Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Critical GIS and the Geoweb 3: Names on the Land

I had my first opportunity to leave London where, other than Egham and Windsor, I have been ensconced during my first few months in England.  Last Friday I felt it was time to finally get out of town, so I went up to Oxford to visit a friend who works at the university.  This blog post is in part promotion of the atlas Tom told me took twenty years to see publication.  So it is in part a celebration as well.

He talks about how indigenous toponymy is a form of GPS for situating ourselves in relation to the landscape.  Through the process of situating we come to form a relationship with the land.  It is this relationship that, with the loss of knowledge of the old names, is eroded.  Tom told me, however, that in many places in southwestern Alaska there is actually an increase in traditional knowledge as certain elders begin to feel it is time to share what they know.

In GG3090, Critical GIS and the Geoweb, I have mentioned indigenous toponymy sporadically but I feel it should have a much more central role in discussions about mental maps, cognitive spaces, wayfinding, even the idea of surveillance.  In the north when you are near a town or sometimes even outside of town, it seems there's always someone watching in the sense of keeping an eye on things.  Showing a film about Puvirnituq yesterday in the Master's PSD course I was reminded how important radio is for letting the community know when someone is missing and where they might be found.

I have no doubt that radio plays a similar role in some towns in Alaska.  Place names will continue to be mentioned in connection with safety issues because those are the names by which we reference the nearest place that x (person or object) was last seen.  This atlas is a celebration of the value of all these things and more.  This rambling review is meant to convey my enthusiasm for the appearance of this book edited by my friend Tom.  It is also reason to remind us that his single author monograph Being and Place Among the Tlingit (U of Washington Press) is a foundational text, or at least it has been for me for most of the work I have done from my PhD onwards.

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