GIS Databases in Digital Humanities[1]

Craig Saper

Location is a fluid situation and not a fixed place; it is an approximate proximity, an architexture, an affiliation, turbulence, and a pause in the Brownian motion. "My axes are not so geographically logical" (Greg Ulmer). Locations are assemblages of indicators, sites of multiplicities, comprised of confluences of flows: semiotic, material, social, poetical, political, artistic. Differences in directions and speeds converge momentarily into braided streams, a temporary collocation. Suspended in the turbulence we find millions of particles. Some colliding, others softly slipping past one another...slipping through holes in the system. Other particles are on parallel trajectories. The locus being the weaving together of the field of representation (writing, art), the field of reality (the world), and the field of subjectivity (self).

— Eve Andree Laramee,

01 One could read this essay as an introduction to the work of Greg Ulmer and to the Imaging Place research contained in this volume. One could read this essay as an introduction to geographic information systems (GIS) for cultural problem solving, including future paths for digital humanities (the translation of data into humanities knowledge). The first title of this essay contains little information, but with its eventual publication, it will find a place in indexes, word searches, and databases linked to keywords. One might argue that this essay represents the print-based or logocentric description of the Imaging Place Project. The second title contains layers of information but is poetically coded to the point that it resembles an inside joke. The first title works on an infrastructural level to literally connect to the current mood of the times, while the second title describes and performs that mood. One could describe the second title as heuretic.[2] The goal of the research in this volume is to insinuate the heuretic into the current discourses and keywords and, therefore, this essay needs two titles: one to link to existing search engines and databases and express the rational justification and value of the Imaging Place Project, the other to perform the epistemological potential of those databases. One could also read this volume as the third part of a series that began with two earlier anthologies on related topics.[3]

02 Greg Ulmer, in the volume, examines the role of "places in electracy" and suggests a heuristic rule for imaging place: "some feature of a site is selected, put into a representation (in any medium), inflected, as a receptacle for a possible feeling felt. From this shift away from topos, story becomes "a poetic figure" in which "certain details of a situation create an atmosphere capable of attracting and holding a thought. This choral "traitment" (management of traits, attributes, properties of things for non-conceptual effects) opens and maintains a dimension that [...] gives access to a register of reality previously only glimpsed by means of art."

03 Craig Freeman, in this volume, describes his "place-based, virtual reality art project. It takes the form of a user navigated, interactive computer program that combines panoramic photography, digital video, and three-dimensional technologies to investigate and document situations where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities. The goal of the project is to develop the technologies, the methodology and the content for truly immersive and navigable narrative, based in real places. The project has been in development since 1997 and includes work from around the world." That project, Imaging Place, grew from his engagement with the Florida Research Ensemble (FRE) and the work of Greg Ulmer. Freeman powerfully combines narrative intensities from usually separate realms, including the discourses of the personal, professional-disciplinary, and entertainment. One can appreciate Freeman's argument through these narrative details and intensities.

04 Will Garrett-Petts and Rachel Nash, in their essay that can serve as another introduction to this volume and to the Imaging Place Project in general, explain that "while Ulmer's conductive method may emphasize the power of play over reason, it also reminds us of the classical injunction that art should both instruct and delight. Ironically, by valuing play it takes art seriously. Conduction asks the critic to become a kind of performance artist, performing in tune with the work of art instead of merely interpreting it." The performative theory responds to the "fragmentation of the disciplines, the blurring of boundaries" and the increasing instrumentalism in academe. Creative practice functions as a way to "reanimate many academic areas and approaches." The domain of art practice, no longer relegated to only addressing formal and craft art issues, serves the more general concerns and problems confronting the humanities, culture, and societies. This new type of research begins at the locus between writing and art practice, and a surprising place to find this intersection is in the artists' statement.

05 To this end, Garrett-Petts and Rachel Nash conducted a North American survey of more than 4,000 visual arts instructors in order to find out more about how writing instruction is occurring in the visual arts—and this section of the essay provides a preliminary report on these findings. The survey, which focuses on the writing of artists' statements, asks questions that proceed from the very practical—for example, who teaches writing to visual arts students? How much of their instruction is about writing? What kind of assignments do they use?—to the more theoretical—for example, how do the instructors envision the relationship between the verbal and the visual? Their article also serves as an introduction to the other CURA-related articles in this volume as well as the broader SSHRC Community and University Research Alliance (CURA) project to investigate the "Cultural Future of Small Cities" that Garrett-Petts, Donald Lawrence, David MacLennen, and Rachel Nash have played crucial roles in developing over the last few years. They have considered imaging places in dynamic ways to solve pressing social issues.

06 As Donald Lawrence explains, in this volume, the work of imaging place involves "a hybrid manner of working that is informed by, but not encumbered by, research methods of the Humanities and Social Sciences." Lawrence's own artwork, "Fiddle Reef, Remembered" used storymapping and "reconstruction (by way of models) of the site of the former Fiddle Reef light station and the imaginary reconstruction of the lighthouse" as Lawrence remembered it from his "childhood off the Victoria waterfront." His artwork uses a type of memory mapping.

07 MacLennan, Lawrence, and Garrett-Petts describe one of these CURA mapping projects. Their projects focus on an undeveloped tranquil area on the outskirts of Kamloops called Tranquille; they invite "ongoing local inquiry as a form of public performance: a series of walking tours that afford ongoing access to key places in the Tranquille area." Significantly, the intention in the storymapping is not realist, and the walking tours are "supported by various modes of representation, including digitalized accounts (podcasts produced by local user groups) as well as conventional brochures and fold-out maps. The idea is for participants to appreciate how the "realities" of place are shaped by multiple forms of representation." This is a radical departure from the literal tracings found in realist scholarship and suggests the notion of mapping described here.

08 Perhaps the title of this essay says it all.

09 Perhaps the defining mood of a particular period in history means paying special attention to mood, as Greg Ulmer and others in this volume suggest. Among the aspects of that zeitgeist, one might also include the importance of collective thought (called smart mobs or wikid thinking or as described by other phrases and neologisms). My research, and much of the work represented in this volume, examines this mood (associated with getting an idea). Further, the inventiveness mood seems to appear in vernacular situations (among popular and folk life) as much as in the rarefied world of specialized knowledge. One might dismiss mood because of its connection to popular distractions and the merely humorous.[4]

10 Scholars, wanting to appreciate and eventually stimulate this mood of the surprising innovation, have turned to examples drawn from the often debased and abject forms of culture: low-brow popular, folk, and (paradoxically) traditional domestic practices. My introduction here considers the research in this volume (and how it builds on the work of Greg Ulmer) as a folk hobby; therefore, it involves some allusion to folk practices not as objects of study but as models. In previous work, for example, I have examined Amish quilts and practices as models to read Martin Heidegger's theories of innovative thought. Alluding to a phrase mentioned elsewhere in this volume by Bruce Janz, going forth (the mood of inventiveness) meant going home.[5]

11 The navigation of place may need a different sense to comprehend. As Michael Jarrett, in this volume, explains, we do not need any more lessons or surveys about effective ways to image place, something "akin to disciplinary consensus about effective ways to image or represent place with words;" we have something called rhetoric that has done precisely this task since the development of the idea of topos and topic. Jarrett quotes Ulmer, to explain that "it is a different story when it comes to teaching 'electracy,'" and Jarrett uses H. D. Thoreau's "writing on sound" to appreciate the pre-electronic "urge to electracy" to find "traces of wishes that became practices and then [later] took technological form." Jarrett concludes his meditation with a link to his own sound experiment.

12 Bruce Janz, seemingly responding to Jarrett's notion of a sonic notion of imaging place, notes that "when thinking about place, "theorists of intensities such as Deleuze and Guattari are more inclined to use auditory metaphors than visual ones ..." Janz explains that "deterritorialization and reterritorialization are described biologically in A Thousand Plateaus as established by an animal's movement and inscribed by its song or sound. Practice for them looks more like music than it does visual organization and they effectively tie time to space in this way. The scene, then, if we can imagine them thinking in these terms (and I don't think it is too far to take the notion of "intensities" as scenic in some sense), moves from its visual traces to its auditory, perhaps more layered, biological manifestation."

13 Imaging place may begin in a visceral, sonic, felt, and bodily appeal to the mood and atmosphere one might call a sense of place. The map, no longer literal and visual alone, appeals to this other sense with heuretic logic.

Mapping a Social Network

14 Returning to the second unofficial title of this essay, the pun between the geist in zeitgeist and GIS(t) involves the now common acronym for geographic information system (GIS). In fact, the acronym has come to define the contemporary mood in the formation of digital humanities (or the translation of the humanities into digital systems). New gadgets, software, and scholarship, combined in a system, promise to spatialize and mix GPS with information retrieval and organization. GIS manages, analyzes, and displays information linked to spaces and geographic places. Informatics, the study of how data becomes information, relates directly to these uses of geo-visualizations.

15 In this volume, many of the contributors build on Ulmer's Electronic Monuments. Barry Mauer discusses "implementing a monument to lost data" to encourage a cultural mourning that, in turn, has, for Mauer, "significant personal and social benefits." The benefits from this type of heuretic work accrue because "monuments acknowledge the historical forces that have formed us; they also play a role in re-forming us."

16 Stephanie Tripp, in this volume, also uses "an "abject monument," one that commemorates a sacrifice that a society is unwilling or unable to recognize. She builds on Ulmer to argue that "unlike the bronze statues and marble columns that typically populate our parks and civic plazas, ones that praise the bravery of our war heroes or the stoic resolve of our political leaders, abject monuments call attention to lives given, hardships endured, or humiliations suffered for causes that we will never see engraved in granite. A society requires such sacrifices to maintain a way of life it deems sacred, but it remains oblivious to, indifferent toward, or ashamed to admit them. By calling attention to these sacrifices, however embarrassing or even confounding such attention may be, an abject monument encourages us to reflect on the values that shape our collective identity and to challenge or even to re-form the way we view ourselves."

17 Tripp's article explains how their group sought to use the abject monument of an abandoned pyramid-shaped building in downtown Memphis and apply "Ulmerian principles and methodology to activism." Again, Sullivan explains her group's socio-political engagement using strategies borrowed from art practices.

18 There is the possibility of another abject monument—the apparently monumental lack of land-marks or monuments. In this volume, Chris Taylor illuminates the playas of the Western U.S. desert, as it exists within an "inaccessible future—in the blue of distance" that induces a "cognitive dissonance from this place with little perceptual traction. In fact, without bearings, it is nearly impossible to walk a straight line in this landscape. Yet this landscape of void is anything but empty."

19 One can link locations to networks (or databases) of meanings. In this volume, a series of places (some hot spots, others mundane) become the locus of an information system, theme, or database. A list of these topos from the research of the Imaging Place group gives a concrete sense of how one starts a GIS. The list includes the following: a pyramid in Memphis; The National Archives and Records Administration; Beijing, China; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Kamloops, Canada; Taipei, Taiwan; Warsaw, Poland; the U.S./Mexico Border; Miami, Florida; Kaliningrad, Russia; Niagara; New England; and Appalachia; the site of the 1926 wreck of the S.S. Torhamvan at Ferryland; Newfoundland; the playas of the Great Salt Lake Desert; Walden Pond and the nearby railroad tracks, and more. This layering, akin in some sense to the mapping of a GIS, was one of the goals of the Imaging Place gathering and a goal of this volume. You can layer that geographic information, combine layers, and use the result as a simulation of the mood of invention—which takes place in the tour of the places (many listed above).

20 A GIS is most often associated with maps. A map, however, is only one way you can work with geographic data in a GIS and only one type of product generated by a GIS. The projects described in this conference use databases of layered information that describe the world in geographic terms. The places function as links to a database of information and support queries, analysis, and editing of the information. Geographers and now, digital humanities scholars, call this way of working "geo-visualization." In other words, GIS combines data with analytic and heuretic rules.

21 Returning again to the unofficial title of this essay, the parenthetical (t) following the GIS in GIS(t) completes, what Ulmer calls, the puncept on zeitgeist. It also alludes to the small t in Ulmer's acronym, CATT(t), which describes the process of getting an idea (or creating a theory).[6] The CATT(t) also describes the steps to s(t)imulating that mood. Of obvious importance to identify the steps of knowledge production in terms of the context of discovery rather than the context of justification (something that many scholars have noted as one of Ulmer's most important contributions to the contemporary humanities), this essay (and the work of the Imaging Place group) focuses on the tail of the CATT(t); admittedly it is the tail wagging the....

22 The (t) functions as the tail (of the CATT) as a tale or secondary elaboration; it gives it a place on the map. The (t) changes how we read the GIS(t) of a theory and brings us back to the title of this essay. The gist of the conference and this volume is imaging place (although one might argue that the gist was also the algorithm that later appeared on the official conference t-shirt, but that discussion of Ka-Ching is beyond the scope of this essay, and others will more fully explain its meaning elsewhere in this volume). Making matters fuzzy, "imaging place" also names an ongoing series of artworks by J. Craig Freeman, so it is unresolved whether the conference focused on Freeman's "Imaging Place" or an economy of imaging place as represented in the other works discussed in this volume. In either case, "Imaging Place" grew from the concerns of FRE and Freeman as a member, as that group relates to G. Ulmer's ongoing geo-visualization research.[7] One might describe that research as the mapping of electrate rhetoric, heuretic logic, and the chora mood on the mystory places.[8] This condensed explanation simply sets the stage or places the (t) in relation to the GIS. There is more to say on these contextual issues, and I will return to FRE in the last section of this essay.

23 Putting the (t) on a GIS images a place. You can see that in much of the research represented here. The geographic information systems, much discussed in the current research in the arts and humanities, needs the (t) to allow GIS(t) to express the mood, the secondary elaboration or tale of the places used as part of a theory of cultural problem-solving and a new way of doing innovative research in a digital milieu.[9]

24 The situation of GIS(t)—the mapping is the tingle—vibrates and resonates and now becomes focused on the affect, receiver, and dissemination rather than the medium, message, or sender. The network of meanings also has political implications, which the Imaging Place gathering and the research in this volume often stressed.[10]

25 Returning to my introduction to Michael Jarrett's essay in this volume, he summarizes the argument here as well as in his own essay.

I want to show how in meditating on the problem of the railroad, the roar that effaces identifying and particular sounds of place, Thoreau models "categories and logics of thought and decision" useful for sociopoetics. Thoreau had to un-think the opposition between reason and imagination....

Thoreau's appreciation of the railroad's sound as an alternative way to map space suggests that one can read his work as a philosopher of tingle (mood/secondary orality/tale).

26 The work of Greg Ulmer also "un-thinks" the opposition between reason and imagination in the Thoreau(t) lineage. Of course, it is Ulmer's work with Florida Research Ensemble, known by its acronym, FRE, as a communal activity that is the focus of the Imaging Place gathering. That gathering and the research described in this volume had a particularly pragmatic or active way of working: learning through doing. The quilting bee of Imaging Place and FRE functions as an epistemological model as demonstrated in the form of the pieces stitched together in this volume and the construction of this introductory piece with its patches of footnotes as a parallel commentary. Its connection to Ulmer's work on the (t) as the epitome of this way of work suggests another set of relations.

27 In a dialogue about the wishing Y and Herostratus (the former became a crucial imaging in the production of the t-shirt for the Imaging Place gathering and the latter a crucial element in Ulmer's keynote address at the conference), Ulmer explains how this new electrate form of thought works:

I once used the legend of Herostratus (who burned down the temple at Ephesus, one of the wonders of the Ancient world, in order to acquire the immortality of fame) to discuss existential envy. Once the ancient *Theoria* produced the official account of an event, no other version could be uttered. This power of *Theoria* to control discourse has expanded in the information age to encompass identity itself. No version of existence other than the one represented is permitted, and that version now is *celebrity*. Grammatology shows, theoretically, that selfhood is the form that identity takes in the apparatus of literacy. Collectively and individually people entering electracy will die to themselves, let go, let things be, detach from the ideology of consciousness. To convert to electracy, however, as you and I must do, is something more complicated.

The translation or conversion to Ul(t)mer (or Ulmerian) involves Brownian motion (named in honor of the botanist Robert Brown) to describe and visually and mathematically map the apparently random dissemination of pollen. Ul(t)mer is distinguished by its "Spirit of the Game: the principles of fair play, sportsmanship, and the joy of play." It is still customary for theory teams to sing a cheer for their respondents at the end of the conference or even in the midst of Ul(t)mer. The cheers or calls to thinking, ridiculous and humorous short games or songs, suggest that the competition ends with raising everyone's spirit or mood.[11]

28 In Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Brownian motion is used to create (or rather calculate) the Infinite Improbability Drive that powers the spaceship Heart of Gold. One learns that the Brownian motion generator is, in the end, a hot cup of tea.

29 Ulmer's notion of the Brownian motion generator, Chorography, "concerns my places, my haunts, and yours now ... Electracy ... does not exclude calculation ... part calculative and part metaphorical" ( So, although it seems to spin out of control, the way an artist or poet thinks, in Brownian motion, untangling to get her tingle, suggests a way to solve social and cultural issues—to work sociopoetically. Will Garrett-Petts and Donald Lawrence explained, in their presentation for the Imaging Place gathering and in this volume, that their multi-year and multi-faceted project on Small Cities for CURA (Community University Research Alliance) sought not just to collect statistical demographic and economic data but to appreciate the mood of those places. They wanted to understand not merely how fast a small city g(r)ows, but where and how it's g(r)oing. The experts in appreciating the texture and mood of growth are, of course, artists. Their project seeks to explicitly examine and illuminate the mood of small cities, tranquil or not. The research in this volume, which we might call Ul(t)mer, seeks to solve social and cultural problems and to propose an approach to organizing data into information, mapping that information onto geo-visualized places and using that community-based or vernacular for the production of knowledge and cultural theories. The Imaging Place Project (i-PP with its allusions to the Pleasure Principle) asks figuratively about the translation process involved in moving from a print-based milieu to an electrate GIS zeitgeist to untangle tingle.



[1] Perhaps I should have titled this essay "zeitGIS(t): Imaging Place From Deep Thoreau(t) to Ul(t)mer FREsBEE."

[2] Greg Ulmer, Heuretics: The Logic of Invention (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994). Ulmer explains, "heuretics appropriates the history of the avant-garde as a liberal arts mode of research and experimentation" (xii).

[3] New Media/New Methods: The Academic Turn from Literacy to Electracy (West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2008).
The Illogic of Sense: The Gregory Ulmer Remix, editors, Darren Tofts and Lisa Gye (Denver: Alt-X, 2007). Also published in the in the Electropoetics Thread of Electronic Book Review.

[4] This connection occurs on the linguistic level as well as through cultural contexts. The word mood in English appears as humeur in French and humor in Portuguese. That Portuguese word is a homograph (same spelling different meaning) of humor. Some mistake humor for humor.

[5] Some have noted that the Gee's Bend Quilts exhibit of quilts, which has toured the U.S. for the past few years, suggests the experience of the everyday and vernacular inventiveness and corresponding feelings. The exhibit explicitly seeks to illuminate the life and vernacular art of a group of women. These women and their families were completely isolated from modern culture by racist policies in Alabama in an area named after a bend in the river. The Gee (an expression of surprise and delight related to Eureka, but more mild and less profound), the inventive atmosphere occurred for the quilters, in a Bee (a meeting for communal work or amusement). The Gee's Bend quilts have been compared to—and grouped with—sophisticated boogie-woogie modernist art rather than the symmetrical folk art found in many other quilting traditions (like the Amish quilts). That is, the inventiveness of the Gee's Bend quilts grew from a collective mood that only future generations could recognize in hindsight as quintessentially modern. To produce that invention mood of the quilting bee (artificially as a pedagogical simulation), one need only map (as in Gilles Deleuze's sense of mapping) the topics (topos—a place, theme, formula) of new poetic geographies or what many in this volume call "imaging place." To map the idea, gee whiz, onto Gee's Bend and vice versa, to borrow the patch work quilting strategies as a way to organize an introduction to this volume, and to consider the mapping of social and poetic places in terms of this allegorical bend in the river—that's one goal here.

[6] Greg Ulmer, Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video (New York: Routledge Press, 1989 and Atropos Press, 2004).

[7] See examples of Freeman's Imaging Place projects, «»

See also an introduction to FRE in an interview by Chris Carter of Gerg Ulmer in Electronic Book Review «».

[8] A useful definition of electracy in relation to literacy as the foundation for the analytic mind and electracy in a similar relationship to the affective body is at «». See Ulmer, G. L. (2003). Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman. For discussions of heuretic logic see the note and citation above to Ulmer, Heuretics (1994). Chora, with its definitions as countryside, land, location, place, and place-making logic, becomes a crucial term for Ulmer and the Imaging Place work in this volume. Recalling Plato's use of the term to define the medium or receptacle of undifferentiated chaos in which the universe and all meaning was created, it also has related definitions that suggest it concerns the undifferentiated pre-linguistic stage of human development. As an undecided receptacle for invention of self or universe, the term also suggests possibility and potential. Ulmer introduces his use of the term in Heuretics, and many have taken up the term; Byron Hawk offers a useful definition of Ulmer's use: «». Hawk also has a useful definition of mystory: «». Mystory is a genre of writing that can function across all media, voice, print, film, video, and especially e-media.

[9] This is not a new story, and it has important expression in what one might call Deep Thoreau(t). Of course, that phrase alludes, in a series of layers, to a self-consciously corny and ironic pornographic movie, a major character in the Watergate scandal, and to the famous American philosopher. The movie, starring Linda Lovelace, had the tag line,"How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?" and that tag line could apply equally well to the condensed form of writing (about mood or tingle) that this essay explores. Perhaps the (t) also stands for tingle; the (t) for tingle alludes to Marshall McLuhan's phrase "the medium is the massage" (a pun on his own phrase about the message).

[10] When then-Washington Post managing editor Howard Simons chose "Deep Throat" as the pseudonym for an anonymous informant (to the reporters Woodward and Bernstein) concerning the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up by the Nixon administration, he gave a clue to the informant's name: W. Mark Felt (not revealed until years later). For "felt" is precisely the suggestion of mood and tingle that the allusion to the movie seeks to cover. Later, Douglas Adams used a pun on the phrase in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978) to name the super-computer: Deep Thought. Not only does the pun connect the porn movie to the electronic milieu, but it also suggests the tingle of digital thought (a secondary orality). Some will note that by putting the tingle back on Thoreau—and in doing so, creating a chain of allusions—the effect is to belittle Thoreau and to put him and his thought in a compromising position. It looks like cheap graffiti rather than sober and serious thought—what could it possibly have to do with GIS? Before we reject this line of reasoning, examine Thoreau more carefully in order to find an historical precedent for the type of thinking examined in this volume.

[11] For example, in an exchange on the Invent-L list (the list which served as the genesis for the Imaging Place gathering), Ulmer noted that my last "name is related to the "Indo European root 'sap' meaning 'taste.'" Dr. Saper, are you following? >> Do you see where this is going?" I responded: You forced me to tell (sap under pressure): About five years ago, our extended families took a cruise. We made t-shirts with a single line that made caricatures of the 13 participants with the slogan: Saper Family Cruise. My nephew wore the t-shirt at Brown University especially during Ultimate (frisbee) tournaments (the team was named Brownian Motion). Brown went on to win the national championship. His teammates—especially the graduating seniors—thought his t-shirt was very funny (for some unknown reason). When those alumni recently played in a national championship outside of collegiate competition, they needed a name—so they chose Saper Family Cruise. They won the national championship and had Saper Family Cruise engraved as the National Ultimate Team Champion's Name. There's no accounting for taste (sap-er) in t-shirts .... or ... the Saper's Float Boat in Ultimate.