Campus & Community

Bol to lead new Center for Geographic Analysis

3 min read

Peter K. Bol, Harvard College Professor and Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, has been named the first director of Harvard University’s Center for Geographic Analysis (CGA), a new center that will offer technology to support research and education in the fields of spatial analysis and geographic information.

“My aim is to see the center assist in research projects and teaching University-wide,” says Bol, who since 2001 has directed the China Historical Geographic Information System project, which is creating a geographic information system for Chinese history from 222 B.C. to 1911. “During the last two decades the miniaturization of computer technology, the ability to carry out continuous-time monitoring, the use of global positioning systems (GPS), the increased use of remote sensing, and growing sophistication of geographic information systems have made geospatial analysis a tool of tremendous value to the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences and to the professions. But spatial analysis is not only a technology; it is a way of thinking about the relationships between things. It is not only a research tool; it can be part of an undergraduate education. I foresee a vibrant future for the center.”

Today researchers across the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences are coming to recognize that geographic analysis can provide a common foundation for the integration of disciplinary knowledge about the earth and its climate, the evolution of its flora and fauna, and the comparatively recent but extraordinary consequential development of human societies. This vision is at the heart of the CGA’s mission in the University.

Geographic information sciences bridge earth and planetary sciences, engineering, medicine and public health, sociology, law, political science and economics, and history and the humanities. The interest at Harvard in geospatial analysis, spatial modeling, spatial statistics, and geographic information systems (GIS) – which has been the foundation for the development of spatial analysis generally – has been growing quickly.

Modeling the world computationally is a thorny problem for researchers across Harvard. Today, more than 20 research projects at the Harvard School of Public Health depend on spatial analysis, all Graduate School of Design (GSD) students are taught basic techniques in the field, and in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) geographic modeling is an essential technology in various disciplines.

The CGA was founded with the support of Provost Steven E. Hyman and Deans William C. Kirby of FAS and Alan Altshuler of GSD. Harvard hopes to hire two additional senior faculty members to lend strength in geospatial analysis, geoinformatics, and geography, as well as four full-time staffers, postdoctoral fellows from across the University, as well as establish internships for undergraduates and fellowships for graduate students.

The CGA is one of the technology platforms in Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Building on the foundation already created by the Harvard Geospatial Library and the Map Library, the CGA aims to create a more substantial infrastructure to support the wide range of scholarly research and teaching utilizing geospatial analysis.