GIS in the Digital Humanities: An introductory workshop

workshop / tutorial
  1. 1. Ian Gregory

    University of Lancaster

  2. 2. Elton Barker

    Open University

  3. 3. Anouk Lang

    University of Strathclyde

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Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are becoming increasingly used by historians, archaeologists, literary scholars, classicists and others with an interest in humanities geographies. To date, however, adoption of the technology has been hampered by a lack of understanding of what GIS is and what it has to offer to these disciplines. This introductory workshop, will provide a basic introduction to GIS both as an approach to academic study and as a technology. Its key aims are: To establish why the use of GIS is important to the humanities; to stress the key abilities offered by GIS, particularly the capacity to integrate, analyse and visualise data from many different types of sources; to show the pitfalls associated with GIS and thus encourage a more informed and subtle understanding of the technology; and, to provide a basic overview of GIS software and data. The workshop builds on a format that has been used successfully in the past, combining an overview of what GIS and what it has to offer to the humanities, contrasting case studies of its actual use, and a roundtable discussion. Please note that it does not provide hands-on software training, this can be gained from longer courses such as the Lancaster Summer Schools in Interdisciplinary Digital Methods at Lancaster University (, and the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria (

The workshop will be split into three sessions of approximately one hour each as show below assuming a 1:00pm start time. As discussed below, these timings are flexible and could be extended.

1:00-1:15: Welcome and Introductions
1:15-2:15: Session 1: Fundamentals of GIS from a humanities perspective
2:15-3:15: Session 2: Case studies on the use of GIS in the humanities
3:15-4:00: Session 3: Going further with GIS
These times could be extended a little if required to allow us to explore issues in a little more depth.

Session 1: Fundamentals of GIS from a humanities perspective

This session consists of two talks of around 20 minutes each leaving an additional 20 minutes for questions. Both presentations will be given by Gregory. The first of these talks will define what GIS is taking a technical perspective, introducing the core terminology and the data models that allow GIS to model the world. It will: define GIS, introduce concepts such as georeferencing, layers, raster and vector data, spatial and attribute data, querying GIS data, and the use of maps within GIS. The second talk will take a top-down approach giving examples of what GIS has to offer to the humanities. It will argue that the four benefits that GIS gives to the humanities are the abilities to: structure, integrate, visualise and analyse spatially referenced data. A wide range of brief examples will be used to describe what this offers in practice.

Session 2: Case studies on the use of GIS in the humanities

The second session will draw on two case studies on different uses of GIS within the humanities. The first will be presented by Dr Elton Barker a classicist from the Open University. Dr Barker will talk about his work on Mapping the Ancient World focusing on the work and travels of Heroditus, a scholar from Ancient Greece. The second will be presented by Dr Anouk Lang, a literary scholar from the University of Strathclyde. Dr Lang has used GIS in a range of literary studies focusing on modernist writing outside Britain and the United States. As well as being from contrasting disciplines and taking different approaches to using GIS, these two scholars have approached using GIS in two very different ways: Barker’s work has been collaborative, while Lang’s has predominantly followed the lone scholar model. In this way we will demonstrate what can reasonable be achieved by academics using GIS in the digital humanities. Again, presentations will be around 20 minutes giving plenty of time for discussions about the issues raised.

Session 3: Going further with GIS

Session 3 is a slightly shorter session. The intention is to point researchers to where they need to go next if they want to get more involved in GIS and to allow them to raise the issues and questions that concern them. It will consist of a short presentation by Gregory that will briefly introduce issues associated with software and access to data. It will then broaden out into a round table discussion to allow the participants to ask the questions that they want to ask. Past experience has shown this to be one of the most valuable parts of the day.

The workshop is best done as a half-day. It can be accommodated in three hours if required, however four would allow a more in-depth approach. There will be no hands-on software practicals so all that is required is a room where speakers can present to an audience. We want to encourage discussion among the participants so a tiered lecture theatre would not really be suitable.

Target audience:
The workshop is aimed at a broad audience including post-graduate students, members of academic staff, curriculum and research managers, and holders of major grants and those intending to apply for them. The workshop is only intended as an introduction to GIS, so will suit novices or those who want to brush up previous experience. Based on past experience we would anticipate that the workshop will be popular and would suggest capping numbers at 30.

Communication and publicity:
No CFP will be required and the organisers are happy to publicise it beyond the conventional DH mailing lists. When running similar events in the past we have asked participants to include a paragraph in their application about why they want to come to the workshop. This has two advantages: it allows us to tailor the content more closely to their needs, and if we are over-subscribed, it allows us to choose which participants will benefit most from the workshop. If this is possible then we would like to do this again, if not we can use a first come, first served approach.

The instructors:
Prof Ian Gregory is Professor of Digital Humanities at Lancaster University. His research concentrates on the use of GIS in the humanities. He is currently Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places project. He has published widely on the theory and applied use of GIS in the humanities including Historical GIS: Techniques, methodology and scholarship(CUP, 2007); Troubled Geographies: A spatial history of religion and society in Ireland (IUP, 2013) and Towards Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History (IUP, in press).

Contact: Department of History, Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 4YT, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1524 594967. Email:

Dr Elton Barker is a Reader in Classical Studies at the Open University. His research interests include: the Agon in ancient Greek literature and thought; Greek epic rivalry and reception; ancient geographies; and digital Classics. He has been Principal Investigator of three projects: the HESTIA project, Google Ancient Places and Pelagios: Enable Linked Ancient Geodata. He has published widely including Entering the Agon(OUP, 2009)

Contact: Faculty of Arts, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1908 653247. Email:

Dr Anouk Lang is currently a Lecturer in English at the University of Strathclyde; from September 2015 she will be a Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. She uses digital humanities and geo-spatial technologies to research modernism in the Anglophone world beyond Britain and the United States, and also to investigate contemporary reading cultures in digital contexts. She is the editor of From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (U Massachusetts P, 2012), and is currently Principal Investigator for an AHRC-funded project on the cultural value of literary participation in digital

Contact: School of Humanities, Lord Hope Building, 141 St James Road, Glasgow G4 0LT, UK. Tel: +44 (0)141 548 3518. Email:

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

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Conference website:

Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None