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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Locative Technologies and the Human Sense of Place: A History of Spatial Literacy, 1800-2020

Alternative title: Stedssansen i en teknologisk tid: Landskap og lesekyndighet i tid, rom, og mobilitet, 1800-2020

Awarded: NOK 8.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2019 - 2023


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The project "Locative technologies and the human sense of place" examines the human ability to find the way and create meanings in landscapes, in a historical perspective. We take as our point of departure the many contemporary debates about how new technologies such as smartphones and GPS have been detrimental to the sense of place. We critically evaluate such claims through three historical case studies: 1) how the sense of place has been understood in popular and scholarly literature, travel writing, newspapers, and other texts throughout history; 2) how trekkers and travelers have used different technologies as support in their navigation of familiar and unfamiliar landscapes since 1800; and 3) how automobilists have found their way through coastal landscapes in Western Norway since 1900. The case studies explore different approaches to the interplay between technology, landscapes, and human experiences. In the project period so far, extensive literature and archival studies have been carried out, and publication work is well underway. Several academic and popular presentations have been given, while a larger workshop has been postponed because of COVID-19. The project group meets regularly for online meetings. While the team members also work on their own individual publications, an important ongoing shared task is the work on a theme issue of a scientific journal based on the project.

"Locative Technologies and the Human Sense of Place" seeks to uncover the historical relationship between the usage of locative technologies and the development of a sense of place. This project critically evaluates the claims of detrimental effects of locative technologies in the digital age through three historical case studies: 1) A history of spatial literacy as an idea and a concept, 2) A study of how tourists and trekkers have navigated and come to know natural landscapes through locative technologies since 1800, and 3) The convergence of locative technologies and automobiles in the 20th century. The project builds on humanistic and historical expertise in order to contextualize and provide empirical depth to contemporary debates about spatial literacy, the human ability to read and make sense of a landscape, through a deliberately historical perspective, in order to establish a more nuanced baseline from which to evaluate claims of historical change. A key goal is to avoid deterministic claims about the influence of technology on place-based sensemaking processes. The project will argue that the human sense of place is always-already established through deep engagement with locative technologies, of which the GPS is only the latest in a long series.

Publications from Cristin

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam