GIS, Dr. Craft’s Work, and Future Discovery

GIS research and development was a proud selling point for the Arts & Sciences department at the university where I previously worked, so I have had a little exposure to geovisual analytics. Interestingly, I have also seen 3D virtual reality visualizations of excavation sites the university was a part of, though I didn’t quite make the connection to their utility until our readings for this week. I’ve also had trouble mentally expanding the traditional concept of geographic mapping into what GIS adds. Moving into Dr. Craft’s presentation, I was curious about some of the implications for utilizing it and the different systems or uses it could be applied to, especially in light of her work with ancient settlements.

In discussing the implications of GIS in her work, Dr. Craft noted that each project site called for unique purposes as “GIS lends itself to different data sets.” We saw this in how her first project, focused around antiquity Byzantine, explored scale and landscapes as they related to how people migrated in the area. She noted she underused GIS as only a visual mapping tool with this work. We saw this in her next project, as GIS was used more for “landscape analysis” in Romuliana, Serbia where she searched for “what came before, after, and during” the existence of the palace. Focusing on how the landscape was shaped, she used existing records to (for lack of a better word) triangulate the activity surrounding roads, settlement locations that existed prior to the Roman expansion, and mineral deposit records with GIS data. Instead of having GIS present visualizations for discovery, she used it to create connections between the previous data and build into more meaning-making. Dr. Craft noted the particular usefulness of the act of discovery being encouraged when more data was present.

Part of her process involves formulating research goals and seeing how those develop into more areas of research as projects advance. As Dr. Craft and our readings referred to “the spatial humanities” in this instance of discovery, I originally struggled with how this site of visualization differed from how we traditionally approach research. When she discussed her issues with access to some of these areas, I made the connection to what roadblocks this type of historical study may face. Instead of how we normally think of “access” in the humanities, Dr. Craft was literally meaning physical access to sites. In making this connection, I realized the extent of what her work represents and how she was rewriting traditional historical implications. This kind of discovery, moreso than the actual data derived form GIS, is what makes Dr. Craft’s work so exciting. She raises questions about how we conceptualize historical data and what limits we’ve falsely assumed. Paired with the optimistic pessimism of Gupta and Devillers’s claims of scholars’ tendency to work down for “inadequate” tools, we may be near a tipping-point in how we formulate our historic conceptions of humanity.

One of the implications that Dr. Craft only briefly discussed was how her work with data and GIS can create “predictive modeling” with both mapping and “spatial representations.” This opens up so many questions about where research like this can lead. How can we use this to predict or better global weather patterns and the migration of species and humans in the wake of climate change? What data can we cultivate to suggest future farming or agricultural spaces in the wake of swelling populations and national border disputes? What behavioral patterns of our past are predictive of movements in a globalist age?


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