Mapping the Community: ArchGIS and the History of Religious Experience

Sunday, January 4, 2015: 9:00 AM
Concourse A (New York Hilton)
Kathryn Falvo, Pennsylvania State University
The use of mapping technologies to chart American history is not new to scholars. Particularly appealing to historians of industrialization or the environment, mapping tools have been used in a variety of ways to show how the American landscape altered over time. However, mapping has less often been used by historians who are more focused on individuals– as a quantitative and relatively large-scale tool, it has been considered inconvenient (at best) and antithetical (at worst) to the exploration of lived experience.

In this presentation, I aim to provide a counterpoint by showing the usefulness of ArchGIS, a mapping software, for understanding individual and communal religious experience. My dissertation focuses on the experiences of traveling Quaker women in the late nineteenth century – a topic for which mapping becomes very useful. In a project I have been developing for a few months, I have traced the mobility of several individual Quaker women. The patterns that become visible in their shared experiences across the Atlantic, in Europe, and throughout the Americas can help historians better understand their experience of transnationalism. Because Quakers understood themselves as apart from the governmental confines of the state (that is, they perceived themselves as a separate theologically defined nation), mapping the patterns of their travel actually helps communicate a more accurate idea of their concept of “nation” than do traditional borders. That is, despite its quantitative nature, mapping is a tool which can help historians better access the individual religious experiences of Quaker women. This presentation will point to new directions in mapping scholarship by showing how mapping tools can help historians piece apart the meaning of community and ministerial work in the lives of American Quakers.

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