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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Manasvini Narayana, Education

The Spatial Turn in History: Implications for Curriculum in Higher Education

Date & time

Monday, December 16, 2019
2 p.m. – 5 p.m.


This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Faubourg Ste-Catherine Building
1610 St. Catherine W. Room FG 5.225

Wheelchair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


The emergence of visualization and spatialization technologies, such as digital maps, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and data visualization is generating new ways of knowing within academic disciplines. This epistemological shift, or “spatial turn,” like the Quantitative or Cultural Turns before it, impacts the ways in which knowledge is created, consumed, and communicated. New jobs which require spatial skills are coming into being. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that education in general, and curricula in particular, would respond to this shift. This thesis explores the curricular responses to spatial way of knowing in higher education, using the case of one academic discipline–History.

The dissertation investigates five inter-related aspects of the spatial tun in History: The creation and communication of History knowledge through spatial means, work and employment of History graduates with spatial skills, teaching and learning with respect to spatial ways of knowing, the tools and technologies that drive the spatial turn, and the perspectives of History professors and students with respect to spatial ways of knowing. I explore each aspect separately and use them to triangulate my findings, before synthesizing them into conclusions.

The findings indicate spatial ways of knowing are still a niche area in History as far as creating History knowledge is concerned. In addition, spatial History is a decidedly interdisciplinary area, and scholars and the professional community take a variety of approaches to navigating this interdisciplinarity. Several career opportunities exist both within and outside of academia for the spatially oriented Historian, but this is not a factor that traditional History curricula consider when determining curricula. However, a wide range of online learning resources are available with respect to spatial ways of knowing should students wish to pursue this line of learning in addition to their regular History education. Geo-spatial and visual-spatial tools present their own set of challenges to Historians, and I analyze how they contribute to the complexity of teaching spatial ways of knowing. I conclude that though spatial ways of knowing offer History some unique possibilities for generating knowledge, the curricular response to them is mixed. I offer some recommendations for possible ways in which History higher education curricula may respond to the spatial turn.

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