In recent years, humanities scholars have paid increasing attention to space as an analytical category. Historians, art historians, cultural anthropologists, literary scholars, and others have sought new ways to identify geographical patterns of social difference, to interpret historical maps, and to articulate human relationships to the natural world.
Meanwhile, human geographers have sought to push past the predominately quantitative, positivistic methods of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) – broadly known as GIScience – to consider the sociocultural construction of geographic space and geospatial data. Some scholars have even sought to bring together qualitative humanistic analysis and GIS-based studies, working under various labels such as critical cartography, critical GIS, and qualitative GIS.
Unfortunately, discipline-specific trends have resulted in an ever-growing rift between spatial humanities and GIScience curricula. Students in the humanities seldom have the opportunity to take courses that teach relevant technical skills applicable to qualitative research. Conversely, students in GIS programs rarely have the flexibility to develop their technical spatial analysis skills in conjunction with deeper humanistic thinking about the production, representation, and interpretation of GIS-readable data.
In light of the increased attention to space – geographical or otherwise – within the humanities, this working group aims to build connections across disciplinary boundaries. We provide an informal setting in which students and faculty across the university can meet to discuss theoretical, conceptual, and methodological questions regarding space and human societies. These conversations can and have taken numerous formats, including shared discussions of readings, collective workshopping of pre-circulated works-in-progress, training sessions in GIS software, and the invitation of outside speakers. Ultimately, the goal is to develop activities around participants’ interests and to compare our diverse disciplinary trainings.
Through these informal meetings, we are developing connections for future collaboration. This includes shared research endeavors, common conference panels, and broad funding efforts. In addition, we hope to provide an interdisciplinary space for research feedback, especially for graduate students. Lastly, our working group serves as a hub of information for funding resources, online data, and similar projects, as well as a network of support for GIS software and related technologies. We’ve started to compile some useful links on our resources page.
The Spatial Humanities Working Group was founded in Fall 2015 by Jeffrey Erbig and Fred Gibbs, both in the History Department at UNM. From the outset, faculty and students in History, Geography and Environmental Studies, Anthropology, English Language and Literature, and University Libraries havae gathered together for lively discussions of faculty and student works in progress, as well as seminal readings on space and place from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.
Please join us! Check out our schedule, and join our email list.