Spatial History

Sep. 10

I did not have a concrete understanding of what the term ‘spatial history’ meant until I read these articles, particularly Tim Hitchcock’s “Place and the Politics of the Past” in Historyonics. Know I understand how it is the relationship between the very technical aspects of geography and history – “two fields that should be in constant dialogue” according to Hitchcock (Hitchcock, “Place and the Politics of the Past,” Historyonics). Geography does provide a visual, and thus, spatial understand of how history played out. It would be extremely difficult to discuss a war without spatial reference or mapping. These elements are fundamental to history. Furthermore, Aylmer’s structure of the archive helps bring the two subjects together because it collaborates/collects data about the world’s surface and data about historical events. The “rise of the ‘infinite archive’” turned “text into ‘data’ with profound implications for how we read it” – and thus, digitizing resources altered the way in which historical georgraphers interpret the data of history and the world’s surface (Hitchcock, “Place and the Politics of the Past,” Historyonics). Prior to these readings, I had never heard of Google Ngram Viewer, which is an absolutely fascinating tool because the type of data in infinite archives such as this allow for cross-referencing with history.

Clearly, spatial history in itself if fundamental to historical knowledge because it “allows the exploitation of kinds of evidence and data bases that would be too opaque or too unwieldy to use without computers” (Richard White, What is Spatial History?). This information cannot be narrated and thus, it must be reflected on a technological level, interpreted through data.

Visualizations are essential to history, according to White and Goodchild, and these articles gave me some great ideas for my final project in which I think I would like to focus on mapping out historical events. The reason being, the use of GIS mapping and georeferencing not only provide visual representation of history, but also connect the two disciplines of history and geography – a connection that Hitchcock said was crucial in society. The comparison of layers via ArcGIS is a great way to show the past and more recent history through topographical representation. As Presner discusses, these digital resources such as HyperCities bring together different cultural communities through the use of technology. And his discussion about time-layers to show the historical effect of certain events caused me to think about my project again because it would be interesting to mimic his methods and show how various historical events changed society and this can be mapped out.


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