David Joseph WrisleyRanda El Khatib: Humanities Data and Mapping Environments

DAVID JOSEPH WRISLEY (NYU Abu Dhabi; @DJWrisley) is Professor of Digital Humanities at NYU Abu Dhabi. His research interests include comparative approaches to medieval literature in European languages and Arabic, digital spatial approaches to corpora, neural methods for handwritten text recognition across writing systems and open knowledge community building. He is interested in the emergence of digital humanities in non-Western, non-English cultures, in particular the contemporary MENA setting, with a particular focus on spatial humanities.

RANDA EL KHATIB (University of Toronto Scarborough; @randaelka) is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Arts, Culture, and Media at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She is the Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute and Editor of Early Modern Digital Review. El Khatib’s work appears in Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, Digital Humanities Quarterly, Digital Studies/Le champ numérique, and other scholarly venues, focusing on topics such as geospatial approaches to analyzing literature, open forms of scholarly communication, and digital technologies in early modern studies.

Short Description of Workshop

This spatial humanities workshop will introduce participants to different ways of thinking about humanities data, their curation within projects, and their use in digital mapping environments. The workshop will not be a traditional course in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), although we will use some of the functionality of open source GIS along the way. The workshop is designed for the total beginner who would like to explore how a spatial dimension can enrich humanities and interdisciplinary research projects and who would like to learn some basic skills for collecting and organizing data in order to be able to integrate such methods into their research workflows. 

The workshop lasts a total of 36 hours, two weeks of 18 contact hours each. 

The central goals of the workshop are fourfold: 

  • to learn where we can obtain spatial data relevant to our research interests, or capture data from analog sources through digitization, 
  • to explore how data spatial data can be modeled for our projects, 
  • to practice different ways that we can tell a story by visualizing spatial data, and 
  • to learn ways that we can disseminate and share that data. 

In the first part of the course we conduct a critical review of a range of projects in the spatial humanities: their scope and the rhetorical strategies they employ for spatial storytelling and argument. We will begin by reflecting on how location-based research might be incorporated into research projects in different disciplines (cinema, art history, anthropology, history, literature, etc.) as well as the challenges of such a spatial dimension in research. We will begin to learn about the creation of data in relevant formats for spatial humanities projects (using gazetteers, mobile data collection, off-the-shelf software) and learn some basic querying in order to perform repetitive tasks for building a spatial dataset. Students will be introduced to normalization and wrangling techniques and will contrast the manual, slow creation of data with more automated forms. 

In the second part of the course, we will learn some skills in web development so that we can do some basic web mapping. We will experiment with other automated workflows and will turn to more complex forms of visualization and storytelling. Open-source GIS software will be used to learn about georeferencing / warping and the creation of historical vector / polygon data from digitized historical maps. Depending on the time available, we will explore the sharing of specialized humanities spatial data in repositories and gazetteers, their design, and their theoretical underpinnings. 

Participants of the workshop will have the opportunity to present and design individual projects. We will also work collectively over the two weeks to build a small set of historical research materials of relevance to the group (For example, we have many historical representations of the Middle East and Arabia at our disposal, in particular open access materials, including 7000+ maps from the Qatar Digital Library, or from any of the numerous digital map libraries about other parts of the world.) 

A list of supplementary readings will be provided by the instructors.