History and GIS
Cunfer, Geoff. “Scaling the Dustbowl.” In Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Edited by Knowles, Anne Kelly and Amy Hillier. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.
In Chapter 4 of the book, Geoff Cunfer explains how GIS technology enables researchers to answer historical questions concerning the causes of the Dust Bowl by using extensive county by county agricultural data, weather information, personal accounts, and newspaper articles as evidence. Cunfer challenges Donald Worster’s analysis in Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. Cunfer supports some of Worster’s arguments, but he disagrees with Worster’s assertion that over development of lands for farming was a major cause of the 1930s dust storms. Cunfer uses spatial analysis to indicate that, even though plowing in the 1920s contributed to the Dust Bowl, it was instances of drought that had more of an impact.
Knowles, Anne Kelly. “GIS and History.” In Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Edited by Knowles, Anne Kelly and Amy Hillier. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.
In the first chapter of the book, Anne Kelly Knowles explains the ways that GIS is changing historical research and engagement. She also discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using GIS. She claims that GIS is a “superb tool for mapping and geographically analyzing census data, social surveys, and other kinds of systematically collected information linked to known geographical units and locations.” However, Knowles also points out that the precision of GIS makes it an “awkward instrument” for historical research. Secondly, Knowles also notes that GIS is problematic for historians because of its visual and mathematical characteristics. Historians do not easily accept visual images as sources of evidence, and they are not overly interested in the quantitative methods that were so heavily featured in the short-lived Cliometrics turn of the 1970s.
Knowles, Anne Kelly. “What Could Lee See at Gettysburg?” In Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Edited by Knowles, Anne Kelly and Amy Hillier. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.
Anne Kelly Knowles has been called a pioneer for her examination of the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg during the Civil War. In the digital project, geographic information and other historical data come together to recreate Robert E. Lee’s point of view during Pickett’s Charge on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Knowles uses GIS and historical maps to find out why he made he made crucial mistakes that led to their defeat that day. Scholars have long debated Lee’s frontal assault at Gettysburg. The traditional explanation, favored in particular by Lee admirers, is that his subordinate, General James Longstreet, failed to properly obey orders. Knowles’ digital representation of the battlefield indicates that Lee could not see what Longstreet was doing and he did not have a clear view of Union tactics. Longstreet, meanwhile, saw what Lee could not- Union troops were amassed in clear sight of open terrain he had been ordered to march across. The GIS software, historic maps, and visualizations indicate ways that digital history can be used to investigate and reimagine the past.
Travis, Charles. “GIS and History: Epistemologies, Considerations, and Reflections.” In History and GIS: Epistemologies, Considerations, and Reflections. Edited by Von Lünen, Alexander and Travis, Charles. Dordrecht: Springer Publishing, 2012.
In Chapter 12 of History and GIS, Travis gives a sort of in depth historiography of GIS and Spatial history. He compares GIS methodologies to the magic of the telescope and the magnifying glass. He also indicates that GIS can bridge the gap between history and geography. In the essay, he discusses at length the origins of Western geographical practice, Postmodern cartography and geography, and ways in which GIS is being used to “write” spatial history.
Von Lunen, Alexander and and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. “Immobile History: An Interview with Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie.” In History and GIS: Epistemologies, Considerations, and Reflections. Edited by Von Lünen, Alexander and Travis, Charles. Dordrecht: Springer Publishing, 2012.
In the interview, Ladurie talks about his influences and interests in history, computation, and geography. At one point, Ladurie says, “I would have loved to do more with computers myself, but when I started my work we didn’t even have programmable computers, just calculating machines. Nowadays all the historians have computers and laptops, but they don’t use them in their research really.” He recounts his early interests in quantitative methods and explains the source of his interest in microhistories. At the same time, he explains the importance of collaboration by pointing out that he relied on a team of researchers, computer professionals, and students throughout his career.
Von Lunen, Alexander and Gunnar Olsson. “‘Thou Shalt Make No Graven Maps!’: An Interview with Gunnar Olsson.’” In History and GIS: Epistemologies, Considerations, and Reflections. Edited by Von Lünen, Alexander and Travis, Charles. Dordrecht: Springer Publishing, 2012.
In the interview, Von Lunen speaks with prominent Swedish geographer Gunnar Olsson about cartography, GIS, and the “power of imagination” in history and geography. Olsson and Von Lunen discuss ways in which art and history are similar. They also discuss how the “quantitative revolution” tried to capture and describe social interaction, but the results really captured spatial distribution.