Field Work

While growing digitalization efforts facilitate remote access, digital archives nonetheless remain bound by issues of translation, local politics, bureaucracies, and dated formats. Having unmediated access to such archives as well as to the archivists and librarians who organize, curate, and describe them remains a necessity for rigorous research. Focused field work involving travel makes it possible to identify and explore archives and repositories elsewhere; ask procedural questions regarding available data sets, their formats, and their coverage; and talk with librarians about the limitations to the range, validity and utility of pertinent data. In addition to the physical consultation of archival resources, the very geographic sites themselves require close scrutiny. Participants might, for example, document a historic site through sketching, photographs, GPS, or LiDAR technology; explore local archives holding historic maps and photographs of the site; consult with regional historians and scholars of the area; and meet with database administrators to get a better sense of what is available. Researchers may also wish to pay visits to, and network with, other Spatial Humanities Centers (e.g., the Spatial History Project at Stanford University, the Spatial Analysis Lab at University of Richmond, or the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University). Competitively-selected summer field work fellowships are, therefore, available to faculty and graduate students.


Graduate Student: Melanie Ford
Remaking Ravines: Design, Architecture and Conservation in Postwar Guatemala City

Deep, naturally formed ravines cover forty-two percent of Guatemala City. They are described by city residents as physical borders that disconnect Guatemala City; opportunities for landfills; and housing for violence and the city’s poorest. However, in 2006, the ravines were reclassified as an “ecological belt” of Guatemala City, and identified as sites in need of conservation as well as an opportunity to create a socially equitable metropolis. This new attention to the ravines revealed a terrain of city-space that local architects regard as underdeveloped and the physical manifestation of social inequality in postwar Guatemala City. Inspired by the ecological paradigm that posits “good design” as the symbiotic relationship between the environment and social wellbeing (Mostafavi and Doherty 2010), local architects and urban planners are converting ravines into the epicenter of a new city. To best “bridge those that live below with those that live above,” architects are designing ravines into parks, bridges, and housing as environmentally protected, socially equitable, and modern urban sites. Nevertheless, questions remain as to what extent “good design” translates into improved social and environmental conditions.

Graduate Student: Lupe Flores
Border Spatialities: Mapping Transnational Im/mobilities on the Texas-Tamaulipas Border

This project will map out the historical and contemporary mobilities of people on the United States-Mexico border, specifically in two sites between Texas and Tamaulipas. Whereas cross-border mobility has existed between the two states for more than a century, in recent years, Tamaulipas has become a site of transnational transit for various Central American and African populations seeking asylum in the US. Before the US began implementing more restrictive immigration and asylum laws, such as the Migrant Protection Protocols, Texas was also among the state where potential asylum seekers could begin their petitions for asylum. Now, many would-be US asylum seekers and refugees are stuck all along Mexico’s northern border states. These communities must fashion their lives in transit and navigate experiences of im/mobility, temporality and spatiality as they learn to carve out a living while waiting for their hearings in cities such as Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo, among other Mexican cities.


Faculty: Eugenia Georges
A Cross-National Study of the Hospital Architecture of Georges Épitaux: Greece, Switzerland, and Portugal

This project builds and expands upon Georges' research conducted last summer to document the history of the architectural plans and hospital buildings designed the Swiss architect, Georges Épitaux, in Athens and Lausanne in the interwar period. A distinctive feature of hospitals built in Europe (as well as in North America) during this period was the marked contrast between the comprehensive and conspicuous technological modernism of their interior spaces, which boasted state-of-the-art modern  echnologies of all kinds, with exterior designs that relied on socially conservative stylistic traditions rooted in their specific localities and homelier signs and symbols of local and national identity. In this next phase of research, Georges will compare the hospitals Épitaux designed in Athens and Lausanne with Maternidade Julio Dinis in Porto, Portugal and Bern, Switzerland. By tracing the debates and discussions among the experts who had a hand in shaping Épitaux’s design choices in three different national landscapes, this project aims to elucidate the ways in which globalizing projects of biomedicine deploy local and vernacular design elements to represent local histories and cultural meanings influential in different national contexts. More specifically, this project aims to explore how prominent hospital architects such as Épitaux imagined Europe’s “Southern” margins vis à vis its “Northern” center. What cultural differences were perceived as salient between the center and the margins of Europe? Did these perceptions influence the specific esthetic choices that were made? 

Faculty: Kyle G. Sweeney
The traveLog of Antonio de Beatis, 1517-1518

To conduct fieldwork needed to further develop the HRC traveLog research project. traveLog is a collaborative digital platform for mapping historical itinerancies in development at the Humanities Research Center ( This interactive tool allows scholars to represent large amounts of data on georeferenced historical maps, visualizing travel within contemporaneous representations of cartographic space. My traveLog project and my dataset can serve as the prototype for launching the platform in collaboration with Axis Maps during AY 2019-2020.

Graduate Student: Brooke Clark
The Spatial and Critical Wastes of Bloomsbury: British Modernism's Self-Fashioning and Self-Accumulation

For her research project, Clark aims to explore how members of the Bloomsbury Group—the famed salon of British modernist thought—self-fashion their aesthetic and critical investments through discourses that circulate around waste and living spaces, which could be seen as accumulating waste. She is also attending and presenting at the British Association for Modernist Studies Conference at King’s College, London during the weekend of June 20–22, 2019. Her presentation entitled, “‘Yet I carry a whole waste-paper basket of ideas’: Waste in Modernist Narrative Practices,” examines how modernism’s self-fashioning of itself as an avant-garde aesthetic movement and high mode of literary criticism operate around language invested in and imaginary and physical spaces of waste.

Clark will further trace waste in literary and critical modernist space as a self-narrating method in the fictional and personal writings of the Bloomsbury Group as well as their domestic living and meeting spaces, including a primary Bloomsbury Group meeting place: the Charleston Farmhouse, which was Vanessa Bell’s and Duncan Grant’s home. Taking these spaces—along with writings, artworks, and archives—into account, Clark aims to expand on her conference paper into an essay for publication. Furthermore, Clark will use her findings to more intensely question and analyze how the Bloomsbury Group’s use and organization of space connects and complicates their constant attempts to self-narrate their aesthetic and critical investments about the language and spaces of waste or in the midst of seemingly wasteful objects.

Graduate Student: Laurin Baumgardt
Innovative Design and Post-Apartheid Responsibility: Dispositions for Change among Architects in Cape Town

For her dissertation project, Baumgardt conducts research on architecture as an agent for social change in Cape Town, South Africa—one of the most segregated and crime-ridden cities in the world, but also one newly declared to be among the most innovative global cities. Architectural and spatial design has assumed many different roles throughout South Africa’s recent history. It was used as a weapon of segregation and marginalization during apartheid. After 1994, it was deployed as a major tool for building a new nation and it also functioned as an enforcer of security and enclave urbanism. This leads to a status quo that perpetuates racial and class divides.

Different architecture firms and non-profit organizations aspire to change this status quo through innovative technologies, community engagement, ecological thinking, and multiple design methodologies. Architecture is here understood as a specific knowledge economy as well as an innovative way of constructing housing. For this project, Baumgardt investigates Capetonian architects’ sense of responsibility for social transformation and changing inequality. She explores the blurry lines between what is activist, sustainable, social, and/or humanitarian architecture. This research will thus help to assess the logics, practices and aspirations behind architecture’s societal involvements.


Faculty: Eugenia Georges
An Architectural History of Elena Maternity Hospital, Athens, Greece

Comparative studies of medicine reveal that maternity care shows greater crossnational variability than any other specialization. The research proposed represents one component of a longer-term project that tracks the social, cultural and political history of the distinctive signature of obstetrical knowledge and modern maternity care in Greece from the interwar period to the present. This component will document the design, construction, and successive modifications of the Elena Hospital complex in Athens, the oldest, largest and most  prominent maternity hospital in Greece. Tracing the biography of the hospital building will offer a lens not only into the evolution of medical theorizing and practice as these are made legible in the built environment; it will also shed light on broader issues of expertise, patronage, domesticity and modernity that emerged as topics of intense debate and discussion among design and health care professionals in the period under consideration.

This project builds on Georges long-term anthropological research on obstetrics and maternity care in Greece, including several months of fieldwork in Elena Hospital, which has generated a large corpus of interviews, observations and photographs. In this new project, Georges will use a combination of ethnographic, archival and visual methods to follow and document the history of the architectural plans and the hospital buildings in Lausanne and Athens.

Faculty: Lisa Spiro
Analyzing the Spatial History of London’s Public Drinking Fountains

In December of 2017, London mayor Sadiq Khan encouraged local boroughs to provide drinking fountains to reduce plastic consumption. When asked why there were not many public drinking fountains in London, one official replied, “they’re just not very British, are they?” But if we look back to London’s recent past, we would find that public drinking fountains are in fact very British. Beginning in 1859, the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association (MDFCTA) installed fountains across the city, many of which still exist today (although not necessarily in working order). The movement to build drinking fountains sprang out of concerns that the lack of clean drinking water pushed the working class turn toward alcohol. To construct fountains, MDFCTA had to raise funds from wealthy patrons, find locations that would easily serve many working class people, and negotiate with local authorities. The location of public drinking fountains and cattle troughs in nineteenth century London reflected both pragmatic decisions to serve poor people in convenient locations and Victorian impulses to promote temperance, evangelicalism, animal welfare, and parks. 

As she examines the spatial history of London fountains, Spiro is exploring three broad questions: 1) How were the locations for drinking fountains selected? 2) What impact did London’s public drinking fountains have on the city and its citizens? 3) How do contemporary approaches to providing clean drinking water compare to past strategies?


Faculty: Judith Roof
Tracing Presence

As a part of her book project on the moebius (or even Borromean) relations among Presence, Absence, and the Hoax, Roof travelled to the Lascaux Caves in the Perigord Region of France. These caves full of Upper Paleolithic art, aptly eulogized by Georges Bataille in an edition of color plates of the cave paintings, enact the paradoxical relations between presence and absence in so far as the wall paintings continue evidence of a presence from 30,000 years ago as precisely both trace evidence and palpable absence of those who painted. Because modern physical visitation caused damage to the cave walls, the Lascaux caves themselves have been closed to public since 1963. But again enacting the paradox of presence/absence, the Lascaux site produced a series of simulated replicas of parts of the cave, known as “Lascaux II, III, IV, and V,” known to some as the “fake attraction.”

To understand the complex enwrappings of presence and absence as these two states are interdependent and mediated by what is essentially a hoaxic simulacrum, Roof proposed to visit both the Lascaux site and the Padirac Cave, both close to Brive-le Gaillard, and the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Caves near Viviers, memorialized in Werner Herzog’s documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The contrast between Padirac (which is still an accessible subterranean gorge and underground lake) and the other two cave sites is crucial to understanding the distinctions among presence, absence, and simulacrum. Because together these sites exemplify the relations of presence and absence that play through live performance, photography, cinema, and sound recording, and are hoaxically simulated in digital re-codings, these are perfect physical sites to experience and study the enwrapped relations between trace and hoax, presence and simulation that characterize two different dynamics subtending presence/absence: first, their necessary interdependence and second, their attempts to compensate for absence through hoaxic re-presence, which only makes absence more evident. One must experience the sites physically, since merely to read about them or watch a film layers the presence/absence paradox yet again within the compensatory absence of repeated simulations. In other words, not being present even at a site where one cannot partake of the traces of presence, reproduces precisely the paradox of presence/absence simulations pretend to defer.

Faculty: Moramay López-Alonso
Recreating Living Standards in Nineteenth Century Oaxaca

This project aimed to recreate living conditions of Oaxaca City during the first half of the nineteenth century: where people lived, their dietary habits, everyday life in the city, interactions with the environment and the nearby towns for market integration as well as the connection with other major cities.

This data come from the city archives. From that data base, López-Alonso obtained the stature, age, place of birth and occupation prior to recruitment. Oaxaca is an interesting place to study during the early nineteenth century because it was a place with a large and diverse indigenous population during the colonial period, moreover it has very diverse climate divided into seven different regions. Although Oaxaca had not silver mines that were the main export commodity, it did house a large number of cochineal producers, and cochineal was also an important export product. It had strategic geographical location because of its proximity to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. During the first decades of the national period (post 1810) Oaxaca emerged as an important region for politicians due to its population size and the commodities is produced for the domestic market. Controlling the region in the first half of the nineteenth century was key to have control of the new nation. Establishing political control at this time was a priority given the fragility of the social and political equilibrium due different local revolts, foreign invasions and secession of different regions such as Central American nations and Texas.

Faculty: Moramay López-Alonso
Urban Ejidos: The Agrarian Origins of Urban Development Problems in Post- revolutionary Mexico

The accelerated and disorganized spread of irregular settlements by low income people is often used as the textbook example of the unequal distribution of the wealth created in post-revolutionary Mexico. Adding to the disorganization, a significant portion of urban properties in Mexican cities furthermore pay no taxes, because the land registries have numerous and serious flaws. Politicians and policymakers agree on the fact that many irregularities exist in urban settlements, and that the lack of property regulation in particular poses multiple challenges to the adequate functioning of cities. Less well known is the origin of these urban problems in agrarian reforms. López-Alonso's project aimed to show that the agrarian reforms in fact contributed to some of the most severe challenges that Mexican cities face today, including overcrowding of settlements that lack the basic urban infrastructure, the proliferation of squatters and the low levels of property tax collection.

Faculty: Scott Colman
Comprehending Ludwig Hilberseimer

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. Hilberseimer conceived the city as dynamic and three-dimensional, concerned with the spatial and temporal relationships between individuals, society, and the environment, but was limited by the representational means of his time that were static and predominantly two-dimensional. By producing three-dimensional digital models of two pivotal urban proposals by Hilberseimer, the proposed project will provide a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of his visionary work and produce resources that more effectively communicate Hilberseimer’s interdis- ciplinary approach to urban questions. At a time in which specialization within and between disciplines is proving increasingly problematic, Hilberseimer’s synthetic approach to architecture and urbanism offers a compelling case. Embodying the historical, social, political-economic, technological, environmental, infrastructural, formal, and aesthetic aspects of cities, Hilberseimer’s design work demonstrates the potential for a more inclusive engagement with the contemporary global metropolis in the context of our unfolding environmental crisis.

Graduate Student: Kathleen Ulrich
Mapping Brazilian Sugarcane: Genome Sequences, Plantations, and Spaces In Between

Preliminary ethnographic research this summer will be crucial for designing relevant and accurate research questions, as well as crafting competitive graduate fellowship applications and dissertation grant applications this fall and the next. Preliminary research for anthropology graduate students during their first summer is strongly encouraged within the program for these reasons. The Spatial Humanities Initiative is an excellent fit for the preliminary research planned, which is driven by an analytic and method of “mapping.” Specifically, Ulrich is interested in the mapping of sugarcane, taking mapping in both literal and metaphorical senses and at multiple scales. Sugarcane is the primary feedstock for Brazilian biofuels, which have a rich history in Brazil’s economy, governance, science, and international relations. Brazil led global production of biofuels for several decades beginning in the 1970s. Ulrich has planned her preliminary research to engage three moments of “sugarcane mapping.” First, at one scale, there is an unprecedented effort by Brazilian scientists to map the sugarcane genome: such a map gets linked to futures of advanced biofuel technologies. Second, at another scale, the geography of sugarcane plantation continues to be incited into discourse as deforestation practices spread and intensify. Ulrich plans to carry out participant-observation and semi-structured interviews with sugarcane scientists at the University of São Paulo and the University of Campinas, as well as with sugarcane plantation managers and designers at nearby sugarcane fields. Engaging these two spaces, Ulrich hopes to shed light on the ways these scientists and plantation managers map certain futures, values, and modes of experimentation through the mapping of the sugarcane genome and plantation, respectively.

Graduate Student: S. Wright Kennedy
Disease, Race, and Poverty in New Orleans, 1877-1915: The Effects of Mortality Terrains on Socioeconomic Development

From 1877 to 1915, more New Orleanians died from disease each year than the number of Louisianians killed in both World Wars combined. Why were so many people dying from disease in New Orleans? Did it matter where they lived in the city? Whether they were rich or poor? Black or White? Immigrant or local? My dissertation project, “Disease, Race, and Poverty in New Orleans, 1877-1915: The Effects of Mortality Terrains on Socioeconomic Development,” employs geographic information systems (GIS) to investigate such questions. Spatial and temporal patterns of mortality and poverty in New Orleans before the Progressive Era are largely unknown. Kennedy's study focuses on disease landscapes, which he has reconstructed in innovative ways. He built datasets from death certificates and property tax ledgers and used GIS to map these records across the city and through time. Although scholars have speculated about the impact of disease on social and economic development in the city, Kennedy's geospatial database allows him to measure the extent to which disease and poverty actually shaped people, communities, and the city. Understanding the historical connections between health and development is an important contribution to knowledge, and it is an essential first step towards creating effective and sustainable social, economic, and public health intervention strategies.This study asks two basic questions: How did the New Orleans mortality terrain evolve spatially and temporally during the key historical period under investigation? And what effects did the variations in mortality terrain have on the social and economic development of neighborhoods and communities within the city?