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Traditional knowledge geographic information systems (GIS) are the data, techniques, and technologies designed to document and utilize local knowledges in communities around the world. Traditional knowledge is information that encompasses the experiences of a particular culture or society. Traditional knowledge GIS are more valuable than ordinary cognitive maps in that they express environmental and spiritual relationships among real and conceptual entities. They comprise a formidable toolset for use in cultural preservation, land rights disputes, natural resource management, and economic development.
Traditional knowledge GIS employs cartographic and database management techniques such as participatory GIS, map biographies, and historical mapping. Participatory GIS aspires to a mutually beneficial relationship between the governing and the governed by fostering public involvement in all aspects of a GIS. It is widely accepted that this technique is necessary to sound environmental and economic planning in developing areas. This method generates a sense of place in scientific analysis that incorporates sacred sites and traditional land use practices. Participatory GIS can be effective for local resource management and planning, but researchers doubt its efficacy as a tool in attaining land tenure or fighting legal battles because of lack of expertise among local individuals and lack of access to technology.
Map biographies track the practices of local communities either for the sake of preservation or to argue for resource protection or land grants. GIS technologies are powerful in their ability to accommodate multimedia and multidimensional data sets, which allows for the recording and playing of oral histories and representations of abstract ecological knowledge.
Historical mapping documents and analyzes events that are meaningful to a particular tradition or locale. Cultural and humanitarian benefits derive from including maps in the historical record of an area.
Cultural preservation is perhaps the principal application of a traditional knowledge GIS. As adherents to traditional lifestyles decline in population, there has developed a degree of urgency surrounding the collection of data and wisdom from aging local elders. A central feature of cultural preservation is language revitalization. Bilingual visual and audible maps depict oral traditions and historical information in places of cultural significance at various scales and levels of detail.
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