Spring 2014 Reflections upon the Start of a New Semester

Syllabus planning overlooking spring on the Bowdoin quad. CC BY-NC Jen Jack Gieseking 2014
Syllabus planning overlooking spring on the Bowdoin quad. CC BY-NC Jen Jack Gieseking 2014

It’s surely the beginning of the semester at Bowdoin College this week but I am grabbing some time to reflect on the spring semester of 2014. I am starting my second year of my postdoc as a member of the Digital and Computational Studies Initiative (DCSI)–how did that wondrous year go? I share it here so that I do not forget.

Teaching Data Driven Societies with the most excellent mathematician and my dear colleague Eric Gaze was absolute bliss. In this course, we explored the possibilities, limitations, and implications of using digital and computational methods and analytics to study issues that affect our everyday lives from a social scientific approach. This course tackled a number of cutting-edge issues and questions that confront society today such as what sorts of questions can be asked and answered using digital and computational methods to rethink our relationships to data and what can data can show us about the world? Students chose a social justice issue hashtag of their choice and scraped Twitter data in order to produce graphs using R and Excel, maps made with SocialExplorer and CartoDB, and social network analyses produced with Gephi. The outcomes of the students were insightful and exciting. Many students decided to share their work on the DCSI blog and I encourage you to look them over. I have even started working collaboratively with two students on turning their research into peer reviewed papers. It was an exciting and groundbreaking course not only for the college but for the fields of digital humanities and social data sciences.

As for getting my work out via publications, my book arrived! Woohoo! I co-edited The People, Place, and Space Reader with architect William Mangold, geographer Cindi Katz, anthropologist Setha Low, and social and community psychologist Susan Saegert. We all share in common our degrees or teaching in environmental psychology or environmental social science, and met as (once) students and professors in the Environmental Psychology Program of the CUNY Graduate Center. The volume was one we felt needed and represents the cumulative work of the field from our perspective. The book in brief:

The People, Place, and Space Reader brings together the writings of scholars from a variety of fields to make sense of the ways we shape and inhabit our world. The included texts help us to understand the relationships between people and place at all scales, and to consider the active roles individuals, groups, and social structures play in a range of environments. The companion website, peopleplacespace.org, provides additional reading lists covering a broad range of issues.

William and I invited over 20 graduates and students of the program to submit their own above-mentioned recommended reading list on their topics of expertise so that the conversation need not end on the pages of the reader. I happily report that I am soon to have a book launch care of my wonderful colleagues at the DCSI. If you find yourself in Brunswick, Maine, come join the September 10th, 2014, festivities.

Two book chapters and an encyclopedia entry also emerged. I wrote two short chapters to bookend the artist Lasse Lau‘s co-edited project with the Museum for Samtidskunst / Museum for Contempory Art in Denmark, Queer Geographies: Beirut, Copenhagen, and Tijuana. Lasse worked on a project of the same name in Copenhagen and was surprised to find artists in Beirut wanting to launch their own. Soon, it became a project of queer artists in Tijuana and the book was born. The first contribution, “A Queer Geographer’s Life as an Introduction to Queer Theory, Space, and Time,” works through lgbtq studies, critical geography, and their intersections to situate the reader in the work of artists who seek the same in their art. The latter, “What and Where Next?: Some Thoughts on a Spatially Queered Reading List,” is a bibliography that covers the same topics to encourage readers to continue their adventures with this material. Last but not least, my “Environmental Psychology” entry in the Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology was published. It was an honor to share my framing of the field of environmental psychology / environmental social science that means so much to me.

The spring was also brimming with talks and conferences. I first headed out (a little bit) west. In March, Emily Mitchell-Eaton and Jake Bendix invited me to speak in the Department of Geography of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. My talk, “Considering ‘Spatial Justice’ through the Lens of Queer New York,” was met with warm enthusiasm and it was great to have the chance to spend 24 hours speaking with graduate students about their work. I was especially honored by the cheerful reception given that the week before one of my heroes in the world of spatial analysis, Mark Monmonier, was at the same podium. Amazing! Later that February, I keynoted the really productive, fun, and thought-provoking Queering the Quotidian Spatial Theory Symposium at Georgia State University organized by Tahereh Aghdasifar and Andrea Miller. It was a small conference which allowed for a lot of long conversations and exciting connections. I was honored to be a part and give my talk, “Queering the Future of Radical Geography,” before such a dedicated crowd. In April, I traveled up to Colby College at the invite of Mark Tappan, Lyn Mikel Brown in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program to give the talk, “The Gendering of Queer New York.” The students and faculty were incredibly welcoming and we had a terrific conversation before and after the talk.

As always, the Association of American Geographers meetings play a huge role in my academic world. I put together a series of paper sessions, “Digital Geographies, Geographies of Digitalia,” with Luke Bergmann from UW that really wanted to trouble the ideas between digital and computational work. Too often that which is digital GIS is reduced to the geoweb, i.e. making maps online. The papers took on topics from the digital humanities, productions of space in online environments, geographies of the tech industry, and, oh yes, the geoweb too. The papers and ideas from them were a blast and it was great to broaden geography’s connection to all things digital. I also gave two papers, including “The Qualitative Role in Big Data: What In/Visibilized Lesbian-Queer Life Can Offer the Geoweb.” The other brief paper was on a lightning round paper, “Lesbian Geographies in the Qual-Quant Revolution.” I am so appreciative to Joe Eckert, Andy Shears, and Jim Thatcher for organizing that lightning round session which knit together scholars from USGS to Microsoft Social Media Collective, from research one unis to liberal arts colleges. All of these papers are helping to tighten the ideas in Queer New York, the book I am presently writing (and hurrah for it).

I saved this little slice of magic for last: at Theorizing the Web 2013 I met Jessa Lingel who is now a Postdoc at the Microsoft Research Collective. We so luckily found each other and our brains just hugged. She kindly and excitedly invited me to co-organize the “Queer Internet Studies” workshop/conference at Columbia University in association with the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. The day expanded my horizons and situated me among new friends and colleagues. I led a mental mapping exercise among four generations of lgbtq people! The post on this gathering is still forthcoming. I promise it shall be delicious.

To conclude: My spring was flipping grand. That said, I am also happy to report I slept a great deal; got to NYC for a research trip; and imagined taking up archery, among many other actions, imaginings, and events in which I took part. I hope the post on my summer adventures comes much sooner so that you can hear about materializing the dream of archery as well as the new progress in the GIS components of my research.