A couple of weeks ago, the 2018 Spatial Humanities Conference was held at Lancaster University (20th—21st September). This conference focused on exploring what geospatial technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have to contribute to humanities research. The main aim was to explore and demonstrate the contributions to knowledge enabled by these technologies, approaches and methods within and beyond the digital humanities. To read a little more about how the conference progressed, take a look at the article published on the Lancaster University History Department website, and find further discussions at #SH2018 on Twitter.

Photo showing the opening presentation at the Spatial Humanities Conference

At this conference, we presented two papers related to the Digging Into Early Colonial Mexico project. On the first day, Dr Bruno Martins (University of Lisbon) presented ‘Exploring the challenges of Named Entity Recognition in an historical multilingual corpus: Digging into Early Colonial Mexico’. This paper focused on two of our project’s key aims: the creation of the first digital 16th century Spanish-Nahuatl Colonial Gazetteer, as well as a comprehensive Geographic Information System of New Spain. As we have mentioned in a previous post, our corpus presents a key challenge for Natural Language Processing (NLP) – how do we accurately perform Named Entity Recognition tasks in a multilingual corpus, and particularly one with a combination of European and non-European languages? Bruno’s presentation addressed these challenges and explored ways in which they can be resolved, as well as showing some preliminary results of the NLP experiments carried out so far in our project.

On the second and final day of the conference, Dr Raquel Liceras-Garrido (Lancaster University) presented ‘Development of an Historical Place-Name Gazetteer for the Viceroyalty of New Spain’. This paper described the main principles behind the development of our gazetteer, the process used for collecting and integrating data from multiple sources, the resulting software for managing and exporting the data (available as open-source at https://goo.gl/fvBT8q), and lessons learned from our efforts that could be useful for the development of similar gazetteers. Our gazetteer has adopted the data model of the Alexandria Digital Library Gazetteer, which has already considered the association of places to multiple alternative place-names, feature-types, detailed geographical extents, quality and provenance information, and temporal ranges for all the aforementioned elements. For a visual on how these wonderful tables fit together in our project, click here.

In addition to these two presentations on our project, our Principal Investigator, Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores, presented the opening keynote of the conference, ‘Subaltern Spatial Thinking: Reflections on the technological integration of non-western and non-cartographic thinking in Humanities research’. An exploration of how GIS has been adopted in Humanities research and the problems this might bring, Paty spoke about how cartography can be seen as a tool of colonial hegemony and power, and how the Humanities need a critical view on the adoption of this or any technology. Advocating for a decolonial approach to technology, this paper considered examples of Mesoamerican and colonial spatial thinking which may be unfamiliar to a modern and western-centric gaze. The talk included a walk through the Zouche-Nutall Codex, and some of the maps of the 16th century Relaciones Geográficas.

This opening keynote set a valuable tone for conference, highlighting non-western and non-cartographic thinking in Spatial Humanities research, and the importance of recognising alternate methods of representing and analysing space and place in historical research.