The Geography of Henry Peabody’s Historic Photographs at the Grand Canyon:
Spatial narrative, cartographic design, and the digital humanities
Scholarly Innovation Lab (SIL) in the YRL Research Commons (the glassed-in area)
The pilot project for Stanford University Press’s new digital publishing platform, Enchanting the Desert is the web-based revival of a photographic slideshow made in ca. 1900 at the Grand Canyon by commercial photographer Henry Peabody. It is the earliest surviving mass-marketed visual representation of the region, meaning that it serves as a template for what people actually saw when they saw the Grand Canyon. Serially, as they were meant to be viewed, the photographs are disorienting, obscuring the space produced by Peabody’s portrayal of what would become the most visited national park in the country. The project reveals this lost geography, answering for readers two deceptively simple questions: 1) where was the photographer standing when he took his photos?, and 2) what exactly were virtual tourists consuming with their eyes when they used these images to help define their impressions of the American West? What ensues is an interactive, non-linear, spatial narrative that uses Peabody’s images as a guide to the region. Combining novel cartographic design with a custom interface that allows readers to learn about the Grand Canyon breathes life into a historical document that in its own time also attempted to enhance how people knew these incredible landscapes.
In this talk I cover three aspects of Enchanting the Desert:
- the intellectual and practical contributions to human geography and art history,
- the technics and design process of making a web app in the Digital Geo-Humanities, and
- the process of getting a born-digital project peer-reviewed and published with a major university press.
Nicholas Bauch is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis and the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. He holds a Ph.D. in Geography from UCLA, where he specialized in cultural and historical geography. His major works are A Geography of Digestion (forthcoming, University of California Press) and Enchanting the Desert (forthcoming, Stanford University Press).