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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are tools that allow to visualize, analyze and store geographic information on a map. How can we leverage such tools in the context of digital humanities?

Myths on Maps

The Myths on Maps project

First, they make data easily accessible by the general public. For instance the Myths on Maps project created by a team of the University of Victoria offers three different views of the Iliad.[1] One of them, the map view, allows the user to visualize characters, places and groups of people on a map. For instance, it can display locations of an event, the journey of some character, myths related to a particular place, etc. Another concrete example of this kind of project is the reproduction of the Taiwan Baotu with OpenStreetMap.[2] The Taiwan Baotu is a set of maps produced in 1904 when the island was ruled by Japan. Digitizing these maps using OpenStreeMap allows users to easily explore them. For example, one can search for a particular place just by typing its name in a search field, it is even possible to plot a route between two places automatically. In some sense, the user can imagine how life was back then by browsing the map as if he or she was living in the past.

Another benefit of GIS is that they make data easily reusable by other researchers. This is especially true when data are open source and when a well specified standard is used. The Taiwan Baotu project is one such example since it uses OpenStreetMap which defines a XML specification for sharing geographical data.[2] The Myths on Maps project also provides its data as XML under a Creative Commons license.[1] Moreover the interactive nature of GIS tools can prove to be helpful for searching and analyzing data.


Tweetflickertubing James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’

In addition, these tools also allow people to easily collaborate. Indeed, it is often possible to annotate maps to add relevant information on them. This can be done manually, this is the approach chosen by the Taiwan Baodu project.[2] It is based on OpenStreetMap which is a collaborative project to create an open-source map of the world where people from all over the world can contribute. The Taiwan Baodu project keeps the OpenStreetMap architecture so that people can gather historical information on the map. For instance, it is possible to attach a link to an article, an image or a video to some item on the map. Furthermore there is a tool to review the accuracy of the digital map. It is possible to see the digital map and the paper map side by side to report errors if the digital version is not accurate. On the other hand, another interesting possibility is to gather information automatically, this is what is done for the Tweetflickertubing James Joyce’s “Ulysses” project.[3] Data related to the novel and Bloomsday – a day commemorating James Joyce’s and its novel – are aggregated from different social media (Twitter, Flicker and YouTube) and added to the map of Dublin.

To conclude, the emergence of Geographic Information Systems proves to be useful to digital humanities. These tools permit to view humanities from a different point of view. They make information easy to reach for everyone and allow people to collaborate, share and reuse data. This offers exciting perspective for many domains of digital humanities.


[1] Greg Newton; Laurel Bowman; (2015) Myths on Maps
[2] Jheng-Peng Huang; Hao-Syong Liu; Hsiung-Ming Liao; Tyng-Ruey Chuang; (2015) Old Traces, New Links: Representation of Taiwan Baotu in OpenStreetMap
[3] Charles Bartlett Travis; (2015) A Digital Humanities GIS Ontology: Tweetflickertubing James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (1922)