Digital humanities keynote speaker highlights the importance of geographic information systems

In Campus News, News
(Bailey Carpenter / Daily Titan)

University of Nebraska-Lincoln doctoral student Christy Hyman, who studies 19th century American history using geographic information systems (GIS), was invited by Cal State Fullerton’s Department of History and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences to deliver the keynote presentation for the fall Digital Humanities Student Symposium.

GIS uses location data and mapping to display patterns and relationships and can be used to visually show how locations relate to each other.

Hyman’s doctoral work focuses on using historical data and geography to track the patterns and movements of enslaved runaways and laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.

A GIS professor and archaeologist introduced Hyman to the subject. Her professor made the class an “affirming space for learning.”

“We can get very close to a material reality, but when it comes to reporting things, we can try as much as we might and do our due diligence to get as close to reality as the historical evidence allows us,” Hyman said. “When it comes to maps, (GIS historians) are trying to give you a visual that’s as close to the actual reality as possible.”

At Wednesday’s keynote in the Humanities and Social Sciences building, Hyman talked about how she uses projections and GIS to shed light on hidden history and give depth to the personal narratives of enslaved people whose lives were not recorded.

Hyman said she makes it a point to spend time in the areas where the people she studies lived, and has spent time in the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina during hot and cold climates to experience the conditions they must have felt.

“I hope that in highlighting the data collection, analysis and technical work involved in digital humanities inquiry, we can come to embrace the concept of slow (digital humanities) and emphasize the importance of sitting with the work, understanding the work and reflecting upon to arrive at a critical sense of some form of reality,” Hyman said.

In the future, Hyman said she plans to transform her visual research into a GIF that she will include in a short film about freedom.

The keynote was a part of a two-day Digital Humanities Student Symposium and the final practicum “Pseudo Towns: The Functions of Spaces Along the Political Margins” will be held in Humanities and Social Sciences room 585 on Thursday.

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