GIS Day and the Digital Humanities at the University of North Dakota
You may not realize this but today is International GIS (Geographic Infromation Systems) Day. While I don’t think that ESRI has “GIS Day” cards yet as the leading producer of GIS software, their fingerprints are all over this international celebration of their product. (And to be fair, the National Geographic Society and other non-profit groups co-sponsor the celebration!) In any event, the influence of GIS software on archaeology has been immeasurable. Landscape and survey archaeologists now depend upon GIS software not only to manage primary data collection in the field, but also to conduct a whole range of analyses from displaying basic artifact densities to estimating the most efficient routes through the landscape.
GIS software represents one of the core technologies in Digital History, Archaeology, and the Humanities. The ability to create easily data-rich maps of everything from archaeological finds to real and imagined landscape of works of fiction plays a key role in our increasingly visual culture. Even such simply GIS interfaces as Google Earth provide a vital classroom tool and provide a kind of flexibility and dynamism that even the best paper maps cannot replicate.
The University of North Dakota appears to be interested in exploring the potential of digital resources across the Humanities. In fact, in his first “State of the University Address” Robert Kelley (UND’s new president) referred specifically to Digital Humanities in his speech.
I’d like to spend just a few moments at the beginning of this address highlighting some of the outstanding achievements within this institution… I would like to showcase a sample of what faculty, staff, and students of the university have achieved as a reflection of where we are at the moment and why we should be justifiably proud of our university. First UND has a remarkable faculty and staff. The University has recruited very well over the years and we will continue to put priority emphasis on allocating resources into faculty and staff compensation and professional development. The efforts of UND’s faculty and staff have resulted in new centers and institutes, new advances in science and technology, creative new performances in music and in the visual and performing arts and the development of innovative new technologies like the Ag Cam that was recently delivered to the international space station by NASA on the Shuttle last Friday. Faculty have developed centers that focus on such diverse themes as Digital Humanities, sustainable energy, human rights, digital archiving, neuroscience, natural resource law, human behavior, the regulation of the gaming industry, and the list goes on and on.”
The interesting (and exciting) thing is that there is no Digital Humanities center on campus. In fact, the entire “program” at present includes one class in the English Department. It looks like the president is giving those of us involved in the digital humanities a green light to expand our efforts and make his optimistic (and premature) pronouncement a reality.