Faculty Projects

Harvey Memories Project

Project Partners: PI's Caleb McDaniel (Rice History Department), Lisa Spiro (Fondren Library), Anne Chao (Rice Chao Center for Asian Studies); Houston Public Library, Harris County Public Libraries, University of Houston Libraries

Project Abstract: When catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey struck in August 2017, Rice was a leading first responder in Houston. Now Rice is leading the way in documenting and analyzing the impact of this historic event on those who lived through it. The Harvey Memories Project (HMP) has launched a state-of-the-art, open-access digital repository to collect, preserve, and publish community-contributed memories of the storm in multiple formats, such as photos documenting storm preparations, audio and video recordings of the storm in progress, and survivors' narratives. [website]

Highways + Waterways

Project Partners: Lead Invesitgators: Farès el-Dahdah (Humanities Research Center); Melissa Kean (Humanities Research Center); Co-Investigators: David Alexander (Physics and Astronomy); Dominic Boyer (Anthropology); Anne Chao (Humanities); Jim Elliott (Sociology); Kathy Ensor (Statistics);  Stephen Fox (Architecture); Cymene Howe (Anthropology); Jan Odegard (Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology); Albert Pope (Architecture); Moshe Vardi (Computer Science); Gordon Wittenberg (Architecture).

Project Abstract: The goal of Highways+Waterways is to create an online cartographic platform that charts the entire urban history of Houston as well as its susceptibility to flooding and other environmental events. Primary sources, such as photographs, historical maps, urban design/infrastructural plans, aerophotogrammetric surveys, spatially-defined datasets, and 50+ years of satellite observation will be located temporally and spatially in a web map, while their associated data –derived from a complex array of available datasets, e.g., infrared/optical hyperspectral imaging, radar scans, Lidar scans, aerial rasters, and vectors– will be integrated across a number of databases (including an open-access digital library of images, a geographic information system, an open source relational database, and a content delivery web service). Once brought together in a relational database with a PostGIS extension, disparate forms of data will not only produce unprecedented ways of depicting the history, design, development, and projections of Houston but will also set a precedent for constructing data chronologies from diverse sources. The relationship between the various project elements will produce a web environment where qualitative and quantitative data can be simultaneously loaded from an API, rendered across platforms, customized in many views, and queried by users in a system that supports multiple and interconnected expressions of diverse sources of information. Such an integrated approach will allow both humanists and scientists to reconstruct the history of Houston’s existence and provide a foundation from which to project the city’s future as it responds to climate change and rapid development. [website]

Live Model of Houston Watersheds

Project Partners: PI's John Mulligan (Rice Humanities Research Center and Center for Research Computing), Matthew Wettergreen (Rice Engineering); Harris County Flood Control Division.

Project Abstract: The 2017 hurricane season has reminded Houston of its watery ecology, but the events of Harvey have been less educative than shocking; more than anything, Harvey exposed the lack of adequate aesthetic and civic resources for talking about this key part of Houston's lived environment, which the city's infrastructure puts out of sight. We will build a museum-quality, dynamic, physical model of Houstonian hydrology (movement of groundwater). Using granular elevation data provided to us by Harris County Flood Control Division (HCFCD) and sourced from the department's LiDAR surveys, we will fabrigate a topographically-representative relief map showcasing important regions of the city's surface which, integrated with computer-controlled pumps guided by flood monitoring data, will simulate real flooding events using live and historic feeds. The built object will be made available for exhibition in public settings, such as schools or civic environments, with the goals of fostering a "planetry" political imagingation, educating the public about this submerged, "infrastructural" side of Houston, and producing workflows for spatial-data-driven, dynamic physical modeling reusable by artists and researchers who seek to map our rapidly-changing world.

Mapping Climate Vulnerability in Post-Harvey Houston

Project Partners: CENHS (project lead: Dominic Boyer); Harris County Commissioner’s Office, Precinct One (project lead: Katie Short, Senior Policy Adviser); Harris County Public Health (project lead: Meredith Jennings, NAS-GRP Science Policy Fellow)

Project Abstract: Hurricane Harvey revealed the vulnerability of Houston’s critical energy and petrochemical infrastructures to new patterns and intensities of rainfall associated with climate change. It also revealed how the risks of future climate-related infrastructural failures will be unevenly distributed across the Houston metro region. A recent AP/Chronicle study has identified over 100 toxic releases in the Houston area attributable to Harvey’s flooding, all of them located in the eastern half of the city and in Precincts One and Two of Harris County. As things stand today, despite being the fourth largest city in the country and vulnerable to many climate change vectors (e.g., increased rainfall, more intense tropical cyclones, more frequent heat waves, new disease patterns), Houston has no climate adaptation plan of any kind. CENHS hopes to help change that by working together with established partners in the Harris County Commissioner’s Office (Precinct One) and Harris County Public Health, to undertake a Precinct One Climate Vulnerability Assessment(POCVA). POCVA will assemble and analyze available social vulnerability data for Precinct One and cross-reference it with the latest climatological projections for the region. The primary project outcome will be an interactive map tool that will allow scholars, community members and policy makers to determine which areas of Precinct One are likely to experience the worst negative impacts from climate change. We are applying to HRC for funding to build a student research team and to organize an initial Climate Vulnerability workshop and planning meeting to initiate the project.

More City Than Water: A Houston Flood Atlas

Project Partners: Lacy M. Johnson (Rice English Department and Director of the Houston Flood Museum), Ian Schimmel (Rice English Department), Dominic Boyer (Director, CENHS and Rice Anthropology), Cymene Howe (Rice Anthropology and Associate Director, CSWGS), Roberto Tejada (University of Houston English in Creative Writing and Art History) Martha Serpas (University of Houston English in Creative Writing), Giuseppe Taurino (University of Houston, Assistant Director of Creative Writing), Cheryl Beckett (University of Houston Department of Art in Graphic Design).

Project Abstract: As the second-year project of the Houston Flood Museum, "More City Than Water" will produce a literary and cartographic interpretation of Houston's floodplains, waterways, drainage systems, reservoirsm, and inundated zones. Illuminated by boldly conceived and artuflly rendered maps and infographics, the Houston Flood Atlas will bring together some of Houston's most exciting thinkers to reveal the complex histories and perspectives of a city that is increasingly defined by its relationship to catastrophic flooding. For this edited volume of between fifteen and twenty distinct works, we will commission contributions from geographers, climate scholars, artists, musicians, poets, inmates -- all with different perspectives on the urgent environmental issues that face our city and our region -- as well as the editors' own contribution. Inspired by other Atlases that radically reorient our understanding of "place," such as writer and historian Rebecca Solnit's series of three atlases -- Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas; Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas; and Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas -- as well as lesser known works such as Katherine Harmon's You Are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City; and You Are Here: Personal Geographies and other Maps of the Imagination; this edited collection not only reinvents the traditional atlas, but seeks to reveal undeniable truths obscured by the floodwaters that often fill our city.\

Recovery, Relocation, and Alluvial Awareness in Post-Harvey Houston

Project Partners: PI Dominic Boyer (Director, CENHS and Rice Anthropology), co-PI Mark Vardy (CENHS)

Project Abstract: Houston has experienced three so-called "500 year" flooding events in the past three years, culminating in Hurricane Harvey, which has been judged to be the most severe tropical cyclone rainfall event in United States history. The proposed research investigates to what extent the experience of three years of historic flooding--and the disruption of vital urban infrastructures like roads, sewers, and electricity--is reshaping how Houston residents conceive of the current and future habitability of flood-prone areas. The research hypothesizes that "alluvial awareness"--defined as attention to past and possible future flooding experiences--is increasing in Houston and that it has the capacity to influence social identification processes and cultural senses of belonging (to neighborhoods, communities and the city itself). The research (survey, semistructured interviews, particpant-observation) will take place in two Houston neighborhoods that were severely impacted by Harvey flooding, Greenspoint and Meyerland.