Having exhausted the supply of super-technical geoparsing/geocoding articles that I’ve been doing write-ups of lately (and also admittedly being exhausted by them), I’ve decided to switch my reading focus to mapping work that has been occurring in the digital humanities world. There are certainly a lot of folks interested in bringing mapping to disciplines where it hasn’t traditionally been utilized in scholarship, so I’m going to read about the spatial humanities for my last required post.
I stumbled upon the Digital Humanities Specialist blog from Stanford University today. Poking around there then led me to a project I had never heard of called ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. I’m not terribly plugged in to the DH world but I did grow familiar with a lot of the larger spatial humanities projects happening through DHSI, so yes, I was surprised to see this fairly large-scale project pop out of the woodwork.
ORBIS is a tool that allows users to experience the communication constraints of those living in the Roman World by approximating the realities of travel–from the time of year to the method of travel, users can plug in whatever option they so desire. The system then processes the user’s choices and produces a large map detailing the most efficient route a Roman traveler would take. Admittedly cool, even for a non-scholar. Unsurprisingly, some people have compared it to Oregon Trail!
Looking into the creators’ documentation makes it clear that they want to provide transparency to their historical information, which is excellent–so often I’ve seen DH sites that put up a decently pretty visualization and little else to ground users in the context of what is being conveyed. I was disappointed to see that the geospatial technology behind the maps wasn’t explained, though blog posts shed light on this to some extent.
With ORBIS, Mapping the Republic of Letters, Barbara Hui’s litmap, and a whole spate of other spatial humanities projects weaving together a supportive online community, it is clear that mapping skills are gaining traction as a real asset within academia and libraries. Because libraries are often the midway point between the IT side and academia, I think librarians’ role in shaping mapping projects will continue to grow. Granted, these positions may be alt-ac positions referred to as “specialist” that are part humanities background, part librarian, but that’s fine. Skill sets are all churning together and I think it signals good things for institutions. However, I hope that the education for both librarians and those in humanities fields develops to appropriately fit these needs, which I think may be the main problem.