Skip to content Skip to navigation

A GeoHumanities Special Interest Group

Today the Association of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) announced the creation of a GeoHumanities Special Interest Group, instigated and co-chaired by yours truly and Kathy Weimer, Curator of Maps and the Map & GIS Coordinator at Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library & Archives. We were simultaneously inspired to get this started at the recent DH2013 conference in Lincoln, after noting that several well-attended sessions featured papers with geographic, spatial-temporal, and what I call “placial” perspectives and related methodologies.

Debating the Methods in Matt Jockers's Macroanalysis

On September 3rd we had our second meeting of the Stanford Digital Humanities Reading Group, in which we discussed Matt Jockers’s new book, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History. Because Jockers is a former colleague, a co-founder of Stanford’s Literary Lab, and a friend to several people in the reading group, I went into this meeting anxious that we might all be too happy with his book to sustain ninety minutes of conversation. I was very wrong. Jacqueline Hettel, whose Ph.D. research focused on text analysis of domain-specific language using corpus linguistics, prompted a vigorous debate about the methods Jockers uses in Macroanalysis. Hettel’s primary critique is that the statistical methods behind topic modeling, word frequencies, and other methods that undergird the book’s chapters are heavily dependent upon a set of assumptions common to NLP, Chomsky, and other primarily American approaches to understanding language.

ORBIS Design Challenge

Since its launch in May 2012, ORBIS has always been very popular. This is in spite of breaking some fundamental web design rules, such as placing the key interactive element on a non-descript tab rather than the opening page. But the capacity to calculate travel times and cost for oxcarts and armies in the Roman world is still a "killer feature" and traffic to ORBIS remains steady.

Kindred Britain Techniques 1: Permalinks on a Graph

Kindred Britain has a handful of patterns and functions that are rather novel in their creation or deployment. In this series, I'll be exploring the methodology and motivation for them, as well as go into some technical detail as to how they work. The first feature I'd like to focus on is the use of rich permalinks for sharing Kindred Britain. These direct links to particular states of Kindred Britain mean that when you share a link like this: doesn't just open up Kindred Britain, but rather it opens up a very particular view of Kindred Britain, in this case the genealogical path from General Robert E. Lee to President Zachary Taylor.

Genealogical path from Robert E Lee to Zachary Taylor

Kindred Britain and Scholarship

Redundant as it may seem to say, Kindred Britain is a project that spans generations. Not only the generations of the database’s inhabitants, spread over the last thousand or so years as they are, but the more recent and less distinctly segregated generations of scholars. As an undergraduate research assistant, I was fortunate enough to be one of two people to work on Kindred Britain who was born after the Internet.

Kindred Britain did not, simply on premise, impress me. I’ve read articles for months -- on my personally tailored RSS feed -- about the rise of data visualization and interdisciplinary projects on university campuses. I got my email address at age eight. I can barely remember a time when “Googling something” for the answer was not an option.

It took a little discussion with my superiors for me to fully grasp -- and even now, I’m not sure that someone of my age can -- the significance of a project like Kindred Britain. The professor from whom the project sprang like a regular Athena, Nicholas Jenkins, was trained as a scholar in the ‘90s, roughly around the same time that the commercialized Internet and I made our way into the world, one of us with slightly more impact than the other. He was educated in a world where the spheres of the humanities and technology simply did not touch, nevermind overlap to create a data visualization project integrating traditional scholarly narratives.