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Today’s talk was a great example of interdisciplinarity in action. Thinking about space as a form of intertextuality in the novel seems like a promising line of inquiry. Mapping say, Victorian novels set in London against each other, could offer a composite picture of how spaces are being constructed and regarded at the time — and a new way of relating different texts to one another. But I do wonder about the problems and benefits of taking this as social history. Are we assuming that sites are chosen for mimetic — rather than allusive — reasons, that the novel aims to be a chronicle of social history when perhaps it aims to be something else? (Beneath this, I suppose, is a broader question about how we read and how we compartmentalize the real and the fictional — when we encounter a location in a novel, say the Champs Elysees, do we first recall the actual Champs Elysees — or do we principally recall it as a site of action in other fictions?)
This is just a thought in part in line with Erik’s comment above and with a general theme of how human investigators/users’ assumptions and categories of analysis interface with digital tools. I am really fascinated by how the spatial history lab’s beautifully done presentations today illustrated the degree to which elements that are inherently difficult to quantify (the “tone” of a novel, the significance of the theater in 19th-century Rio, how long it takes a Jewish grandmother in 1944 Budapest to walk a mile while laden with groceries) must be accounted for far in advance of making at least equally difficult-to-quantify interpretative judgments about the results after processing by a tool like ArcGIS. Is there anything in place to “standardize” the subjective elements that get inputted into the digital process? I see from the Spatial History lab’s site that some data, like that in the Western Railroads Database, is being put “out there” as new standards for others in the field of research. But it does sound like the “sausage-making” that goes into even arriving at this kind of data requires a lot of time learning to use the technology, inputting lots of data, and almost always some level of collaborative work. What is a pragmatic way for junior scholars–graduate students and the untenured–to “break into” spatial history? Is spatial history simply so demanding or involved that it requires full dedication as an alternative to or new model of doing history, or could it reasonably serve as an auxiliary to the (perhaps outdated but nonetheless standard) monograph-and-journal article-based professional trajectory?
I really enjoyed Friday’s presentation and the idea of looking at emotions in novel as a “comment of society”. Moreover, how by tracking these emotions throughout space, different locations are suddenly tied with a different overall statement, and how these interaction at the different locations than weave together the fabric of the story. On a tangent note, I think this can be pretty applicable to real life and how some locations are tied with various emotions and thus affect their popularity. Areas tied with positive memories will generally draw more attraction whereas those without will repel it. I’m not sure if this really helps answer Erik’s question, or maybe approaches it from a totally different angle…but sites may then be chosen because of the emotions that have been reportedly associated with it? So maybe when we read about the Champs Elysees, we actually first think about the emotion generally associated with it from other stories, associating the characters and their mood, and then the actual location. When we visualize an area, there’s got to be some kind of adjective of how we picture it that then possibly affects how we see it from then on.
Spatial history is a fascinating new frontier of the humanities. Does mapping how a novel unfolds over time give the author too much credit with regards to intention? How does literature inform an understanding of history? Could it not just be coincidental that the changes in mood in the novel Professor Frank examined mirrored positive and negative events for the individual author and country as a whole? I wouldn’t think an author would always write fiction as a mirror image of his emotions or those of the country at large.
Likely everyone else, I was extremely impressed by how much the spatial models were capable of showing, and also how elegant they can be as final products. I have some of the same concerns as Nile does in his comment above–perhaps these spatial analyses will tempt us into drawing relationships between elements that are largely coincidental. Still, I think knowing that those relationships exist, even if they’re not causal, is valuable in scholarship, and we have to apply judgement and good methodology to figure out which parts of what the computer gives us ought to be used and how it ought to be used. I was particularly interested in the animation showing the patterns of daily travels to markets, and I can’t imagine any other existing tool recreating history in such an engaging and telling way.
I think the potential of using these technologies is very exciting. Yvonne is right that a lot of thought is required about inputting data and project set-up, but I’m not sure that it is any more difficult than a traditional historian figuring out the best way to approach boxes full of records. The tools also seem to offer a lot of flexibility — for instance the ability to add various layers and zoom in and zoom out. When Julia brought up the excellent point about the necessity for considering what information people had access to, Zephyr seemed to indicate that he could easily add this (perhaps through media publication data?) as another information layer. Very slick. I would love to see these spatial visualizations united with the ability to zoom to documents and photos (in addition to data points) at the micro level.
I’m wondering if these technologies could help historians with projects that aren’t necessarily about spatial relationships. Can’t they also offer a more mundane illustration of change over time? I was thinking about Mary Beth Norton’s recent book on the Salem WitchCraft Trials. She did an amazing amount of work to re-order the evidence in the court records to show the dates that accusations of witchcraft were made (as opposed to the dates that the trials were held). A visualization of the trajectory of the accusations through time would have been a great aid in understanding the trajectory of the panic.
After all this gushing though, I wonder if the reactions we are having are in any way similar to the enthusiasm historians had about quantitative history in the 1970s. I’m not sure what the ‘results’ of quantitative history were — but it is worth thinking about the trajectory of that methodology. Is spatial history a reaction to the inability of quantitative history to tell us about human experience in the past — or just an extension of its embrace of computing technology with fancier pictures?
I share Nile’s skepticism about linking emotions to space; it’s a very cool demonstration, but I wonder what interpretive value it has. A few weeks ago when we looked at the categorization of Shakespeare’s plays by the kinds of words they contain, it seemed that we could learn something about the plays that the algorithm “miscategorized”; why would a tragedy be classed a comedy? But I have a hard time ascribing interpretive value to outliers in the space-emotion model. Should we assume that a pleasant episode taking place in a traditionally sad location is secretly sad?
The market model does seem to have interpretive value, though; it allows you to say that vast numbers of people likely encountered each other on their way to the market, and this affects the history we draw of this time.
One of my favorite blogs, BLDBLOG, often analyzes the interaction of literature and space from a slightly different angle–using the discipline of architecture.
A quote from the BLDBLOG:
“architects telling stories with and through complex spatial representations—rather than merely supplying construction documents—brings them into contact with all the arts and sciences that have always and already used the built environment as a framework for larger, abstract ideas.”
There are number of great posts about utopian design and science fiction in particular, and I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in how fiction can create and model our environments to check it out.
I completely agree that thinking spatially is much more important than actually using the softwares in conducting research. Franco Moretti’s work has already demonstrated how thinking spatially could benefit humanities research. In terms of digital visualization, I have some reservations. For example, Eric’s Budapest Jewish visualization is exceptionally beautiful, but I feel a little bit difficult to see the point. Do we really need a visualization to see Jewish population on the move to markets in the afternoon? Isn’t a video clip from a movie more straightforward? What new understanding does this visualization generate?
One basic problem in doing spatial history is our lack of technical capacity that disables vision. We don’t know what might be possible, and what might not be. To figure out, it cost a lot of time and investigation. This cost of time might be the single most important concern, considering the already heavy load of work.
I am also concerned about what Yvon and Zhijian have raised above: how to make the analytical vision brought about by spacial project proportionate to the effort we must invest in order to get a decent output? For most of the cases, I can see it clearly that spatial analysis contributes to our understanding of an argument, but I am not sure what kind of new questions it could raise and how much it could be accessed independently as a research method.
Another issues that appeals to me is in what sense we could think of space as not actual geographical space,but as symbolic area and abstract social field. When Lefebvre broaches the issue of representational space, it is also used on figural level. I have seen an interesting diagram analyzing spatial practice in the bureaucracy in Prof Frank’s class.Hope to learn more about how to spatialize symbolic space.
In terms of geographic and symbolic or constructed space, I think there is a risk of over reliance on tools such as GIS which are focused on the geographic conception and representation of space. While it is an incredible tool, we need to be sure that the distinction between geographical space and constructed space is not lost on us. I think many of the non-geographic data visualizations we have seen make it clear that there are many roads we may explore in terms of visualizing space and the connections between space, time, and human interactions.
I was wondering if the tools for Spatial Analysis can also be used to support the analysis and / or production of theatre plays and performances. Modern theatre actually describes itself as the form of art that has the most intense connection to space. Modern performance is ‘all about space’ and about the relation of the body to space or to certain objects in space.
Could digital tools help in analyzing a performance such as Samuel Beckett’s “Quad”?? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBxrtl2qeVk&NR=1
Or is in this case the video already the best basis for an examination? Would a digitalized reproduction of the movement of the bodies in space be able to add a new perspective to our interpretation?