmatic. It also 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."
The Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library will host two rounds of an NEH-funded Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities, on the theme of Enabling Geospatial Scholarship. A first four-day event (November 2009) is geared toward 20 library, museum, and digital humanities center professionals, competitively selected from public service and collections stewardship areas as well as information science and cyberinfrastructure support fields, and aims to shape policy and build the technical capacity of the institutions they represent to support boundary-pushing geospatial scholarship. Their ongoing work in implementing a standards-based, open source infrastructure for discovery, delivery, and manipulation of geospatial data would be supported through an online clearinghouse and open-access community to be maintained long-term by the Scholars’ Lab.
In May 2010, the NEH Institute invites 20 humanities scholars and advanced graduate students, many of whom may be affiliated with participating Round One institutions, to train on and critique the open source and standards-based GIS tools and geospatial approaches to humanities scholarship being developed and documented by UVA Library and its collaborators and peers. As a contribution to the success of the program, the Scholars’ Lab will also independently fund up to 5 short-term scholar- or developer-in-residencies in the two years following the first Institute (a total of $40,000 in funding annually). These fellowships will promote ongoing scholarly engagement, software development, and information sharing by Institute attendees around the theme of Enabling Geospatial Scholarship.
The curriculum and outcome of both Institutes will be made available as part of a planned online clearinghouse, supported by a graduate student fellow in the Scholars' Lab. The goal of the clearinghouse is not only to offer technical bootstrapping for libraries and museums new to sophisticated GIS support via Web services frameworks, but also to provide differing scholarly perspectives on GIS for the humanities, from within the coherent narrative of a multi-institutional effort (which we hope this grant will foster) to build modern infrastructure, support innovative digital projects, and open up dialogue about the causes and conditions of the digital humanities community’s uncharacteristic inhibition toward GIS.
The Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship will be held in two distinct rounds, six months apart. Each session will take place over the course of four days in Charlottesville, Virginia at the University of Virginia Library. Work happening between the sessions and after the close of the Institute will be facilitated by an online informational clearinghouse and community, maintained by the Scholars’ Lab.
Round 1 of the Institute will focus on institutional support for geospatial data and research and will be subdivided into two “tracks.” The first track will be geared toward administrators, librarians, curators, and heads of centers that support humanities scholarship. This group will focus on policy development, public services issues, and collections decisions regarding geospatial data and spatial research output, and discussion will be facilitated by Julie Sweetkind-Singer, Stanford University Library’s GIS and Map Librarian. Ms. Sweetkind-Singer will situate our conversation with reference to her experience as a curator of historical maps and her work on the long-term preservation of geospatial information as part of a Library of Congress grant to create a National Geospatial Data Archive. Madelyn Wessel, Esq., UVA Library’s in-house legal counsel, will participate in this track and facilitate discussion on intellectual properly rights related to geospatial information creation and sharing. Prior experience of the participants in this track may include devising metadata standards, establishing best practices for digital projects, stewarding data collections, and educating users on digital tools for research and teaching. The curriculum for public service-oriented participants will consider principles of geospatial data librarianship, including the curation of geospatial collections, metadata standards, and best practices for spatial data in scholarly communities. Presentations will focus on ways to incorporate spatial methodologies in faculty research and the classroom, as well as methods for integrating spatial data with larger humanities collections of texts, images, and other media. Dr. Joshua Greenberg, Director of Digital Strategy at the New York Public Library, and Dr. Diana Sinton, Director of Spatial Curriculum and Research, University of Redlands, will also present and contribute to the discussion.
In addition to Scholars' Lab staff who have been working for the past two years on a modern, service-oriented infrastructure for GIS and scanned map data, this session will be enriched by the participation of: Shekhar Krishnan, of MIT and Mumbai Free Map project; Schuyler Erle of OpenLayers, author of the O’Reilly books Map Hacks and Google Maps Hacks; Andrew Turner of Mapufacture, author of An Introduction to Neogeography and Where 2.0: The State of the Geospatial Web, and Sean Gillies of the Pleiades Project at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU.
Initial sessions for this group will center on the data, formats, and tools used to construct a geospatial data infrastructure. From basic features, participants will first construct simple applications of their own and then explore a complex, pre-fabricated application that exhibits some of the rich possibilities for constructing interpretive tools with geospatial technologies. Time will be set aside for “un-conference”- like presentations from attendees on projects and initiatives from their own institutions. The final session of Round 1 will bring both the geospatial data stewardship and technology tracks together for a joint discussion on concrete institutional goals for supporting spatial data, tools, and scholarship.
Six months later, teaching faculty, advanced graduate students, and other humanities scholars (many hailing from the same institutions that participated in the first round of the Institute) will convene in Charlottesville for Round 2, another four-day session to discuss scholarship and research methodologies built upon the infrastructure and institutional practices discussed in the first round. These participants’ scholarship must employ studies of space and place in a significant way. A basic understanding of the field of GIS is expected (and readings will be provided prior to the Institute), but the session will begin with an overview of tools and methods. Prior experience with XML, TEI, or any programming language will facilitate an understanding of some standards and practices presented in this Institute, but is not necessary for full participation. This round of the Institute will be structured around symposia on topics of interest based on a prepared set of readings and identified by the scholars themselves before the proceedings. The conversation will be facilitated by Anne Kelly Knowles, author of Past Time, Past Place: GIS for History and editor of Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Dr. Knowles will contextualize our work in light of late-breaking scholarly products of the NSF-funded Holocaust Geographies project, for which she serves as PI.
Our opening discussions will identify central questions facing the application of spatial tools and data in the humanities, with Martyn Jessop of the CCH, King's College, London, serving as a guide. Participants will then learn everyday tools of the trade for GIS and apply them to both simple applications and complex questions involving the representation of ambiguous spaces and mapping over time. The use of historical maps and geospatial metadata markup will also be given significant attention. Our work will conclude with an open discussion (to be distilled in a report and published in the Institute’s clearinghouse) of the possibilities for mapping space, place, and time in the digital humanities. Participants also will devise concrete goals for current projects that leverage the tools and methodologies explored in the session. After the Institute, participants in both rounds will log their activity in the clearinghouse, discuss findings and approaches with their peers in an online forum, and make results (raw data, policies, code, and scholarly projects) available through their own institutional structures, through the clearinghouse, and in open source repositories as appropriate.
Speakers and participants in this track also include: Dr. Todd Presner of UCLA and the HyperCities project; Dr. David Germano of the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library (UVA), Dr. Benjamin Ray of the Salem Witch Trials Archive (UVA), Matt Knutzen, Assistant Chief of the Maps Division at New York Public Library.
Because a major goal of our program is to build the technical capacity and sharpen the resolve of institutional players to support innovative uses of geospatial information in humanities scholarship, preference will be given to participants who apply as part of an institutional team that commits to representation in both rounds of the Institute. An ideal institutional team would consist of two Round One (November 2009) attendees – one to participate in the data stewardship and policy track and another to receive training in the GIS infrastructure track – and two Round Two (May 2010) attendees: a humanities scholar with current or planned projects using geospatial tools or methods, and an advanced graduate student affiliated either with the scholar’s project or with other institutional efforts at humanities GIS. The variety of organizational approaches to GIS and digital humanities will undoubtedly require adjustments to this ideal, but primary selection criteria will remain the seriousness of the institution about GIS support, its need for a watershed experience like the Institute to move forward, and the interest of its scholars in shaping GIS support (which most schools gear to Architecture and Environmental Sciences) toward humanities research needs. We encourage individual applicants as well as institutional teams.
The practice of dividing the Institute into three effective “tracks” will ensure that its curriculum and discussion is tailored to the interests, strengths, and levels of readiness of each participant group. Round One tracks will prepare participants to return home and enhance or renew their institutions’ ability to support scholarly GIS. By holding the faculty/grad student seven to nine months later, we hope to foster scholarly discussion based on institutional realities and allow attending humanists to return supportive environment, enriched with ideas that have a real chance of bearing fruit.
The Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship will be convened by Bethany Nowviskie, MA Ed., Ph.D., Director of Digital Research & Scholarship for the University of Virginia Library, and coordinated with the assistance of Joseph Gilbert, MA, Head of UVA Library’s Scholars’ Lab.
Julie Sweetkind-Singer, MLIS, Head Librarian and GIS & Map Librarian at Stanford University’s Branner Earth Sciences Library & Map Collection, will serve as facilitator for the Administration and Data Stewardship track of Round 1, with the assistance of Dr. Bethany Nowviskie and Scholars’ Lab GIS Specialist Kelly Johnston, MS GIS. Guest speakers include: Madelyn Wessel, Esq., Associate General Counsel, UVA, Dr. Joshua Greenberg, Director of Digital Strategy at the New York Public Library, and Dr. Diana Sinton, Director of Spatial Curriculum and Research, University of Redlands.
The Technology track of Round 1 will be coordinated by Joseph Gilbert, with instruction by Scholars’ Lab staff, including: GIS Specialist Christopher Gist, MS; User Support Programmer Adam Soroka (leader of a pre-conference workshop on the Scholars’ Lab approach to GIS infrastructure at the 2009 Code4Lib conference in Providence, RI); Scholars’ Lab Digital Humanities Specialist Wayne Graham, MA; and UVA Library Chief Systems Architect Elizabeth (Bess) Sadler, MLIS. Guest speakers include: Shekhar Krishnan, of MIT and Mumbai Free Map project; Schuyler Erle of OpenLayers, author of the O’Reilly books Map Hacks and Google Maps Hacks; Andrew Turner of Mapufacture, author of An Introduction to Neogeography and Where 2.0: The State of the Geospatial Web, and Sean Gillies of the Pleiades Project at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU.
Anne Kelly Knowles, M.Sc., Ph.D., of Middlebury College, author of numerous books, articles, and textbooks on GIS applications for humanities scholarship, will facilitate Round 2 together with Dr. Bethany Nowviskie. Guest speakers include: Dr. Todd Presner of UCLA and the HyperCities project; Dr. David Germano of the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library (UVA), Dr. Benjamin Ray of the Salem Witch Trials Archive (UVA), Matt Knutzen, Assistant Chief of the Maps Division at New York Public Library, and Martyn Jessop of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College, London.
Logistical support for the Institute will be provided by Becca Peters, Assistant to the Director of Digital Research & Scholarship. Evaluation will be the responsibility of Nancy Kechner, Ph.D., Research Computing Support Specialist in the Scholars’ Lab, in consultation with Management Information Services at the University of Virginia Library.
Questions? Contact us.