Blog about the ways that spatial humanities techniques might influence your scholarship

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Captions for Ancient Mayas & Space – Left: GIS reconstruction of site of La Milpa, Belize (Boston U); Center: 3D model of Castillo, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico; Right: detail of Pakal’s Sarcophagus Lid, Palenque, Mexico and artist’s (fanciful) reconstruction of Pakal piloting a spaceship.

How are these useful? GIS is very useful for reconstructing and analyzing what we can no longer see. It allows us to see the development of natural and urban spaces and to track patterns.

What about 3D models? Their creation can be labor intensive, and can allow a view of what once was. However, the creator must be absolutely certain that her/his information is accurate or else the result is faulty and misleading. Why do most 3D models spin? I don’t know, but they trivialize scholarship and tend to blur the lines between serious work and video games. (Creating games is serious work, but it is not academic work.)

Why do people still believe that ancient and non-western peoples were astronauts or ETs? Is it because many people think that they can read images without any training when in fact reading Maya art–or the visual culture of any society–is in fact a great investment of time and careful thought?

The spatial turn has affected my work even before I knew there was a term “the spatial turn.” I am concerned not by the flat space of a map or a plan but rather by the three-dimensional space that people inhabit. Key Thinkers on Space and Place (P. Hubbard and Rob Kitchin, eds., 2011, rev. ed., Sage) includes about 60 philosophers and practicioners. My own list includes philosophers, anthropologists, urban historians, and architects: Foucault, Benjamin, Heidegger, Deleuze, Levi-Strauss, Bourdieu, de Certeau, Keith Basso, Barbara Bender, Edward Sosa, Dolores Hayden, Judith Butler, Tim Ingold, and Bernard Tschumi. Particular foci of my projects to understand and analyze spatiality, architecture, and ancient society include the “in-between,” “third spaces,” “phenomenology,” and ontology; other concerns are memory and landscape). In many cases I borrow modern concepts and adapt them to analyze the ancient world because, many times, those questions are more interesting to me, and more fundamental. Too, I approach architecture and space not as containers or stage sets for art and activity but instead as resources that people used–purposefully and not–that have the capacity to inform about intimate and broad filial, social, and cultural patterns.fpsyg-03-00271-g005

This diagram that explains Yucatec Maya speech is a much more useful aid about space than the previous images. Yucatec Maya was and is spoken in and around Chichen Itza, the site of my project. It contains some fascinating features that English lacks regarding space and time. One is the expression of deicitic time; expressing sequential time is limited and instead cyclical time is emphasized. This is exemplified in gestures and speaking about completed and future actions. Although time and space are linked, they are not linear and a 3D project may be more relevant.

I have not found the ideal platform for my project yet. I would like to layer maps that relate information about geology, geography, astronomy, a restoration of part of the original site, and conceptual maps. The latter would supply vital ideas about the Maya world, including the ancestors and some deities who dwell below the surface of the earth, especially below ballcourts and cenotes or sinkholes; and some of the deities who dwell in the sky).

Google Maps would work if I could add more than three layers and tip the maps to a angle that would allow a 3D view. I was able to load the Omeka plugin. I am exploring some other software that promises to do what I want. But we live in a Late Capitalist world and have all heard that promise before.

To be continued…

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