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7AAVMAPS Maps, Apps and the GeoWeb: Introduction to the Spatial Humanities

Module convenor: Dr Stuart Dunn
Credits: 20
Teaching pattern: Ten one-hour lectures and ten one-hour seminars
Module description:

How are maps and geography made on the web? Why these have become so important in the last ten to fifteen years? What kind of critical approaches do we need to question the assumptions that underlie digital geographic data? This module will explore these questions. It begins with a brief overview of the history of cartography from the earliest times until the present day, when World Wide Web has come to be its dominant paradigm. We will go on to discuss examples of how geographic information from history, archaeology and Cultural Heritage is organized using digital gazetteers, and question whether these have to be solely about place (or can they include time, periods and events?). We will look at the landscape of 'Volunteered Geographic Information' which underpins the maps on our tablets and smartphones, and consider how geography features in digital literary and textual analysis. This range of knowledge will be applied in two practical case studies, where you will learn how to build your own web map using a dataset from the humanities; and you will learn the basics of using a Geographic Information System (GIS). Finally, we will assess how digital geography influences our own behaviour, what information we share about where we are (and what we do there) with multinational corporations, and how we can use what we have learned to take control of this process of sharing. 

Draft teaching syllabus

1. History of cartography, giving a background as to how digital cartography emerged after centuries of map making.

2. Digital gazetteers

3. Ancient World geography online

4. GIS: Introduction to theory and methods

5. Building a GIS data model

6. Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) (a practical session on the use of OpenStreetMap and Google MapMaker, with students encouraged to explore the limitations of these.

7. Volunteering geo-information through apps and GPS. This will be a deeper expolration of OpenStreetMap, following on from the previous session.

8. Literary GIS

9. Location and digital imagery (case studies including

10. Concluding lecture: The Spatial Narrative in the Digital Humanities

Module aims

The purpose of the module is to give students a) an understanding of the role of geospatial data in digital humanities research, in both its explicit and inexplicit forms (e.g. digital gazetteers and map-based academic publications, versus discourses and analyses that involve place and location), b) a critical understanding of the way in which online spatial standards and formats condition interpretation and introduce bias in the reaching of intellectual conclusions, and the impact of contributor factors such as the representation of minority groups in society; and c) a practical understanding of how important GIS and contributor-based map platforms, such as QGIS and OpenStreetMap respectively, contribute to the digital humanities.

Learning outcomes

  • Have a basic understanding of the history of geodesy and cartography, with special reference to the elements, assumptions and processes that underlie modern digital mapping.
  • Be able to demonstrate knowledge of fundamental web standards for geospatial data, with a primary focus on KML, but with a broader appreciation of how these standards relate to generic frameworks, including most importantly the World Geodectic Data system. They will also be able to discuss the limitations these impose on the expression of information in the digital humanities, and discourses built around it.
  • Have a broad understanding of the most important current applications of spatial data in the digital humanities, with respect to specific examples including, but not limited to, Ancient World Geography and Digital Imagery.
  • Be able to correctly project a base map in a standard GIS platform such as QGIS (which is Open Source and freely available), and construct a basic three-layer vector data model, comprising of points, lines and polygons. They will be able to discuss both what this model allows them to do, and what it prevents them from doing with their data.
  • Have an understanding of the technical, theoretical, practical and ethical issues underlying Volunteered Geographic Information, and especially mobile apps as a means of contributing VGI. On a practical level, they will able to make intermediate to advanced edits to OpenStreetMap using both apps and editing functions; and consider how their participation in a global VGI platform can contribute to intellectual and ethical agendas. This will include a discussion of the kinds of personal data gathered by corporations such as Google, and what steps individuals can take to control the amount of information they make available to such organizations.

Core reading

  • Bodenhamer, D. J., J. Corrigan and T. M. Harris 2010: ‘Introduction’. In Bodenhamer, D. J., Corrigan, J. and Harris, T. M. (eds), The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. Indiana University Press.
  • Caquard, S. 2012: Cartography I: Mapping narrative cartography. Progress in Human Geography 37(1): 135-144.
  • Dunn, S. L. Kadish and M. Pasquier 2013: A religious center with a civic circumference:towards the concept of a Deep Map of American religion. International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing 7(1-2): 190-200.
  • Leary, J. 2014: Past mobility: An Introduction. In Leary, J. (ed), Past Mobilities. Archaeological Approaches to Movement and Mobility. Ashgate, Cambridge.
  • Offen, K. 2012: Historical geography II: Digital imaginations. Progress in Human Geography, 37.4: 564-577.
  • Sui, D., Elwood, S., and Goodchild, Michael (eds.) 2013: Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) in Theory and Practice. Dordrecht, Springer.
  • Warf, B. and Arias, S. 2009: Introduction: the reinsertion of space into the social sciences and humanities. In Warf, B. and Arias, S. 2009 (eds.): The Spatial Turn: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London, Routledge.
  • Wheatley, D. and Gillings, M. 2002: Spatial Technology and Archaeology: The Archaeological Applications of GIS. London, Taylor and Francis.


The module is assessed by completion of :

  • A practical exercise combined with a 2500 word report


  • A 4000 word essay
Blank spaceBlank spaceThe modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.
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