Hello Day of DH 2010

We’re just about an hour from the stroke of midnight and the start of Day of DH 2010 here in Charlottesville, Virginia.   So in a few hours I’ll be documenting here just what happens in my day of digital humanities.  At least three of my UVA colleagues (all with offices in beautiful Alderman Library) Bethany Nowviskie, Joe Gilbert, and Rafael Alvarado will also share their experiences with the world.

So now a bit of rest, then let’s get started!

Just another normal Thursday

When you heard about DODH2010 did you immediately look to your calendar to see if Thursday, March 18 would be a “good” day for revelation? I did.  It is.  Just another normal Thursday…I’m leading a Scholars’ Lab GIS workshop on digitizing and editing datasets, serving as able assistant to my colleague Chris Gist with an archaeology GIS workshop he’s leading, and I hope to find time to sit in on a discussion on mapping the early 19th century world.

Let’s see how this Thursday unfolds!

Can mapping historic elections results really test the limits of ArcGIS?

The answer seems to be yes when those election results come in the form of an Excel 2007 file with 528 columns.  When Excel blasted through the 256 column limit with their 2007 version, ArcGIS apparently did not keep pace.

For many years we’ve worked with Charles Kromkowski and his Virginia Elections and Politics students who compile historic Virginia election results by combing through original source materials.  These data are not available in electronic form elsewhere and comprise a gold-mine for mapping election results.

Our task this week was to deliver a shapefile for every presidential election year from 1860-1960 depicting the configuration of Virginia counties and independent cities in that year joined to the 528 columns of election data.  Students then create thematic maps in ArcGIS to support their academic arguments.  In almost every case, these are election results that have never been viewed in map form at this level of detail.   In some cases, students re-create in GIS the hand-drawn maps they find in period newspaper accounts to verify or call into question their accuracy.

This is one of our best examples of a unique student learning experience centered around geographic data and mapping.

Kelly Johnston meet Alexander von Humboldt

Charlottesville’s a fantastic book town.   When someone makes a choropleth map of used bookstore density, we’ll be on the high end of the range I’m sure.   And The Virginia Festival of the Book kicks it all up a notch this week.

Our map-savvy colleague Joel Kovarsky is moderating a session on AvH and the Shaping of America in just a few minutes next door in the UVA Special Collections Library.

With the subtitle “mapping of the early 19th century world”, I’m there!

Alexander von Humboldt, friend of Mr. Jefferson

So turns out  Humboldt was quite the traveler, explorer, and friend of Thomas Jefferson.   Showing a savvy understanding of her Charlottesville audience , author Laura Dassow Walls from the University of South Carolina focused more than a bit on this relationship in her talk.   My colleague in GIS, Chris Gist and I joined about 60 other map nerds, historians and the curious for the event.

Eagle-eye Chris pointed out an early DC map in the presentation with longitude “0″, reflecting the then fashionable Washington DC prime meridian.

Dozens of Humboldt placenames in the USA suggest the cult status Humboldt achieved in mid 19th century.  Nevada was nearly Humboldt.

Humboldt and Jefferson corresponded extensively and did meet once, but at the White House in DC, not at Monticello as legend suggests.

Humboldt’s view of the world is organized and beautiful, combining art with science to create the cosmos.

I’ll end with a map of Humboldt’s travels.

von Humboldt's travels

The Scholars’ Lab and Geographic Information Systems

Let me explain a bit about the Scholars’ Lab where I work as a Geographic Information Systems specialist.  We’re a part of the University of Virginia Library and our public lab space is in the West Wing of Alderman Library.  Here we are in Open Street Map.  Joe Gilbert is Head of the Scholars’ Lab and explains our purpose in life here.

We wrangle a geospatial data collection that we’ve recently made more accessible through http://gis.lib.virginia.edu .  This discovery and delivery system is built on the open source stack including PostGIS, Geoserver, Geonetwork, and Openlayers.

We do a lot of walk-in business from members of the UVA community in search of that perfect GIS dataset they just know exists for free at the touch of a button.  Some are still looking for a silver bullet.  Others are ready to face reality.   And some are very happy when we have just what they need.

We do a lot of work in the classroom.  Folks want to learn about GIS.  We’re happy to oblige.  School of Architecture, Anthropology, Archeology, Environmental Sciences, English, History…all our colleagues and GIS customers.   We’ve taught for-credit semester-long GIS classes.  This semester we’re in the midst of a bi-weekly GIS workshop series that’s been well received.  These hour-long sessions are intended to introduce new GIS users to basic techniques.

If you’ve read this far I’m guessing you like maps and timelines so you’ll want to read about our Neatline project.  And our Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship kicks off round two, track three in May.

Thanks for reading this far.

GIS Workshop Sets New World Record!

Chris and I are teaching a series of GIS workshops this semester.  Today’s session explored digitizing and editing data in GIS.  Response has been fantastic all semester and the folks we’re working with represent many disciplines.

Today’s class used a georeferenced hand-drawn map of the 1920 Charlottesville streetcar system as a basemap.   We found this outstanding map in the UVA Special Collections library.  The students digitized the streetcar paths, important points along the routes, and the city limit boundary in ArcGIS and learned to update associated attribute data, calculate path lengths, and polygon areas.

We’re fairly certain our workshop today set a world record for the largest group of people ever to use GIS to digitize the Charlottesville streetcar system.

Yea, that was fun!

Academic Progress and March Madness

There’s been some talk around the office about a certain basketball tournament.  I’m a big believer in the Academic Performance Bracket.  In fact, I’ve submitted it as my official entry as it shows Kansas winning the tournament.

Yup,I’m a Jayhawk fan.

Rock chalk.

GIS in Digital Archaeology

Visiting Professor Simon Bickler from New Zealand asked his Digital Archeology students to do advanced GIS work on a New Zealand dataset of dig sites.   Since none of the students have used GIS before, he asked us to take one class session to give the students the big-picture of GIS and a second hands-on session to work through subsetting data, creating Theissen Polygons, doing spatial joins, customizing symbology, and labeling features to create a finished map.

Chris worked with Professor Bickler to deliver the lecture earlier this week and lead the hands-on workshop this afternoon.

I’m sitting here watching 17 UVA undergrads who have never used GIS before all who have now analyzed a fairly complex GIS dataset and made a finished map with their results.

Yea, that’s cool.

Wrapping it up with Mary and the mysterious Peter Chang

Calvin Trillin made it nearly impossible to get a table at Peter Chang’s Taste of China restaurant in Charlottesville.  Trillin’s drooling New Yorker review earlier this month turned the place into a zoo.  But on my lucky day of digital humanities, I joined my wife Mary who works as the University of Virginia’s Semester At Sea Librarian, and a duo of librarian friends for a mighty fine ToC meal…a fantastic end to another fun day.

Thanks to the folks at the University of Alberta for organizing this day and providing the platform.  I’m eager now to read how this Thursday played out around the world of digital humanities.