Phenomenology and Geographic Information Science: experiencing landscape through geospatial technologies and Higuchi-style indices

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Research conducted on cultural landscapes is often divided into two camps: qualitative description or quantitative measure and analysis. The separation is often driven by the difference in the methods and approaches that are utilized by each camp. For instance, phenomenology has often been used as the framework with which to consider the experience of landscape. The descriptive and personal nature of phenomenology attempts to separate the observer from their personal biases yielding a qualitative narrative. Geographic Information Science (GIScience) is conversely seen as a set of methods and tools to capture and analyze the quantifiable features of the landscape, yielding a map as the representation. However, shared geographic focus on landscapes provides a bridge with which to link these two approaches to create a structured experiential approach to the study of cultural landscapes.

Landscape Archaeology and Cultural Geography have each taken advantage of phenomenology and GIScience as approaches to understanding cultural landscapes. Often, for either approach, there has been an emphasis on what can be physically seen resulting in a focus on issues of landscape visibility. Visual perception and representation act as the keystone which holds up the bridge between these approaches. While previous models such as isovists, viewscapes, and viewsheds provide examples of linking visual perception and representation, they generally lack a deeper connection to cultural issues.

Other approaches exist that attempt to incorporate cultural aspects into structured models. Additional cultural aspects could be considered through resourcescapes, that focus on material culture and raw materials, or taskscapes, that capture cultural activities. However, it is the use of more involved models of landscape visibility such as those proposed by landscape architect Tadahiko Higuchi that look at the visual and spatial structure which provide a strong link between the experience of landscape and a structured approach linking visual perception and representation of landscape.

This research utilizes an example from Marietta, Ohio which centers not on the modern landscape, but the extant prehistoric mound features and the prehistoric cultural landscape they represent. The consideration of the Marietta mounds provides an example of how an experience of the extant prehistoric features and a model of the prehistoric landscape can work together to highlight the role of the perception of the observer and the model driven from the observer’s perspective of the landscape. From the potential the mounds afford through the experience of walking among them to the affinity that the observer gains through the spatial models created using Higuchi’s indices, bridging these two camps of cultural landscape research builds on the strengths of both approaches.