Great Problems, Great Minds Seminar Series—Humanistic GIS: Toward a Research Agenda



The Department of Social Sciences presents its Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series featuring guest speaker Bo Zhao, an associate professor and a director of the Humanistic GIS Lab in the Department of Geography at the University of Washington, who will give a talk on “Humanistic GIS: Toward a Research Agenda.” This event is open to the public and will take place on October 13 from 3:15–4:30 p.m. over Zoom.


The accelerated proliferation of geographic information systems (GIS) has greatly expanded the connotation of GIS technology from primarily a diverse suite of digital objects, representations, and devices that create or make use of geographical information to a mediated means with which humans experience, explore, or make sense of the world. Humanistic GIS offers a coherent and systematic framework that integrates existing fragmented humanism-related GIS studies and reorients the epistemological foundation by situating GIS in its mediation of human experience. This epistemological configuration not only categorizes GIS through its embodiment, hermeneutic, autonomous, and background relations with the involved human and place, but also provides an analytical structure for examining the intertwined implications of a particular instantiation of GIS. This newly proposed humanistic perspective demonstrates a sincere quest to develop and use GIS in ways that will be more empathetic and better for humanity. This talk will discuss several web cartographic and geo-visual projects from this humanistic perspective.


Bo Zhao is an associate professor and a director of the Humanistic GIS Lab in the Department of Geography at the University of Washington. He earned his Ph.D. degree in geography from Ohio State University and his M.S. degree in cartography and GIScience and his B.S. degree in GIScience from Nanjing University. His research efforts lie at the intersection between GIScience and human geography to develop a unique research agenda around the social implications of newly emerging GIS technologies, especially for the interests of vulnerable populations, such as refugees displaced by climate change effects and LGBTQ+ communities in repressive national contexts. Recently, he has been working on a research agenda around humanistic GIS, which encourages people to redefine GIS by incorporating personal experience in the use and development of GIS applications. He has published scholarly articles on these research areas in top journals, such as Dialogues in Human Geography, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, and Cartography and Geographic Information Science. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Rajawali Fellowship, National Geographic, Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance, Clean Water Services, Learning Innovation Grant, Google Education Grant, Samsung, and American Alpine Club Research Grant.

“Humanistic GIS: Toward a Research Agenda” is a part of the Department of Social Science’s Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series which explores the major problems facing humanity as we move into the heart of the twenty-first century. To see the full schedule and videos from previous events, visit the seminar series page. For more information, contact Associate Professor of Social Sciences Hao Huang at

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