This week’s readings illustrated the topics we have discussed in class. For example, the “supremacy” of visual representation regarding a hermeneutics of data and the challenge of source criticism in digital humanities -‘ the humanistic approach is to understand a source through its biases without expecting it to yield definitive results’ (Schmidt), or the ability of GIS, and other technologies, ‘to manage large data sets and visualize the results of spatial analysis […] making data visual spurred intuitive interpretation […] that remained hidden in statistical analyses.’ (Bodenhamer, p.17).
Along with these useful considerations, I found of particular interest the link between postmodernism and digital humanities suggested by Bodenhamer’s article, who argues that our understanding of the world is socially constructed (p.6), which in turn denies in some way, its objectivity (as some important scientific theories do – Heinsenberg uncertainty principle, quantum theory) and therefore implies that a narrative of the world must be ‘fragmented, provisional, contingent understanding framed by multiple voices and multiple stories.’(p.29) Clearly this kind of interpretative approach seems more adequate to a digital rather than a traditional narration.
The specific example examined in the reading, GIS, lacks many of these features, privileging a quantitative analysis rather than a qualitative one. The fact that GIS emphasizes physical and geographical space rather than an emotional or metaphorical one and does not take in account the observer’s perspective makes it an analytical tool of limited use for humanists.
On the other hand, the still under-construction project On The Line seems to have the potential to integrate the analytical tools of GIS with the interpretative approach of humanistic studies.
The core of the project is the dynamic analysis of the schooling and housing boundaries that have divided the city of Hartford, CT, during the last century in order to tell the story of the families and the civil rights activists who fought against those boundaries. I found this project particularly interesting because it implies an idea of space that is not static but fluid over time, and a conceptualization of the space itself (the boundaries) that has a strong metaphorical implication. Furthermore, the “objectivity” of the boundaries is dialectically juxtaposed to the “subjectivity” of the interviews and memories of the city residents, therefore creating a narrative that is multi-perspective and multi-layered (here). On The Line is, in my opinion, a good answer to the question of ‘how do we as humanists make GIS do what it was not intended to do, namely, represent the world as culture and not simply mapped locations?’ (p.23)