GIS, how fun!

“…to turn implies retrospection, a process of stopping in the road and glancing backwards at the way by which one had come” –Jo Guldi

As Richard White points out, spacial history projects are collaborative and interdisciplinary.  His definition of “digital history” is minimal: “By digital history all I mean is the use of computers.”   I think this is interesting given all of the debates and discussions we had about digital history and digital humanities at the beginning of the semester.  From his article, I can really see the potential of spacial history in allowing historians to expand beyond chronology (which he defines as the “heart” of the discipline) (and not that this is the only way in which historians think, but I’m in American Studies so…anyway, I think it’s interesting how different disciplines prioritize even within intersectionality).  Thinking about space as historical can help us trace movement and trends, as White articulates.  Movement and motion set the stage for change in social, political, and material conditions.  I also like the concept of representational space for the discipline of American Studies, Museum Studies, etc.  How we think about symbolism in the context of space allows us to see where people attribute meaning to particular cultural sites.  This also rings a bell with the whitehouseweb project that we worked on last week.

From looking at the ArcGIS Explorer online, I checked out “Las Vegas Urban Sprawl,” which looks at the expansion of urban areas over the last 30 years.  I can’t help but think about what it could look like for Hunter S. Thompson’s journeys and travels to have been mapped in GIS, tracing frequencies of locations as well as spaces.  Thinking about space and frequencies, it would be interesting to look at facebook or yelp “check-ins” in order to understand locations and popularity of certain venues, sites, and other places.  With social networking tools now being so connected to space and place, there are a great number of possibilities in understanding how often and why people visit a particular site, and what this could mean.  The use of GIS has interesting implications for how we understand cultural places.  For example, how often do people “check-in” at Tantalus?  At what frequency?  Time of day?  Locals?  Tourists?  There are so many things to explore!

There are a number of intriguing digital humanities projects out there that deal with spacial history.  One that stood out to me was titled “Sex and the Sacred: Negotiating Boundaries in Renaissance Florence.”  This project explores holy site like convents, and looks at proximity to zones of prostitution.  The various spacial history projects that Stanford is working on also have quite interesting, from flight patterns to Holocaust Geographies.  There seems to be a lot of potential for mapping out cartographies of westward expansion in the United States as well as movement from cities to rural areas.

For my own scholarship, I think that spacial geography could play a role in understanding jazz sites in different geographic spaces.  A few years ago, I wrote a seminar paper about the validity of a “New England Jazz Tradition” for a seminar.  Some of the ideas I explored included questions about a “genuine” jazz tradition in New England, the complexities of sites of musical production in New England, and the preservation of the jazz tradition by looking at newspapers from the early 20th century to the present and by conducting interviews.  Thinking about how GIS could enrich this idea, I believe that exploring various sites of cultural and musical production and performance could contribute to a new understanding of jazz in certain locations throughout the country.  In terms of how I might find this information, this would take a lot of archival digging before even thinking about digitalization.  What kinds of different meaning could one get by thinking about hubs/spaces of cultural production?  What might that help us understand in terms of the location of culture and the arts?  How might this help me better understand the sites of cultural production for the blues women?  This could be something interesting to look into if this project evolves into a dissertation 🙂


About jeanettethall

graduate student in American Studies View all posts by jeanettethall

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