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Anthropology, Space, and Geographic Information Systems$
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Mark Aldenderfer and Herbert D. G. Maschner

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780195085754

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195085754.001.0001

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(p.3) 1 Introduction
Anthropology, Space, and Geographic Information Systems

Mark Aldenderfer

Oxford University Press

Although spatial thinking has long been a part of anthropological inquiry, it has waxed and waned in its perceived utility and centrality to the field. Although the papers in this volume attest to a vigorous tradition of spatial thinking in anthropology and further suggest that, for at least some branches of the field, spatial thinking and analysis are truly central to their definition and mission, it is nevertheless clear that this has not always been the case. Further, despite differences in historical trajectories of development between the two major subfields of anthropology—cultural anthropology and archaeology—in terms of the way space has been used, it is also clear that the two subfields share a number of common interests and themes that deserve discussion and exploration. This exploration is not only interesting from a purely historical perspective, but also has a very practical, down-to-earth dimension. The literature on the history of science is replete with cases of communication failures both within and between scientific disciplines. While in many cases this is merely annoying (different terms used to describe the same procedure, for instance), there are occasions when these failures lead to the creation of a highly idiosyncratic jargon used by small cliques of investigators, which clearly offers the opportunity to inhibit scholarly communication. This, in turn, can lead to redundancy of effort, failure to learn from the mistakes of others, and wasted time and money. By providing a forum in which similarities and differences can be examined, the natural tendency of scientific disciplines to form these cliques can be overcome. I intend this paper to be such a forum for an exploration of the ways in which geographic information systems (GIS) have been employed by anthropologists and archaeologists as represented by the authors of the papers presented in this volume. I will briefly describe the GIS for those readers unfamiliar with it and then turn to a review of the history of spatial thinking and the kinds of tools used to implement this thinking for each of the subdisciplines.

Keywords:   Aerial photography, Central place model, Culture areas, Diffusion, Fall-off curves, Gravity model, Kulturkreise, Locational modeling, Multivariate methods, Simulation, Viewshed, Yanomamo

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