Faculty Research Project Development

The Humanities Research Center supports competitively-selected research projects in the Spatial Humanities, with preference given to proposals that promise to spark collaborations, cultivate new scholarly paradigms, or forge lasting curricular innovation. The initiative’s GIS specialist/developer is available to assist with the development of awarded faculty research projects.



ImagineRio Story Maps II
Principal Investigator: Alida Metcalf

We propose to create a community of scholars who will prepare Rio Narratives / Narrativas do Rio for use by a wide community in Brazil and the US. A selected group of scholars and teachers dedicated to the history of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and the US will be invited to participate. The selected scholars will become a community of pre-users of the App who will together help to improve it so that it will be useful in teaching and research. Specifically, the plan is to pre-release the App to individuals who will create story maps using the App. Each scholar will participate in an online forum, come together in three workshops to discuss how the App works, propose any modifications (to be added by Axis Maps), and to produce the necessary tutorials that are needed before the App is released to a larger community. The grant will be led by me, and I will work with my graduate student RA, Bruno Buccalon, to carry it out during the Spring semester 2021.

Translational Humanities for Public Health
Principal Investigator: Kirsten Ostherr

The NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) defines translation as “the process of turning observations in the laboratory, clinic, and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and populations – from diagnostics and therapeutics to medical procedures and behavioral interventions.” It is a fundamental premise of this project that the humanities offer unique and critically important insights, observations, and methods that can improve the human condition and help alleviate suffering in our pandemic response.


ImagineRio Story Maps
Principal Investigator: Alida Metcalf

ESRI, the company that developed ArcGIS, the powerful mapping platform used worldwide, launched Story Maps about eight years ago. The goal of the Story Maps Application is to let users of ArcGIS combine “authoritative maps with narrative text, images, and multimedia content.” According to ESRI, the App makes “it easy to harness the power of maps and geography to tell your story.” To be sure, Esri’s Story Maps has been very successful, leading to over 1 million Story Maps published online in 2019. However, getting students and historians to tell stories using historical maps and images, is not so easy. My experience with creating Story Maps for Rio de Janeiro leads me to believe that a more effective story map App is highly desirable. A simpler platform designed for the unique historical sources already present in imagineRio, would dramatically open up imagineRio to many more users, both in the US and Brazil. Specifically, all users would have access to the temporally accurate base map that lies at the heart of imagineRio, as well as our curated primary sources--maps, plans, and views--all of which are georeferenced or geocoded.


PULSES: Digital Palpation and the Global Health Humanities
Principal Investigators: John Mulligan and Lan Li

This pilot workshop aims to visually translate haptic ways of knowing into interactive projection images. It will transform the diagnostic styles of pulse and palpation from text, to touch, to sounds and shapes. It begins with a primary source analysis of the twelfth century classic Mojue (1189) and compares it to its seventeenth century Latin translation Specimen Medicinae Sinicae (1682). Through a collaboration with medical scholars, cognitive scientists, and artists, this workshop will then invite creative coders to teach participants how to create responsive digital mapping for displaying biometric information. By introducing early modern non-English language sources into the new field of digital health humanities, this pilot workshop compares different diagnostic approaches to the body that remain otherwise overlooked in contemporary discourses of health practice.


The Circulation Networks for Chinese Buddhist Woodcuts and Printed Books, 850-1450
Principal Investigator: Shihshan (Susan) Huang

Evolving computational methods and digital technologies are enabling humanities scholars to analyze, present, and interpret cultural artifacts in new ways. In particular, GIS mapping, as used in Harvard’s CHGIS, is an extremely effective tool for visualizing raw data in the form of layered, interactive maps. Inspired by this, my project entails creating GIS maps to tell the story of Chinese Buddhist woodcuts in the context of cultural change. The maps will show contacts, exchanges, and document the interconnectivity among printing centers; map the circulation of Buddhist woodcuts; map the geographical movements of donors and print makers; show the locations of Buddhist temples tied to the collections of Buddhist woodcuts and books and explore their relationships; show all this in relation to established trade routes. In sum, this will reveal the interlocking and overlapping networks that linked Buddhism, printed books, material culture, and trade. It will help to introduce Chinese Buddhism and visual culture to a broader audience, and stimulate more global and interdisciplinary inquiries. Huang intends to make it accessible to the public. It will serve as a compliment to her forthcoming book on Buddhist woodcuts, which will be submitted to a university press for publication upon the manuscript’s completion.


Between Oceans and Continents - The Registers of Slave and Freed Africans of Portuguese Mozambique, 1854-1875
Principal Investigator: Daniel da Silva

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, millions of Africans were forced into the slave trade to places as far apart as Cuba and Indonesia. Studies about the African diaspora frequently focus on what happened to these individuals after they reached their destinations, but little research has been conducted on their origins. ​Between Oceans and Continents seeks to trace the inland origins of thousands of Africans enslaved in Mozambique during the last century of the trade The project will create a database from registers of slave and freed Africans made by Portuguese colonial officials between 1854 and 1875 compiled in archives in Portugal and Mozambique. These registers contain detailed geographic information on the origins of the individuals listed as well as their place of registration, to which GIS information will be appended. The project will also enhance and relaunch a website to host the database and make it available to the public with a number of visualization tools, including tables, graphs, and an interactive map. It has the potential of uncovering the origins of thousands of enslaved men, women, and children in southeast Africa and creating a platform for people everywhere to learn and interact with this set of unique archival sources.


Beauty Redux
Principal Investigators: Piergianna Mazzoca and David Costanza

This study revisits late 17th and early 18th-century notions of beauty and their relationship to building technologies in the work of two architects whose work has characterized the Piedmont Baroque period, Guarino Guarini and Bernardo Vittone. Their work, placed at the intersection between the treatise and the building, shows how technological factors were not merely tools for design and geometrical experimentation but also an important part of their aesthetic imagination. Therefore, this project seeks to deconstruct the cultural and technological factors which impacted their designs and their intellectual production. To achieve this, Mazzoca & Costanza will analyze, document, and represent four of Guarini’s and Vittone’s most salient built projects through the lens of their historical and technological context. Such a survey will be conducted using methods of historical analysis and architectural reconstruction through the use of in situ-photogrammetry scans of the structures or portions of the structures, and digital recreation/reproduction of a portion of the structures. Besides the conventional archival research that supports historical surveys, the use of these technologies further expands the reading and understanding of the work of both architects specifically, and the geometrical intricacy of the Baroque period as a matter of aesthetic concern more generally. 


Jewish Heritage Atlas - Spatial Visualization and Assessment Mapping
Principal Investigators: David Abraham, Josh Furman, Evan Siemann

Many cultural and religious groups have established neighborhoods and communities over time, and three persistent questions in contemporary literature arise. These are: (1) What are the essential elements of a community? (2) What is the ideal form, that a community should take? (3) Are there key external factors that heavily impact the answers to the first two questions? In this research project we evaluate these three questions by assessing the location, and characteristics of Jewish communities in Texas. We also assess the socio-historical contexts in which the communities were developing. Our research extends from establishment of the first Jewish cemetery in Texas1 , to the present day. The outcome product of this project will be the design and development of an ‘Online Jewish settlements spatial visualization and mapping heritage atlas’ (Jewish Heritage Atlas). The Jewish Heritage Atlas will be a centralized spatial repository for documenting and highlighting the history, state and key elements that historically constituted Jewish settlements across the state of Texas. The Jewish Heritage Atlas will enhance the new Rice University Jewish History Archive by adding a spatial compliment to physically contextualize the many important historical records under collection in the archive.



Disability and the City: Mapping Emergent Embodiment in Berlin
Principal Investigator: Zoë H. Wool

An interdisciplinary collaboration with Humbolt University, this workshop explores this central question: How do bodies, environments, and technology come together in urban settings in order to produce locally and historically particular experiences of disability and the city? We seek to trace connections and translations between urban planning and technology design, local biopolitical histories, and everyday use-practices to understand how cities and technologies dis- or en-abled people as citizens, aliens, consumers, strangers, friends, and urbanites, as well as how forms of in/accessibility emerge from people’s practices of movement through the city. Our innovative methodology combines digital recording and mapping, along with reflective practices of moving through the city itself. With collaborators from Berlinklusion, a Berlin-based collective working to produce traffic between local arts and disability scenes, we will take a walking tour around Berlin, digitally documenting places, spaces, and moments that speak to our guiding question. Then we will collectively reflect and comment on our photographs, recordings, and experiences, as well as archival and historical materials the workshop participants will have collected in advance, creating critical, conceptual annotations and commentaries to go along with visual and aural digital materials. Finally, we will embed these materials within an online map of Berlin. The map will be housed within a new collaboratory website and will be open to future contributions from collaborators and students, as well as the broader public who wish to contribute their annotated photographs of Berlin. The map is envisioned as the first project of a broader interdisciplinary and trans-institutional disability and technology collaboratory.

3D Visualization and Automated Spatial Analysis in the Roman Forum
Principal Investigator: John Hopkins

The Horrea Agrippiana stands in ruin at a node connecting three quintessential districts of Rome: the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill and the Velabrum (commercial district in Rome), all UNESCO World Heritage sites (Fig. 1). In 2017, a team of archaeologists, led by Prof. Hopkins, opened test trenches at the site, at the request of the archaeological superintendence of Rome. The trenches uncovered over 1700 years-worth of stratigraphy, from ca. 500 BCE (the start of the Roman Republic) to 1200 CE and the height of Catholic rule in Rome.

The Horrea Agrippiana is a massive, 2,500 m2 complex constructed during the reign of Augustus (ca. 27 BCE-14 CE); it served as a storage and exchange site through the sixth century CE. It is the best preserved, major ancient commercial structure anywhere in the city of Rome. Situated at the liminal space at the urban juncture of three diverse and quintessential parts of the Roman civic, domestic and commercial urban landscape, the site holds the keys to many questions about the history of Rome as city and civilization. The site and its surroundings cover a total of 4,000 m2, and a complex study of the diachronic spatial reconfiguration over the course of nearly two millennia is the focus of our project. The site and project consequently offer an exceptional opportunity to apply new spatial analysis and visualization tools to reconstitute historical sites and the archaeological remnants associated with them. We are working with Archimedes Digital to begin developing software and data analysis tools to advance the ability to make rapid 3D models that are georeferenced and allow for both public visual comprehension of the site through the ages and complex scholarly interrogation of the site through VR, on-site AR and integrated database analysis with our digital database.


Comprehending Ludwig Hilberseimer
Principal Investigator: Scott Colman

Ludwig Hilberseimer was a prominent German-American architect and planner central to debates among avant-garde artists and architects in the Weimar Republic, an important Bauhaus pedagogue, and a long-time collaborator of leading modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Relative to the work of his peers, Hilberseimer’s extended engagement with planning, between 1923 and 1967, has received only scant and partial attention. 

In association with a proposed research project to produce digital models of two of Hilberseimer’s pivotal urban proposals, Hilberseimer’s drawings was inspected in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. While some of these drawings have been published and can be used as a basis for modelling, a number of these drawings are poorly reproduced, often at a small scale. The closer inspection and more accurate reproduction of the originals assisted in the accuracy of the proposed models. In addition, the inspection of these and additional, unpublished, drawings assisted in the contextualization of the proposed models, contributing to greater comprehension of these projects. 

Extending ImagineRio: Next steps
Principal Investigator: Alida Metcalf

ImagineRio, a geographic and time-sensitive digital platform that presents the spatial history of Rio de Janeiro, is now at a point where scholars can customize it to answer their own research questions. The support from the HRC's Spatial Humanities Research Project Development fund made it possible to bring scholars to Rice to work with imagineRio. Few scholars in Brazil have support from GIS specialists in their home institutions, and for that matter, few American historians of Brazil do either. ImagineRio offers scholars a unique platform to explore the spatial history of Rio de Janeiro, and by bringing scholars to Rice, they can not only customize imagineRio for their own research, and they can contribute to its future development. At Rice, scholars worked with ArcGIS, our image databases in Shared Shelf Commons and Artstor, and our online bibliography hosted in Zotero. Scholars brought data that they wish to analyze, and they had the opportunity to work with GIS support staff in the Fondren Library. They collaborated with the members of the ImagineRio team, and they consulted on the development on online publishing platforms. When they returned to their home institutions, they continued to collaborate, especially as we develop new ways to publishing scholarly articles and essays in digital forms.