Saturday, September 13, 2008
Spaced out over time: Historical GIS
Spatial Worlds website
Left image: Tower of London Bridge, London.
Right image: A ruined keep in Eire.
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'
Space+place+time = Historical GIS
If you can read it, why not map it!!
It can be said that history is determined by space and place over time. If so, then why not involve history students in mapping using spatial technologies? The wonderful technology of GIS now allows the amateur ICT user to use a high level technological tool to map both simple and complex spatial representations and relationships. Increasingly educators in the US are looking at the potential of GIS for the teaching of Historical events and concepts in the classroom.
Geography is the study of spatial differentiation and history the study of temporal differentiation. GIS provides the tools to combine them to study patterns of change over space and time.
GIS is becoming the meeting ground for historians, scientists, anthropologists and geographers, to name a few. Historical GIS is proving to be a valuable research method, a framework for digital archives and a means to bringing a geographical/spatial sensibility to our view of history. Historical data has the z factor of time and GIS adds the x and y factor of place.
GIS digitally links locations and their attributes (attached information) so that they can be displayed in maps and analyzed, whether by their geographical characteristics, such as location, distance, proximity, density and dispersal. GIS representation will also involve identifying the social, economic and physical characteristics of a place at a particular time in history.
GIS is a wonderful tool to enhance learning in the classroom. There are examples (all too few) of history teachers using GIS in the history classroom. In essence, we need to focus on the concept that time studies have a spatial dimension that can be highlighted by the use of GIS processes and field studies. Such a premise is nothing new and has always been at the core of the treatment of many historical topics. What is new is that we now have a resource and technological tool in the form of GIS that can bring place, space and time studies alive for the students. GIS processes such as area, point and line representation and tracing, image/feature/script hotlinking and thematic representation are perfect to trace and display historical data across space.
In the excellent book, 'Past time, past place: GIS for History' (ESRI Press 2002), Anne Knowles succinctly states that “Geography is the study of spatial differentiation and history the study of temporal differentiation. GIS provides the tools to combine them to study patterns of change over space and time”. Such an association is resulting in GIS becoming the meeting ground for historians, scientists, anthropologists and geographers, to name a few. Historical GIS is proving to be a valuable research method, a framework for digital archives and a means to bringing a geographical/spatial sensibility to our view of history. The use of GIS in space and time studies could be summarized as “historical data having the z factor of time and GIS adds the x and y factor of place.”
The literature on historical GIS suggests that the GIS processes employed by students in the classroom can involve:
* Analyzing change in space over time.
* Attaching sources/data/images to location.
* Tracking movement over space.
* Searching databases over space.
A range of simple GIS applications can be used in historical studies. These achievable historical GIS starters include:
1. The spatial arrangement of graves in a cemetery and associated hotlinked image/script data and thematic characteristics
2. Tracing of explorers routes with associated hotlinked mage and script data
3. World War 1 battle movements, data searches and hotlinked image links and data representations.
4. Map digitizing of aerial photographs to show change over time.
5. Polygon representations of a suburban block with associated created data tables showing feature thematics and hotlinked images and information.
If interested in the explorer practical which is a chapter of my book, ’Historical GIS: Space+place+time’ go to my website and download the chapter for free. Chapters on mapping change over time, building heritage, cemeteries and battles can also be downloaded from the Spatial Worlds website.
To undertake the historical GIS activities in the book, a wide range of GIS skills were employed
The skills were:
1. Adding data files to create a base map.
2. Using scanned maps to create a base map.
3. Creating Thematic maps of represented data.
4. Creating original maps with points, lines and areas on pre-existing maps.
5. Creating and customising data bases
6. Selection maps involving searching databases.
7. Hotlinking scipt, chart and image files to point, line or area themes.
8. Using GPS to plot features on a map.
I still remain excited about the use of GIS in history teaching but it continues to be a battle for history teachers to embrace the technology and commence the learning curve. Those who have are doing some great work connecting place, space and time to energise history in the classroom.
A good indicator of the lack of engagement with GIS by history educators is that the excellent 'Teaching History with Technology' website does not explore the use of GIS in history as a valid technological application. However, there are a few useful websites relating to spatial technology in history but I see that the history classroom continues to be unchartered waters for the use of spatial technology. It amazes me why a teacher studying Gallipoli would not at least use Google Earth to look at the Gallipoli Peninsula, let alone map the troop movements via GIS. For some ideas on historical mapping go to my blog entry on visiting the battlefields of Flanders.
An excellent source of aerial images on World War 2 can be found on the Scottish National Collection of Aerial Photography website. This site is a great example of the potential of spatial technology to support the teaching of history.