Information Technology

Spatial Techniques for the Digital Humanities

A portion of “Bird's Eye View of Holyoke, Mass.“ from

A workshop for faculty

Monday & Tuesday, August 13 & 14, 2012

Amherst College, Webster 102

Keynote Presentation: Exploring the Spatial Humanities

Online Resources

Detail from “An Atlas of Rare City Maps”, “Eastern Division of Paris”,
In recent years a plethora of new tools and methods have become available for transforming and studying the materials of traditional humanities research, along with new forms of digital media. Many aspects of the humanities also involve geospatial relationships, and many of these tools, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), make it significantly easier to collect, analyze, and understand spatial data.

Many examples of digital humanities are discussed and catalogued at sites like,, and A cascade of new books address the subject, in particular the spatial humanities. And the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has even established an Office of Digital Humanities.

Now the Five College Consortium has begun a Digital Humanities Initiative with support from the Mellon Foundation, and is sponsoring this workshop on Spatial Techniques for the Digital Humanities. It will focus on the activities, content, and media of interest to humanists, including current projects in the Five Colleges. Plenty of time and opportunity will be available for participant networking, discussion, and discovery.

Instructors: Andy Anderson, Amherst College; Jon Caris and Cory Keeler, Smith College

The preliminary schedule is below. If you would like to attend or have questions, please fill out the response form.

Day One: Monday August 13, 2012
Time Topic
  8:30 –  9:00 Coffee
  9:00 –  9:15 Introductions
  9:15 – 10:30 Collaborative Mapping 1: Presentation Platforms
Multi-user mapping environments: Cityscapes, Hypercities
 10:30 – 10:45 Break
 10:45 – 12:00 Collecting Geographic Data
GPS; Smart Phones and Tablets and Apps; Geotagging Digital Photos
 12:00 –  1:00 Lunch
  1:00 –  2:15 Collaborative Mapping 2: Web Mashups
Combining online data sources with a web map to visualize dynamic relationships:
Google Docs/Tables/Maps; ArcGIS Online
  2:15 –  2:30 Break
  2:30 –  3:45 Geospatial Visualization
3-D, photoreferencing, building models, tours: Google Earth
  3:45 –  4:00 Coffee
  4:00 –  5:00

Keynote Presentation: Exploring the Spatial Humanities
Lex Berman, Harvard University
Project Manager, China Historical GIS Project

New tools, including software such as Google Earth and hardware such as smartphones, are rapidly changing the way we gather and store information. At the same time Google Maps, Fusion Tables, and competing technologies have streamlined the process of integrating and visualizing this information. These innovations are being adopted in the humanities, where new platforms for teaching, research, and collaboration are emerging, and the results are also generating a wider audience for materials that were previously considered to be “raw data”. Here we will present several approaches to organizing and visualizing historical information — historical gazetteers, image archives, web maps, and historical GIS — and their merits, limitations, and discuss potential application for other digital humanities projects.

  5:00 –  5:30 Reception
Day Two: Tuesday August 14, 2012
Time Topic
  8:30 –  9:00 Coffee
  9:00 – 10:30 Creating Maps from Text Data
Geoparsing, mapping place names and street addresses: ArcGIS
 10:30 – 10:45 Break
 10:45 – 12:15 Positioning Historical Maps
Online Map Libraries & Google Earth
Georeferencing scanned maps to line up with current spatial data: ArcGIS
 12:15 –  1:15 Lunch
  1:15 –  2:45 Abstracting Historical Maps
Extracting and editing features from scanned maps; analyzing your results: ArcGIS
  2:45 –  3:00 Break
  3:00 –  4:30 Cartographic Enhancement
Preparing maps for publication — conventions, projections, color, labeling, elements, representation, etc.: ArcGIS