Supporting Peer-Review for GeoHumanities and Spatially-Inflected Projects

It is a truism now to say that digital academic research has evolved through forms of collaborative, interdisciplinary practice. Fitzpatrick has argued that scholars must rethink their approach to digital texts and objects to be able to assess their quality and impact (2011). Professional associations have stepped forward in recent years providing guidance for the evaluation of scholarship in non-traditional formats.

The Modern Language Association’s Guidelines (2012) describe a review process, yet without evaluative factors. The NINES/NEH Summer Institute report (2011) gives general questions for review. As Nowviskie (2012) notes, review of digital textual scholarship is often based on a comparison to a print equivalent, an obviously inadequate metaphor for dynamic visual interfaces. Furthermore, the visual arguments of such projects can be accompanied by textual content that falls within specialized subject domains, and yet peer-review bodies such as MESA, 18th Century Connect, and NINES do not give explicit guidance for the spatial element of projects. The ADHO GeoHumanities SIG founded in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2013 would be an ideal place to provide support for peer review.

With an eye for the complexities of authorship, collaboration, and attribution, a starting point for the specificities of spatial research might be UNL’s Best Practices (2014), a document that provides a high-level overview of design principles, navigation, and testing, as well as dynamic content and multimedia. Both Drucker’s claim (2013) that our theoretical notions should be reflected in our interfaces and Rumsey’s outline of future discussion of spatio-temporality (2009) are other important starting points. Whereas the humanities have been mostly influenced by the linguistic and visual turns, Rumsey argues that they ‘have not given priority to critical spatial reasoning’. Are the basic concepts of ‘spatial literacy’ such as location, scale, adjacency, distance, and projection (Unwin, 2010) so ubiquitous as to be self-evident, or should geohumanities projects be explicit about their treatment of such concepts?

The moment for this conversation is a timely one, with the numbers of geohumanities projects on the rise. Our hope is that the poster format will allow us to engage directly with a wide variety of practitioners in Sydney to collect community input. We will begin with vernacular descriptions of spatiality in a digital environment in order to construct a set of questions for guiding reviewers of geohumanities projects. Sample questions include the following:

• Are spatial concepts (position, representation, transformation) linked explicitly to the data model?

• How are the infrastructural layers used in this project made explicit (geoserver, map layers, gazetteer)? Is reused data appropriately cited?

• Does this project rely upon existing infrastructure, or has a significant part of the project consisted in the building of infrastructure (e.g., for historical GIS)?

• Is an authoritative gazetteer used? To what extent is it linked to open data?

• What kinds of analysis are facilitated by the map interface? How has the factor of time been accommodated?

• How are searches contrived? Spatially? Tabularly? Textually?

• How has the relation between spatial and textual representation been expressed?

• If the project has involved the creation of a tool, is the code for it published and open?

• Is the spatial data of the project published and open?

• What aspect of the project is the strongest critical intervention (infrastructure, data model, theory)?

A final element of our poster will comprise a short ‘trial’ review of a few exemplary geohumanities projects, with our notes on how well they satisfy our review criteria. We hope to learn from the standards that the following project communities have made explicit: the Orbis Project (Stanford), the Early Modern Map of London (Victoria), and the Mapping the Lakes project (Lancaster). Since both the forms of scholarship and of peer review itself are changing, we intend to comment briefly on what modes of open peer review might look like for the case of the explicitly visual environment of geohumanities research.

Appendix A

  1. Drucker, J. (2013). Performative Materiality and Theoretical Approaches to Interface. DHQ, 7(1).
  2. Fitzpatrick, K. (2011). Peer-Review, Judgment, and Reading. Profession, 123–201.
  3. Modern Language Association. (2012). Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities.
  4. NINES/NEH Summer Institute. (2011). Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure Committees in Judging Digital Work.
  5. Nowviskie, B. (2012). Evaluating Collaborative Digital Scholarship (or, Where Credit is Due). Journal of the Digital Humanities, 1(4),
  6. Rumsey, A. S. (2009). Scholarly Communication Institute 7: Spatial Technologies and the Humanities. In Scholarly Communication Institute, Reports on Summer Institutes, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 28–30 June 2009.
  7. University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. (2014). Best Practices for Digital Humanities Projects.
  8. Unwin, D. (2010). Numbers Aren’t Nasty: A Workbook of Spatial Concepts. TeachSpatial,
Katherine Weimer (, Texas A&M University Libraries, United States of America and David Joseph Wrisley (, American University of Beirut