Historical GIS: Topics in the 19th Century

AHA Session 205
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Palladian Ballroom (Omni Shoreham, West Lobby)
Alida C. Metcalf, Rice University

Session Abstract

Spatial approaches to history, such as historical geographic information systems (HGIS), are enabling historians to reexamine traditional topics and investigate new questions. HGIS allow historians to incorporate a new range of sources, reconstruct past environments at different scales, analyze spatial and temporal patterns, and visualize these patterns in graphical and interactive ways. This panel presents projects that use mapping and HGIS to answer questions on the long nineteenth century. Using examples from studies on wartime emancipation in the U.S. Civil War, the influence of African American veterans in postbellum communities, disease and socioeconomic development in Gilded-Age New Orleans, and cartographic representations of neighborhoods in colonial Lagos, this panel presents the advances in HGIS for studies of the nineteenth century, with particular focus on methods and sources for developing historical geospatial datasets. These projects bring into focus the power of HGIS to incorporate a wide range of qualitative and quantitative sources, along with the different methods of compiling these sources into geospatial datasets. The methods of building datasets from nineteenth-century sources ranged from crowdsourcing African American veteran records and georeferencing colonial maps of Lagos to geocoding runaway slave advertisements and using historical address locators to map death certificates. These projects speak to the flexible, multifaceted nature of HGIS to reconstruct and analyze sources and topics.

Furthermore, this panel highlights the possibilities of HGIS to facilitate interdisciplinary, collaborative research. While the discipline of history has a strong tradition of individual scholarship and closed-note research, these papers demonstrate the exponential potential of historical projects undertaken by interdisciplinary teams of researchers. These teams have enabled the projects to bridge methodological divides, and provide new insight on well-worn and forgotten topics alike. The datasets constructed in these projects can be easily incorporated and leveraged for other research project focused on the same geographic area. This adds to the research model of history by allowing replicability of results and iterative growth of datasets, sources, and methods from completed projects. Yet, these advancements in the discipline are not without challenges. Quantitative and discrete geographic data models abstract and categorizes the lived experiences of people. This panel discusses these challenges and the new opportunities to intertwine quantitative and qualitative sources in spatial contexts.

See more of: AHA Sessions