The Spatial Turn and GIS (Another Lesson in Modern Cartography)

Hello Lovelies!

Welcome back to my riveting weekly blog. This weeks subject as you all know is one of my favorites…GIS!!! In all actuality, I have been learning so much about this subject and it has started to grow on me. I love what GIS can accomplish for historians, but I still don’t really understand how to use it and would really like it if someone just did all the work to create these amazing maps and visualizations for me….but that is not how life works. So to begin with lets talk about what GIS actually is.

What is GIS?

GIS is really just a software program that is designed to capture, manage, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced information. GIS helps researchers look at their data in a different way and visualize relationships and patterns that they may not have been able to see before. GIS can be used to look at numerous different research avenues and data sets, from predicting house fires to establishing goals for school districts.
Predicting House Fires
Educational Goals for Oakland Schools

Historical GIS

GIS when used as a tool by historians is often utilized in two ways, first to analyze and interpret the spatial dimensions of quantitative data such as census records and secondly to digitize historic maps and determine their real world coordinates and then overlay historic features. If you want to learn more about how GIS can be utilized by historians, there is a great blog dedicated to providing detailed lessons and ideas about how to use GIS in projects and where to find geo-spacial data.

Infant Mortality Rates London, 1911. (J. Clifford)
Infant Mortality Rates London, 1911. (J. Clifford)

The Spatial Turn

187731_zps9a9032ecWhen discussing the use of GIS in historical inquiry, it is necessary to discuss what has been dubbed the spatial turn. The spatial turn is much like the linguistic turn in history, in that it provides historians with a new way of analyzing and interpreting historic source material.  The spatial turn was part of a broad push for scholars to reflect on our nature as beings that are situated in space. In history, the spatial turn focused on how people have moved throughout history and the ways in which people have created and interpreted their place and space. This analysis of the creation of space is best seen through the rise of urban studies and a focus on broader and more complex narratives. While I was reading about the spatial turn, I couldn’t help but think of writers like Lefebvre, Foucault, and Braudel. All three writers touch on the ideas of place creation and sense of space, but Braudel in particular pays very close attention to landscape and geo-spacial ideas in his work The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World.  The scope and length of this work are enormous, Braudel argues that space and time space and time need to be looked at in different ways in order for a more full picture of history.

GIS History Projects

gettysburg-map-satellite-viewThis week along with the readings I was required to look at some GIS projects that historians had created. These projects were amazing. These historians were able to use GIS to create really in-depth and complex narratives and were able to use quantitative data and visual representations to present, in my opinion some really groundbreaking work. One of the most interesting projects I looked at this week was an analysis of the Battle of Gettysburg through Robert E. Lee’s eyes done by Anne Kelly Knowles. This project addresses one of the most hotly debated questions surrounding the Civil War, namely what was Robert E. Lee thinking at Gettysburg? Knowles uses GIS to analyze view-sheds and sight lines along with showcasing the geography of the battle with troop movements.gettysburg-map-show-viewshed This site was so much fun to navigate and I think it really showcased the strengths of GIS and its use in interpreting historic events.

Mapping and My Project

As I have mentioned before, my thesis project is focusing on the history of the Parliament House Resort in Orlando and as part of nominating it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places I will need to include detailed maps of the layout of the site. That is really the only map that is required of my project, but I thought it would be interesting to see if there was enough data on the locations of other LGBT clubs and centers in the Orlando area to make a visualization of the geography of the LGBT community of Orlando. I have no idea whether or not there would be adequate data for this, nor do I know if I would have the time and GIS skills to pull something like this off, but it would be interesting to see how the centers of LGBT life have shifted or changed as Orlando has grown and changed.

Until next week.



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