Karen Kemp

Professor Emerita of the Practice of Spatial Sciences
Pronouns She / Her / Hers Email kakemp@usc.edu

Research & Practice Areas

Geographic Information Science


Karen Kemp is Professor of the Practice of Spatial Sciences in the MS GIST Program in the Spatial Sciences Institute. Professor Kemp has been a major figure in the evolution of GIS education in the US and abroad. She also has contributed in the areas of research and administration. Karen has been involved in the the foundation of several important GIS institutions. In 1995 she helped organize and chair the founding meeting of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science. She has served on the UCGIS Board of Directors, served as Program Co-chair for the UCGIS 1997 Annual Assembly and Summer Retreat and, with Richard Wright, was editor of the UCGIS Education Priorities in 1997. Her efforts to improve GIS education began with her work as co-editor, with Michael Goodchild, of the 1990 NCGIA Core Curriculum in GIS. She was also a founding member of the Board of Directors of the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) and a member of the Editorial Team for the UCGIS GI Science and Technology Body of Knowledge. In recognition for these and other contributions, Karen was named the 2004 Educator of the Year by the UCGIS and in 2011 was honored with the title of UCGIS Fellow.

Dr. Kemp holds geography degrees from the University of Calgary, Alberta (BSc 1976), the University of Victoria, British Columbia (MA 1982) and the University of California Santa Barbara (PhD 1992). After teaching at a college in British Columbia, Karen moved to California in 1988 to begin her PhD and joined the NCGIA in Santa Barbara working as Coordinator of Education Programs. After completing her PhD, she worked at the Technical University of Vienna, Austria, and with Longman GeoInformation in Cambridge, England on international GIS education projects. She returned to the NCGIA in 1994 to work as Assistant Director and later Associate Director. In January 1999 she moved to the University of California Berkeley to become Executive Director of the Geographic Information Science Center where she helped build the foundation for an innovative campus-wide GIScience initiative.

In September 2000, Karen became the founding Director of the International Masters Program in GIS at the University of Redlands. In 2005, Dr. Kemp stepped down as Director to retreat to the Big Island of Hawai’i to become an Independent Scholar. She spent the next few years finishing a long-delayed book project, continuing work with the University of Redlands on various GIS initiatives and as Senior Consultant with the Redlands Institute, and working on several grants and contracts focused on achieving a vision of a community-oriented Island-based GIS infrastructure which brings together Hawaiian and Western sciences, connecting them through place on the landscape.


  • Ph.D. Geography, University of California Santa Barbara, 12/1992
  • M.A. Geography, University of Victoria, BC, Canada, 8/1982
  • B.S. Geography, University of Calgary, Canada, 5/1976
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    Applying the theory and tools of spatial sciences to scholarly and applied research in the Humanities.

    Research Specialties

    Geographic Information Science

    Detailed Statement of Research Interests

     When I started doing research in GIScience in 1988 at UCSB, I focused on understanding how environmental modelers conceptualize the phenomena they study in order to help design GISystems that match their world view. I saw how their world view impacted how they collected and digitized their data. My intention was to help make the link between the tool and their research and data collection activities more seamless (Kemp, 1992, 1993, 1997). About ten years ago while at UC Berkeley, I started working with humanities scholars as they became interested in how GIS could help them. It was an obvious extension of my earlier efforts. Humanities scholars see the world very differently than scientists, particularly with respect to their generally more concentrated focus on changes through time rather than over geography, and their often-fuzzy knowledge of where things were. Several projects related to these themes were initiated through my work with the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (www.ecai.org) (Gregory, Kemp, & Mostern, 2001; Kemp & Mostern, 2001).

    Later, while at the University of Redlands and beginning my transition to life in Hawai‘i, I became affiliated with the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. Through this affiliation, I started an on-going project involving a series of masters students that is devoted to developing a GIS infrastructure that will incorporate Hawaiian cultural information with management information needed by the National Parks Service and be used by a spectrum of technologically unskilled and skilled trail stewards. All of these activities culminated in a successful proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a grant in 2007-2008 to support the initial design of the Hawai‘i Island Digital Geocollaboratory based on Hawaiian epistemology and integrating scientific data within that world view (Kemp, 2011). The centrality of place pervades every aspect of Hawaiian life and culture. In recent years, renewed interest in Hawaiian Studies has fostered projects that attempt to preserve, document, archive, and communicate traditional knowledge and practices, before they disappear. However, these studies have not formally incorporated the central role of ‘aina – geography, or sense of place – nor have they been organized and made accessible in a comprehensive way. This project allowed me to have the opportunity to work with both humanities scholars and environmental scientists to find ways to integrate their various world views using GIS as the common ground (Kemp 2010). A particular challenge in this effort is to find ways to incorporate place-based narratives that have traditionally been the “maps” of Hawaiians into a 2, 3 or 4D digital framework.

    Through this grant and a later grant from NOAA to build a “Blended-Science Prototype Decision Tool for Coastal Zone Climate Change Impacts in High Volcanic Islands”, we address the application of geographic information science and technology to enhance humanities research. In the process, we hope to renew dialogue and scholarly exchange between communities that appear to be disparate (humanities and sciences, Island communities and the Western academy) to demonstrate how indigenous knowledge can be engaged to enhance research and learning, and to solve problems at the intersection of natural and human systems.


    Gregory, I. N., Kemp, K., & Mostern, R. (2001). Geographical Information and Historical Research: Current progress and future directions. Humanities and Computing, 13, 7-22.

    Kemp, K. K. (1992). "Spatial models for environmental modeling with GIS". Paper presented at the Fifth International Symposium on Spatial Data Handling, Columbia, S.C.

    Kemp, K. K. (1993). "Managing spatial continuity for integrating environmental models with GIS". Paper presented at the Environmental Modeling and GIS, Breckenridge, CO.

    Kemp, K. K. (1997). Fields as a framework for integrating GIS and environmental process models. Part one: Representing spatial continuity. Transactions in GIS, 1(3), 219-234, 211(214):335.

    Kemp, K. K., & Mostern, R. (2001). "Spatial Vagueness and Uncertainty in the Computational Humanities". Paper presented at the First COSIT Workshop on Spatial Vagueness, Uncertainty and Granularity, Ogunquit, ME.  

    Kemp, K.K. (2010). Geographic Information Science and Spatial Analysis for the Humanities. In D. Bodenhamer, T. Harris & J. Corrigan (Eds.), The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. Indiana University Press, pp. 31-57.

    Kemp, K.K., Keali’ikanaka’oleohaililani, K., & Hamabata, M.M. (2011). Ha‘ahonua: Using GIScience to link Hawaiian and Western knowledge about the Environment. In Dear, M., Ketchum, J., Luria, S., and Richardson, D. (eds.). 2011. GeoHumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place. Routledge, pp. 287-295.

    • Website, Waipuni Kahalu’u
      Explore our watershed as a system of water exchanges among climate, weather, vegetation, and land use. See how changes in climate and land use affect essential water supply processes. Work funded under grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (PI: Karen Kemp), 2012-2013
    • UCGIS Fellow, Spring 2011
USC Dornsife faculty and staff may update profiles via MyDornsife.