Blog #6: Distance, Space, and Longing

For this week, thoughts of place, space, and time have infiltrated my senses and forced me to think critically on how I define the terms. I have had my own spatial turn, of sorts, in that while I was certainly interested in using DH tools to map physical space prior to this course, I’ve found my conceptions of what a map can be has changed.

“Loy’s Migrations” utilizes geographic space to tell a story of Mina Loy as an artist and as a person. The spatial turn allows us to use quantifiable data to craft narratives and make new meanings.

What is the “spatial turn”? In a very dry and concise answer, the spatial turn is a phenomenon of humanities scholars turning towards considerations of physical/metaphysical space in their scholarship. However, I think the word “turn” imbues a notion of leaving the older methods of scholarship behind for these considerations of place, space, and time, and I don’t believe that’s entirely accurate either. I like to imagine scholarship as a train moving through space and time, hurtling towards finding new questions to ask and new ideas to uncover. I don’t imagine this train turning, per se, towards an analysis of place, space, and time, but more so adding the consideration to the many cars of analysis required to perform humanities scholarship. Humanities scholarship is not moving away from previous methods with the spatial turn: it’s moving differently. 

By adding space, place, and time to our investigation of digital humanities subjects, we are creating a thicker understanding of the material and simultaneously immaterial events that led to the histories we are questioning or the literature we are analyzing. More specifically, by thinking about space, place, and time in quantifiable terms (how far, how long, etc.), we are able to reconsider how the people and work that we are investigating are impacted by these intangible/tangible facets of their lives. 

However, I want to consider space on its own as a concept. Prior to engaging with these materials, I had conceived of space as existing within the physical plane as a metaphysical object. I have had to reconcile with this definition in thinking about space and how it might be useful to map in a digital humanities context. Space, as a concept, encompasses land, physical distance, and temporal distance. However, space can also encompass social distance, emotional distance, and other senses of separation and interconnection. As highlighted by White, space and our conceptions of it are entirely relational. A map that highlights geographic location can be integral to plotting out place and making interpretations on the history/literature. It is not, however, the only method of understanding space. In this regard, I am most fascinated by plotting the space between people not on a geographic map, but within their intangible contexts. What is the social distance between lovers versus the social distance between neighbors? What is the distance that one emotionally travels when they send a letter to someone? I have been better able to consider how social distance impacts the ways we view history and the ways we perform scholarship after considering the readings for this week.

Check out these works that I have referenced below!

Jack, Jesse. “Loy’s Migrations.” Mina Loy: Navigating the Avant-Garde. Edited by Suzanne W. Churchill et al. University of Georgia, 2020. Accessed 20 October 2022.

White, Richard. “What Is Spatial History?” Stanford University Spatial History Lab, 1 Feb. 2010, Accessed 20 October 2022.

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3 thoughts on “Blog #6: Distance, Space, and Longing

  1. I really like your train analogy of scholarship and adding cars of analysis! I also totally agree that space encompasses emotional and social distance, and I think adding that layer to a historical map could reveal some really interesting relational connections that are important in understanding pivotal events. I also think this necessitates a deeper analytical relation between humanities disciplines to really create a “thick” map.

  2. I totally agree with Caroline, the train metaphor is very useful. Just as maps can show us things that words cannot easily convey, the train helps support your argument about scholarship on a continuum. You could even push it further by suggesting embarking/disembarking passengers symbolize how scholars embrace or abandon methods/tools/approaches along the journey. I had not considered a “turn” as an action away from something. But you’re right, it does allude to an exchange of old ways for new ones in a way that does not accurately represent of how scholarship evolves.

  3. The train helps us think about “moving” too. We should also be moving toward something!

    I was struck by the multiple uses of “distance”–emotional, physical. Because it gets at the hard and soft qualities of space. A foot is a foot. But it is also a construction of some kind.

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