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GIS and Geography: Interactions with the Humanities

"Crossing Borders"

by Doug Richardson, Executive Director, Association of American Geographers

photo of Doug RichardsonThe AAG will be continuing a decade-long arc of sustained activity around the theme of "Geography and the Humanities" with a special set of sessions on these interactions during its upcoming Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington. We invite all interested GIS specialists, geographers, artists, writers, and humanities scholars to attend and participate in these sessions, to be held April 12–16, 2011.

As noted previously in this column ("Geography, GIS, and the Humanities," ArcNews, Summer 2006, Vol. 28, No. 2, p. 39), there has been a remarkable resurgence of intellectual interplay between geography, GIS, and the humanities in both academic and public circles. Metaphors and concepts of geography and GIS now permeate literature, philosophy, the arts, and other humanities. Terminology and concepts, such as space, place, landscape, mapping, and geography, are increasingly pervasive as conceptual frameworks and core metaphors in recent publications in the humanities.

The diffusion of ideas between geography and the humanities is significant for the insights and connections it has spawned. Scholars and writers outside the field of geography have developed new understandings from interrogating a sense of place or by examining the changing landscapes of globalization and complex new international realities in traditionally geographic terms. The core traditions of geography, combined with recent geographic technologies, such as GIS, have opened new lines of intellectual inquiry in the humanities and changed research methodologies in numerous fields. And, of course, the mutually beneficial interactions between the discipline of geography and such humanities fields as the philosophy of science, cultural and ethnic studies, and various literatures in postmodernist thought have also had far-reaching implications for GIScience and geographic research and education.

For many years, the AAG has focused on developing ideas, methods, and partnerships through which we might further explore, showcase, and foster the emerging interactions between geography, GIS, and the humanities. These efforts resulted in a seminal Symposium on Geography and the Humanities, sponsored jointly by the AAG, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the University of Virginia, in 2007. This symposium explored how geography informs the humanities and vice versa, took stock of the new and evolving connections between geography and the humanities, and identified promising new research paths along which such interaction can proliferate and be strengthened in the future.

These geography and humanities interactions are now the subject of two new books, emanating in part from the AAG Symposium and supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The first of these complementary explorations, Envisioning Landscapes, Making Worlds: Geography and the Humanities, focuses a lens on the deep traditions of the humanities within the discipline of geography, with contributions from many of the most prominent authors in the humanities traditions of geography. The second book, Geohumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place, reaches outward to explore the new, rapidly evolving experimental and experiential engagements by humanities disciplines themselves as they seek to understand and incorporate geographic methods and concepts of space and place into their own work, which encompasses the rapidly expanding use of GIS throughout the humanities and the burgeoning field of historical GIS. Both of these new books, published by Routledge this spring, will be the subject of featured discussions during the AAG Annual Meeting's special Geography and the Humanities sessions in Seattle, together with the books' editors and authors.

Another highlight of the Geography and the Humanities track at the Seattle meeting for me will be a keynote presentation by the exquisite writer and longtime friend of geography, Barry Lopez, who won the National Book Award for his book Arctic Dreams and recently authored Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape. I am delighted to note as well that he has been selected as the AAG's 2011 Honorary Geographer, a fitting award in light of this year's special focus on geography and the humanities. Lopez's keynote talk will be presented on Friday, April 15, 2011.

The AAG welcomes and encourages broad participation by the Esri GIS community in these Geography and the Humanities sessions. An online program detailing these, as well as many other sessions of interest to GIS users (including three full days of special sessions on space-time integration in GIS and GIScience), is available at I look forward to seeing you in Seattle, a beautiful and most apt setting for these sessions on geography and the humanities.

Doug Richardson

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