Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History

Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History

Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History

Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History

Synopsis

The application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to issues in history is among the most exciting developments in both digital and spatial humanities. Describing a wide variety of applications, the essays in this volume highlight the methodological and substantive implications of a spatial approach to history. They illustrate how the use of GIS is changing our understanding of the geographies of the past and has become the basis for new ways to study history. Contributors focus on current developments in the use of historical sources and explore the insights gained by applying GIS to develop historiography. Toward Spatial Humanities is a compelling demonstration of how GIS can contribute to our historical understanding.

Excerpt

When geographical information systems (GIS) first began to be used by academic geographers in the late 1980s, their use was nothing if not controversial. Proponents of the new field argued that it had the potential to reinvigorate geography as a discipline under a more computational paradigm. Opponents argued that it marked a lurch toward an unacceptable form of positivism with no epistemology or treatment of ethical or political issues. One thing on which they both agreed – or perhaps took for granted – was that gis was a quantitative technology that was to be used in a social scientific manner (to its supporters) or a positivist way (to its antagonists).

When gis first began to be used by historians it was not surprising that much of the early focus was also quantitative and social science based. It is no coincidence that the first special issue of a journal dedicated to historical gis (HGIS), published in Social Science History, included essays on topics such as fertility, migration, urban history, and economic growth, all well suited to quantitative analysis. in 2008, eight years after this issue was published, a conference devoted to hgis was held at the University of Essex. It attracted 125 delegates, with papers organized in 21 sessions. While some of these sessions were themed on topics that still had a strong quantitative bent – demography, urban history, environmental history, transport, and so on – there was also an increasing number of papers and sessions that concentrated on topics that were clearly qualitative and did not follow traditional social science paradigms. These topics included art, performance culture, literature, the Bible, and medieval and early modern history. What was happening . . .

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