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Locative Technologies and the Human Sense of Place: A History of Spatial Literacy, 1800-2020

We study how people have navigated in nature, and our relationship with nature over time.

About the project

The human sense of place has come under pressure in the digital age. New technologies, such as GPS, have cut us off from nature. You have probably heard stories that car drivers uncritically follow GPS directions, act against what should be their better judgment, following the voice of their GPS units into rivers, against one-way streets, along abandoned forest trails, even getting lost in the desert.

When the technological world around us gets smarter and more connected, do we get dumber?

As locative technologies seem to be changing what it means to be human, we are witnessing a technologically-driven moral panic quite similar to what historians of technology have

argued develops around many new technologies. This project will evaluate contemporary claims about the impact of locative technologies on the human sense of place through historical research.

Karen Lykke Syse will study how tourists and trekkers have navigated and come to know natural landscapes through localtive technologies since 1800.


The primary objective of the project is to demonstrate how locative technologies are cultural and phenomenological bundles of relationships that can only be understood through deep empirical and historical studies.

This objective will be reached through the following sub-objectives:

  1. The theoretical objective is to develop a historically robust concept of spatial literacy.
  2. The methodological objective is to develop and refine mediation, annotation, and delegation as analytical tools for understanding the role of locative technologies in the human relationship to the world.
  3. The empirical objective is to evaluate if there are fundamental differences in how digital and non-digital forms of locative technology influence the sense of place and operate within gendered spheres.

PhD project

In the PhD project, candidate Erica Colman-Denstad will explore the relationship between the mapping and structuring of landscapes, and the way people have described and navigated them. She will discuss the difference, if there is one, between navigating “natural” landscapes, and following strands of civilization such as networks of trails and paths.


The Norwegian Research Council. FRIHUMSAM Programme. Project no 287969.


Published Jan. 16, 2019 4:45 PM - Last modified Jan. 20, 2021 3:53 PM