Spatial History and Historical GIS
This course introduces students to the emerging methodologies that combine geographic information systems (GIS) with historical thinking.

This course introduces the emerging methodologies that combines geographic information systems (GIS) with traditional “historical thinking.” There are three goals for this course. First, students will learn basic technical skills in GIS used by spatial historians. Students are not required to have prior experience in GIS to enroll in this course, but basic computer literacy is essential. Second, through weekly readings, students will engage with scholarship/projects that use historical geographic information systems (HGIS) and with the broader spatial humanities. Students will be encouraged to consider the new topics/questions historians are investigating with HGIS and the new evidence HGIS provides to historiographical debates. The readings on HGIS research serve as starting points for class discussions on the strengths and limitations of this new methodology. Additional readings on HGIS methods provide examples of analytical tools, and students will be challenged to think of new methods that can aid in answering historiographical questions as well. Finally, students will undertake a small spatial history project. Through this research project, students will learn research and project management skills, which are increasingly necessary for historians in the digital age, while refining an intervention in the historiography.

In Plain Sight at the 2018 Venice Biennale of Architecture
Image still from In Plain Sight

In Plain Sight, a collaboration between Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Laura Kurgan, and Robert Gerard Pietrusko with the Center for Spatial Research, will open on May 26, 2018 in Venice, Italy.

The installation is conceived and designed for Dimensions of Citizenship, the US Pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, commissioned by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Chicago. The installation will be on view through November 25.

In Plain Sight presents anomalies in population distribution seen in nighttime satellite imagery of Earth and census grid counts produced by governments worldwide — revealing places with bright lights and no people and places with people and no lights—thus, challenging our assumptions about geographies of belonging and exclusion.

Several events are planned during the opening weekend, May 24-27, featuring project collaborators Laura Kurgan, Elizabeth Diller, Robert Pietrusko. See the full schedule of events on the Dimensions of Citizenship website here.

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We Can
A data driven multimedia project that reveals the way canners - people who pick up cans and bottles on the street - experience the city
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Who are the canners? How do they experience the city? How much can they make, 5 cents at a time?

Over the past eight months, journalist Francesca Berardi followed a group of canners in their daily activity, collecting qualitative and quantitative information about their work. They come in the form of handwritten notes, sketches, audio interviews, photos and videos taken with an iPhone, which was the only technological tool used on the field. We are now working together to build a multimedia interactive digital platform that challenges the preconceived notion of canners as desperate, homeless, junkies while inviting the users to explore NYC through their eyes.

Through audio vignettes, drawings, mapping and data visualizations, we are telling the stories of a Mexican couple who make more than $50,000 a year collecting garbage, of a young queer who picks up cans and bottles to help his grandma and performs on Broadways shows, of a man who lost his apartment in the 2008 mortgage crisis and that says that canning saved him from depression. 

The funding for this project has been provided through a Magic Grant from the Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

View the project here.

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Ways of Knowing Cities - Conference

Ways of Knowing Cities

Friday, February 9, 2018, 9:30 am
Wood Auditorium, Avery Hall

Pre-registration is now closed, the auditorium seating is first come first served. Registration does not guarantee seating. The conference will be live streamed to Ware Lounge in Avery Hall and online at

See for full schedule.

Technology increasingly mediates the way that knowledge, power, and culture interact to create and transform the cities we live in. Ways of Knowing Cities is a one-day conference which brings together leading scholars and practitioners from across multiple disciplines to consider the role that technologies have played in changing how urban spaces and social life are structured and understood – both historically and in the present moment. 

Keynote lectures by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Trevor Paglen

Participating Speakers
Simone BrowneMaribel Casas-Cortés,  Anita Say ChanSebastian Cobarrubias,  Orit HalpernCharles Heller,  Shannon Mattern, V. Mitch McEwenLeah Meisterlin,  Nontsikelelo MutitiDietmar OffenhuberLorenzo PezzaniRobert Pietrusko, and Matthew Wilson.

From John Snow’s cholera maps of London and the design of the radio network in Colonial Nigeria to NASA’s composite images of global night lights, the way the city and its inhabitants have been comprehended in moments of technological change has always been deeply political. Representations of the urban have been sites of contestation and violence, but have also enabled spaces of resistance and delight. Our cities have been built and transformed through conflict, and the struggle is as much informational and representational as it is physical and bodily. Today, the generation and deployment of data is at the forefront of projects to reshape our cities, for better and for worse. As a consequence, responding to urban change demands critical literacy in technology, and particularly data technologies. The conference addresses itself to the deep ambivalence of interventions in the urban, as it explores the ways that knowledge regimes have impacted the built world. In this sense, it seeks to catalyze more robust, creative, and far-reaching ways to think about the relationship between the urban and the information systems that enable, engage and express the city.

Please note, seating will be first come, first serve. Registration does not guarantee seating. The event will be livestreamed in Ware Lounge, Avery Hall and on

Support for Ways of Knowing Cities is provided through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and hosting by Columbia GSAPP.


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Points Unknown: Cartographic Narratives
In this course students will explore new forms of site analysis through pairing geospatial analysis, mapping, and storytelling.
Course Description

Society is increasingly dependent on data and computation, a dependence that often evolves invisibly, without any critical assessment or accountability. In New York City, with its mandate to make data public, students have an opportunity to learn how to question data through journalistic lines of inquiry: What data are made public? What data are kept hidden? Who was involved what data are included and excluded? Who wasn't? What do they say about life in the city? How are neighborhoods rendered in data and what are the consequences of those representations? What undiscovered stories can be found in the data?

Spatial/Data training paired with journalism can serve as a missing “integrator” of data and the real world—providing lessons that travel beyond the boroughs of New York. A wide array of available data- and spatial-visualization tools can extend journalistic practice, helping reporters better find, understand, and tell stories. These same tools can expose the invisible spaces, forces, and environments that architecture, urban design, and planning students must engage, navigate, and learn to represent as part of their data/spatial toolkits.

Points Unknown will train journalism and architecture students in data analysis and mapping/GIS techniques. Through pairing the processes of architecture and some of the skills of journalism, this course will explore sites in the New York City/Hudson Valley Region, selected for their unique connection to the city, their effect on certain demographic populations, and their environmental impact.

Students will work under the direction of an editor to explore and report on a select site, spending the semester researching and constructing a geospatial narrative. Students will learn, from start to finish, how to find, clean, analyze, and visualize data. In some instances, this will result in analysis of data that does not include a spatial component. In others, this will result in beautiful and illustrative visualizations. In all instances, students will learn how to investigate their identified site through data. Students will research the site, conduct interviews, gather data, perform exploratory data analysis, and learn various geospatial visualization techniques to produce a comprehensive narrative.

To the architect and designer, the class will provide exposure to journalistic techniques, reshaping their traditional approach to a site survey. To the social scientist, it will provide new modes of expression. To the journalist, the class will provide skills-based training for data analysis and visualization, both for reporting and publication. And to the humanities students, this will be an intensive introduction to data and visualization.

The full syllabus is available here

Spring 2019 Registration Information

Friday 11-1pm
Call number: 86396
Points: 3

Instructors: Grga Basic, Associate Research Scholar in the Faculty of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Michael Krisch, Deputy Director, Brown Institute for Media Innovation

Points Unknown—designed jointly by faculty at the Graduate School of Journalism and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation—is funded by Collaboratory, a new university-wide program led by the Data Science Institute and Columbia Entrepreneurship to catalyze interdisciplinary curricular collaboration.

Call for Applications: Mellon Associate Research Scholars

The Center for Spatial Research is pleased to announce a call for applications for Associate Research Scholars for the 2018-2019 academic year as part of the Andrew W Mellon Foundation funded initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities.

We invite applications from candidates whose intellectual interests are situated within the broad urban humanities, who have strong digital, visual, and multidisciplinary research practices, and are enthusiastic about collaborative working environments. The appointment is one year, with the possibility of a second year depending on funding.

Two Associate Research Scholars will be appointed: one position is open to candidates with training in the design disciplines, and one is open to candidates with training in a field(s) of the humanities. 

Successful candidates must have experience and interest in using qualitative as well as quantitative data to open up new questions in the urban humanities. The incumbents will contribute to projects underway at CSR, work on independent research on a topic(s) proposed by the incumbent, as well as contribute to the design and teaching of the Center’s workshop and seminar courses.

For further information and to apply for the position for candidates from fields in the humanities please visit:

For further information and to apply for the position for candidates from the design fields please visit:

You will be asked to submit a 1-2 page letter of interest, 2 page proposal for the project(s) you would hope to complete at the Center, CV, and portfolio which demonstrates your work and research focus.

Review of applications will begin immediately.

Columbia University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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Conflict Urbanism: InfraPolitics
This seminar focuses on infrastructure as a major force in shaping cities, as well as a medium through which the politics of urbanization is visible. 

This seminar focuses on infrastructure as a major force in shaping cities, as well as a medium through which the politics of urbanization is visible. Our work will address historical comparison and the politics of mapping by focusing on three cities and three continents – Mumbai, Johannesburg and Medellin.

The cities have been chosen because they offer important ways to think about how infrastructure organizes social life, and its ongoing political effects. By exploring different histories of how space is governed, segregated, or utilized as a key economic resource, we want seminar participants to think about the significance of space and spatial regulation in structuring social relations.

Our work will be organized around a set of keywords: informality (Mumbai), apartheid (Johannesburg), and populism (Medellin)--that are entry points for thinking about the infrastructure of inequality. Each of the case studies uses a critical event as a point of entry for asking how land, capital, government, and the social relations of daily life structure, and are in turn structured by spatial order.

Visualizing and mapping thus form key techniques for linking urban history with contemporary urbanism, and for thinking about the materiality of spatial politics.

Note: This is the third in a series of multidisciplinary Mellon seminars on the topic of Conflict Urbanism, as part of a multi-university initiative in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities.    

This year Conflict Urbanism is being offered in the Fall, and not in the Spring semester.