On 20th June 2023, Stuart Dunn of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London delivered his Professorial Inaugural Lecture, The Spatial Humanities: A Challenge to the All-Knowing Map, which explored:

What are Spatial Humanities, and why does King’s have a Professor dedicated to them?

In 1946 Jorge Luis Borges published a short story about a fictional kingdom fixated with perfecting the Art of Cartography. The people construct a map so exact, that it covers the whole expanse of the kingdom. But the map is abandoned by later generations and decayed; until all that is left are its tattered ruins, inhabited only by animals and beggars.

Professor Dunn examines the present-day successors of Borges’s all-encompassing map. Namely, the platforms through which we navigate and wayfind – Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, Apple Maps and so on, and which – metaphorically – cover the world’s entire surface.

Framed partly by the history of ideas, partly by cartography, and partly by digital place-making, Professor Dunn’s approach is situated at that crossroads of disciplines that make up the Spatial Humanities. Through a linked discussion of early antiquarian place-writing, the emergence of Global Position System (GPS) technology, and with what the geographer Doreen Massey called “space-time compression”, he explores the origins of our motivation to “know” the entire world through mapping.

He also discusses how this has led to contemporary placemaking becoming tattered through corporatization and commercialization. How can the Spatial Humanities help us fix our place? Both in the sense of locating where we are, and of repairing our relationship with it.

A full transcript and recording of the lecture can be found here.

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