Archive for category Spatial History

“Colonial Gardener” Reinforces the Concept of “Colonial Gardening”

I chose to play Colonial Gardener for this assignment. It reminded me of Nintendo’s Gardening Mama which I am not ashamed to admit that I was a tad bit addicted to when it first came out. (That is no longer the case.) Bryan Alexander, in New Digital Storytelling spoke about “immersion,” and how it “must progress over time.” (pp. 92) I got this sense of immersion from this colonial gardening game. Granted, it is a child’s game. However, the sense of urgency to tend to the plants was definitely there. The sound was calming, until a plant needed to be watered or weeded. When it got to be too much, the plants started to weep, and then die if I didn’t get to them in time. (Yep, just like Gardening Mama.) It may sound silly, but while I was in the game I felt that sense of urgency. And if a plant died, I felt it. Alexander states that “cut scenes, sound, and immersion…contribute to realizing [the] chapter 1 definition of story, including engaging an audience emotionally, progressing in time, and building a sense of meaning for certain audiences.” (pp. 94) The audience is clearly children, there is progression in the game, and emotional involvement is almost certain, even for an adult. The cut scenes were tailored for a child, of course, but that’s where I felt the most, I think, because if your plants died, it cuts to a scene of a weeping farmer holding a dead plant. As a historian, all I could picture was starving Pilgrims that first winter, because that was pretty much what was being implied.

I enjoyed the game. It was simple, so a child could definitely relate and picture him or herself as the colonial gardener. The sense of urgency created that emotional tie and facilitated the progression of the game. I thought it was a good way to maybe introduce a child to the dilemmas of providing for oneself in colonial times. Lives depended on good gardeners, so to speak. This game confirms that.

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A Different Way to ‘Do History’

We’ve talked about digital history. Now let’s discuss spatial history, or better yet, the spatial humanities.What are the spatial humanities? It’s perhaps too abstract to adequately define, but, it is essentially another way of looking at, and presenting the humanities that involves abstract and physical space. I’ll use history as an example. Traditionally history has been presented through chronological events. Richard White from Stanford University suggests that won’t change, but by adding the ingredients necessary to help the reader or viewer visualize space, too, the historian provides a clearer picture of the past. Humanists can do the same, by utilizing GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology.

According to a recent book edited by David J. Bodenhamer, (read my book review here), The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship, the use of time and space can be maximized by implementing GIS technology into humanities scholarship. The Spatial History Project of Stanford University asserts that history is chronological, but GIS allows historians to give “a graphic representation of the interrelation of time and space.” (White, “What is Spatial History?”)  These sound like really great things. Historians and Humanists are always looking for ways to better represent the human condition throughout time. There are problems, however.

The biggest problem in implementing GIS technology into humanities scholarship, that I gathered from these two readings, is how to translate cold and uninterpretable numbers and data to the interpretable sources required for ‘doing history’–or humanities. Studying the human condition is an abstract science, unlike the science used for gathering the data for creating maps. So how can there be any sort of union between these two disciplines that are at opposite ends of the academic spectrum? The editors of The Spatial Humanities nail this problem when they suggest that perhaps a language that bridges these disciplines is necessary. (Bodenhammer, pp. 8) This language has not been invented yet which is why, I think, there is some concern with using GIS in humanities.

Finally, is spatial history digital history? It doesn’t have to be. Historians have long used information from maps to write books and articles without producing a single pixelated byte. Historians may continue to do just that, however, by taking advantage of GIS technology, they just might be able to add several dimensions to their work. And, for those adventurous historians and humanists that do go the length and harness the full power of GIS, good for you.

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