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Geospatial analysis and technology have been gaining ground in the the field of digital humanities in recent years. Traditionally, geomatics has mainly been used in the environmental sciences and for urban planning. However, it has now also proven to be a useful tool for digital humanists. In the field of humanities (even for the non-geographers), geographic space and the notion of place have always been of intrigue to researchers [1] [2]. Exploring the correlation of geography with literature and other textual materials—both historical and contemporary—allows researchers to investigate and better understand the intricate relationships between these stories/accounts and the innate human perception of geographic space and various locales on different scales.

In this blogpost, I will discuss three abstracts from the DH2015 Conference that are related to the trend of the usage of geospatial analysis and technology in the digital humanities; providing a synthetic summary, as well as an overall analysis of this trend based on the three selected abstracts.

The first abstract [1], titled “Mapping and Modeling Centuries of Literary Geography across Millions of Books”, describes the state-of-the-art method to study the use of geographic space in the content of large textual collections.  It involves the use of natural language processing techniques in tandem with geographic information systems to directly elicit and evaluate the various geographic references from massive textual compendiums. The authors then collated these identified locations and used them to produce cartographic tools that can provide an unparalleled overview of geographic usage in the international HathiTrust corpus of digitized texts, which is close to representing the entire body of formally published literary works in recent centuries. The findings and observations from the produced maps can also open another avenues for research, such as the assessment of the viability of predictive modeling of geographic attention as a function of socioeconomic variables in the United States. All in all, the research and results presented by the authors of this paper are indicative of some of the largest-scale computational work in the digital humanities.

“ElfYelp: Geolocated Topic Models for Pattern Discovery in a Large Folklore Corpus” [2], the second of the three selected abstracts, also presents geospatial techniques that are used to explore the links between textual material and geographic locales—albeit being focused on a more precise domain. Since the relationships between traditional tales, the characters, their origins, and the places where they were found were of great interest to folklorists; digital humanists have taken the step forward to employ easy-to-use geomatics tools such as simple geographic information system software and machine-actionable historical gazetteers to offer a geospatial angle to the study of folklore. More specifically, ElfYelp was created as a research platform, using geolocated topic models for pattern discovery in folklore corpora, to aid in the investigation of relationships between folklore and the notion of place. The models were tested in experiments that asked simple questions such as “Where are the elves?” and “What can I find here?”, to which the answers could potentially result in the formulation of new research questions for folklorists and storytellers.

Like the second abstract that was focused on folklore and storytelling [2], the final abstract dabbles in subject matter that is quite similar; Greek mythology. Myths on Maps [3] is a project developed in 2009 as an experimental, interactive geographical information system that allowed the present-day audience to (re)discover the geographic connections between people, places and events that were obvious to the original storytellers and audiences of the past. The project’s ultimate goal is to map all the most important Greek and Roman myths, so far as there is information on their geographic locations. Myths on Maps is, in essence, a front-end product for users who are interested in Greek and/or Roman mythology. It is a tool that allows the general public to experience and participate in the emerging field of digital humanities.

If not already apparent, the sequence of selected articles moves from one that presents new, state-of-the-art geospatial techniques that can be useful in studying the link between the corporal of textual material and geographic space on global, regional and local scales [1]; to one that documents the application of geomatics tools to create geospatial analytical models that can be used for humanities research in much more specific contexts (in this case, folklore) [2]; and finally to one that shows, through the development of simple geospatial infrastructure—a GIS interface, how geospatial analysis could be a thing of interest not only to the digital humanists or the world of academia, but also to a general audience [3]. In brief, the selection of abstracts shows the many ways in which geomatics can be woven into the fabric of digital humanities, engaging both researchers and the general public alike.

To conclude, in view of the results that have been obtained thus far from the marriage of geomatics and the humanities, it is not presumptuous to say that the use of geospatial analysis and technology will continue expand in the field. If this growing trend continues to enthrall researchers, more doors leading to endless possibilities in digital humanities research could potentially be opened.


References

[1] Wilkens, Matthew. (2015). Mapping and Modeling Centuries of Literary Geography across Millions of Books.

[2] Broadwell, Peter Michael., Tangherlini, Timothy R. (2015). ElfYelp: Geolocated Topic Models for Pattern Discovery in a Large Folklore Corpus.

[3] Newton, Greg., Bowman, Laurel. (2015). Myths on Maps.

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