What (re)turns can turn

“The meaning of terra incognita depends no less on the kind of knowledge that we are considering. There are two grades of geographical knowledge: knowledge of observed facts and knowledge derived by reasonable inference from observed facts, with which we fill in the gaps between the latter.” (Annals of The Association of American Geographers 1947, 3)

In “Mapping and Modelling Space and Time” module, a lecture given by Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores entitled “Exploring the Spatial Humanities: Analysing space and place through technology in History, Archaeology and Literature”, was indeed an inspiring and thought-provoking presentation for further reading, comprising case studies from a collaboration of humanistic disciplines that integrate geo-spatial technologies and methodologies, theories and analyses redefining in this way the Humanities scholarship. By utilising the range of applications and functionalities that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology encompasses, humanities and social sciences scholars turn their attention to spatially-oriented queries, analyses, visualisations (not being the first time this turn is emerged and experienced [1]) allowing to “position these new tools against old questions (Jo Guldi)“.

Since the 1970s and 80s, wherein lies a significant paradigm shift in the notions of space and spatiality due to emergent digital mapping technologies, the new critical geography and the postmodern reaction to the current epistemological tendencies (Bodenhamer 2013a), the turn regarding  the study, perception, and representation of space, place and the nature of mapping across the humanities-based research agenda, having undergone a thorough transformation, “has insinuated itself as an all-pervading heuristic tool throughout the humanities and the social sciences” (Grgas 2012, p. 1). Whilst such heuristic processes within archaeological discourse -wherein spatiality is considered to be an inherent dimension- are well established (e.g., Allen et al. 1990; Conolly and Lake 2006; Lock 2002; Wheatley and Gillings 2002; only some of core books referred to archaeological GIS and spatial technologies/interpretation in archaeology), other disciplines such as Literature, History, and Anthropology have recently emerged into the so-called ‘Spatial Humanities’ field embracing representational technologies in their practice, while exploring spatiotemporal reasoning (Gregory and Geddes 2014) pose new challenges and multiscalar explanations in the -unavoidably interdisciplinary- research.

How the spatial thinking has penetrated into Humanities dialogue and its disciplinary interaction (giving thus the name and rise of Spatial and Geo-humanities, e.g. for an overview of Space, Place, and Geographic Thinking in the Humanities, Tim Cresswell CGA Conference Video, 2016) can be seen in the proliferation of current journals (e.g. GeoHumanities Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations; the American Association of Geographers’ newest journal of GeoHumanities), centers, and projects, reflecting on the integration into what the description of ‘Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives’ book articulates as “ a platform for a spatially-embedded argument”. Such resurgence of the geographical -and non-geographical- reconception of space and the potential extrapolation of meaning by mapping spatial information -both qualitatively and quantitatively- reframes how the humanities research relies upon spatial technologies tools (Humanities GIS) for “the management and analysis of evidence” (Bodenhamer 2010, 28), enhancing the critical engagement such evidence requires in order to be encoded, represented and reasoned.

The intrinsic linkage between a critical socio-theoretical framework of GIS (Critical GIScience [2]) and humanities scholarship -questioning the GIS positivist epistemology in non-spatial and non-quantitative queries and methodologies that in many occasions humanities addresses- seems to be one of the most challenging disciplinary underpinning profoundly influences the scope of the scholarly position “as a response to a long-standing if often unperceived ontological and epistemological bias in all the human sciences” (Soja 2009, 12). It is deemed crucial, therefore, that the above interdependency should be reconciled with the heuristic tendencies that such disciplinary turn generates, enabling alongside concerns regarding how spatial thinking can simultaneously modify both the observation of a phenomenon and the observer’s reasoning.


[1] Guldi, Jo, “What is the Spatial Turn?” across different humanities fields; see also a more detailed discussion associated with “spatial turns”, the problematic GIS scholarship integration within history and geography and their theoretical and practical impacts upon in Bodenhamer D.J., 2013 ‘Beyond GIS: Geospatial Technologies and the Future of History’ Chapter 1, 1:1.

[2] Harvey et al. 2005; Schuurman 1999; Sheppard 2005; while for a well-mapped GIScience research contribution see Egenhofer J. Max. et al., 2016, Chapter 1.

Referenced Works:

Bodenhamer D.J., John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris. (eds). 2015. Deep Maps And Spatial Narratives. Web. Accessed on 22/12/2016.

Bodenhamer D.J., 2013. ‘Beyond GIS: Geospatial Technologies and the Future of History’. In History and GIS Epistemologies, Considerations and Reflections, Travis, Charles, von Lünen, Alexander (Eds.). Dordrecht: Springer e-book, Chapter 1, 1.1.  (DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-5009-8).

Bodenhamer, D.J., 2013. ‘The spatial humanities: space, time and place in the new digital age’. In History in the Digital Age, edited by Toni Weller. London and New York: Routledge.

Bodenhamer D.J., 2010. The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the future of humanities scholarship. Bodenhamer, David J., John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris, (eds.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Conolly, J. and Lake, M., 2006. Geographical Information Systems in archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cresswell, Tim, April 29, 2016. Space, Place, and the Humanities-An overview. In Space, Place, and Geographic Thinking in the Humanities CGA Conference. Harvard’s Center for Geographic Analysis, USA. Video-lecture. Progressive Geographies Blog. Web. Accessed on 22/12/2016.

Egenhofer J. Max, Clarke C. Keith, Gao Song, Quesnot Teriitutea, Franklin W. Randolph, Yuan May, and Coleman David., 2016. Contributions of GIScience over the Past Twenty Years. In  Advancing Geographic Information Science: The Past and Next Twenty Years, Onsrud, Harlan & Werner, Kuhn, (eds.). https://spatial.umaine.edu/files/2016/02/AdvancingGIScience.pdf. Web. Accessed on 22/12/2016.

GeoHumanities Special Interest Group. Association of Digital Humanities Organizations. Web. Accessed on 22/12/2016.

Gregory I.N. and Geddes A., 2014 “Introduction: From Historical GIS to Spatial Humanities: Deepening Scholarship and Broadening Technology”. In Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History, Gregory, Ian and N., Geddes A. (eds.). Web. Accessed on 22/12/2016.

Grgas-Mufa, Stipe. 2012. ‘Notes on the Spatial Turn’. In SIC: a journal of literature, culture and literary translation, 2 (2012), 4. DOI: 10.15291/SIC/1.2.LT.3. Web. Accessed on 22/12/2016.

Guldi, Jo. “What is the Spatial Turn?,” Spatial Humanities: A Project for the Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship. UVA Scholars’ Lab Blog, University of Virginia Library. Web. Accessed on 22/12/2016.

Harvey, F, Kwan, MP & Pavlovskaya, M 2005, ‘Introduction: Critical GIS’. In Cartographica, vol 40, no. 4, pp. 1-4. DOI: 10.3138/04L6-2314-6068-43V6.

Kathleen M.S. Allen, Stanton W. Green, Ezra B.W. Zubrow. (eds)., 1990. Interpreting space: GIS and archaeology. New York: Taylor and Francis.

Lock, G. (ed.)., 2000. Beyond the map: archaeology and spatial technologies. Amsterdam: IOS Press.

Schruurman, N., 1999. ‘Critical GIS: Theorizing an emerging discipline’. In Cartographica 36, Monograph 53, 1–109.

Sheppard, E., 2005 ‘Knowledge production through critical GIS: genealogy and prospects’ Cartographica 40, 5–21.

Soja, Edward W., 2009. ‘Taking space personally’. In The Spatial Turn: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Barney Warf and Santa Arias (eds.). https://archive.org/details/pdfy-5w8gwNS-wqu4hF3C. Web.

Wheatley, D.W. and Gillings, M. 2002. Spatial technology and archaeology: a guide to the archaeological applications of GIS. London: Taylor & Francis.

Wright, D., Goodchild, M. and Proctor, J., 1997. ‘GIS: Tool or Science?’. In Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 87, 346-62. 

Wright, J. K. 1947.,  Terrae Incognitae: The Place of Imagination. In Geography Annals of the Association of American Geographers  37: 1-15. Web. Accessed on 22/12/2016.