Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History

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The application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to issues in history is among the most exciting developments in both digital and spatial humanities. Describing a wide variety of applications, the essays in this volume highlight the methodological and substantive implications of a spatial approach to history. They illustrate how the use of GIS is changing our understanding of the geographies of the past and has become the basis for new ways to study history. Contributors focus on current developments in the use of historical sources and explore the insights gained by applying GIS to develop historiography. Toward Spatial Humanities is a compelling demonstration of how GIS can contribute to our historical understanding.

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1. Railways and Agriculture in France and Great Britain, 1850–1914

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Railways and Agriculture in France and Great Britain, 1850–1914

ROBERT M. SCHWARTZ AND THOMAS THEVENIN

Losses year after year and increasing competition indicate that the crops now grown are not sufficient to support the farmer. When he endeavors, however, to vary his method of culture, and to introduce something new, he is met at the outset by two great difficulties…. The first [is] the extraordinary tithe … ; the second is really even more important – it is the deficiency of transit… .

It is not too much to say that three parts of England are quite as much in need of opening up as the backwoods of America. When a new railroad track is pushed over [American] prairie and through primeval woods, settlements spring up beside it. When road trains [in Britain] run through remote hamlets, those remote hamlets will awake to a new life.

RICHARD JEFFERIES,
“Steam on Country Roads,” 18841

 

2. The Development, Persistence, and Change of Racial Segregation in U.S. Urban Areas, 1880–2010

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The Development, Persistence, and Change of Racial Segregation in U.S. Urban Areas, 1880–2010

ANDR EW A. BEVERIDGE

DUBBED THE “GREAT MIGRATION,” THE MOVEMENT OF THE African American population in the United States from the mostly agricultural areas of the South to the cities and metropolitan areas in the North is one of the major population shifts that shaped the United States in the twentieth century.1 After the Civil War ended, so-called Jim Crow laws subjected African Americans in the South to second-class citizenship. Many of the common rights of U.S. citizens were denied, including the rights to vote, hold property, and marry freely. To escape this segregated regime, many blacks began to move to the North. A recent and widely noted chronicle of the Great Migration pegs it as occurring during the period from 1915 to 1970, when six million African Americans left the South for cities in the Northeast, Midwest, and West. Indeed, though substantial before the World War II, this migration increased again after 1950, when a significant number of African Americans began to be seen in many of the cities in the North.2 However, instead of finding equality in the North, African Americans were relegated to segregated living areas with inadequate schools and diminished economic opportunities. These patterns were enforced by both law and custom. African Americans were also denied full equality in other realms, including housing, transportation, and education.3

 

3. Troubled Geographies: A Historical GIS of Religion, Society, and Conflict in Ireland since the Great Famine

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Troubled Geographies: A Historical GIS of Religion, Society, and Conflict in Ireland since the Great Famine

NIALL CUNNINGHAM

THROUGHOUT THE DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN IRELAND RELIGION has played a central role in the persistence of complex communal identities.1 Notwithstanding what has been considered to be the substantive resolution of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, religious identity has continued to significantly influence attitudes and behavior.2 However, this is not to be reductive: the divisions between Catholics and Protestants have not been representative of substantive theological conflict; instead, they have reflected the political chasm between nationalists, the overwhelming majority of whom are Catholic, and Protestants, who have always made up the vast majority of the unionist political bloc that seeks to maintain the constitutional link with the rest of the United Kingdom. Many scholars have set out to appraise these complexities and their outcomes, but few have explored them through an overtly geographical framing to understand how the conflict that has so dogged Northern Ireland in contemporary decades relates to longer-term (re)configurations of identities right across the island. In that context, this chapter will provide some insights into “Troubled Geographies: Two Centuries of Religious Division in Ireland,” a major project funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) that has gone some way in addressing this lacuna.

 

4. Applying Historical GIS beyond the Academy: Four Use Cases for the Great Britain HGIS

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Applying Historical GIS beyond the Academy: Four Use Cases for the Great Britain HGIS

HUMPHREY R. SOUTHALL

MANY HISTORICAL GIS PROJECTS ARE THE WORK OF INDIVIDUAL scholars, carried out in their own research time without external funding. Most of the projects that do receive external funding are relatively small scale, employing a single research assistant to work alongside the principal investigator. However, a small minority of HGIS research projects are among the most expensive projects of any kind in the arts and humanities. They are also more expensive than most nonhistorical academic projects using GIS technology. This is because the latter can use the vast bodies of georeferenced data describing the modern world that are available from national mapping agencies and through remote sensing. Conversely, even where historical maps are available, the historical researcher needs to scan, georeference, and probably vectorize them; and often spatial data need to be constructed from textual information containing geographical names, not coordinates.

 

5. The Politics of Territory in Song Dynasty China, 960–1276 CE

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The Politics of Territory in Song Dynasty China, 960–1276 CE

ELIJAH MEEKS AND RUTH MOSTERN

STATE POWER IS INHER ENTLY AND FUNDAMENTALLY GEOGRAPHICAL. The existence of states is marked by whether or not they hold sway over some territory on the earth’s surface, and their persistence depends upon how the machinery of dominion is spatially distributed throughout their territory. However, territorial logic varies from one regime to another, and it may be significantly transformed over time under the pressure of politics and policies, events and ideologies. Therefore, by mapping and reading a regime’s evolving spatial organization, historians can gain insights about the spatial distribution of political authority and changes in sovereign dominion. The advent of historical GIS makes it possible to manage all of the data about a historical empire in a coherent system and to track its transformations through time and space.

 

6. Mapping the City in Film

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Mapping the City in Film

JULIA HALLAM AND LES ROBERTS

IN THIS CHAPTER WE EXAMINE HOW GEOSPATIAL COMPUTING tools such as GIS can contribute to an understanding of the development of local film culture and its contribution to projections of “place,” drawing on archival research into Liverpool and Merseyside on film. We will map some of the contradictory and ambiguous spatialities that historically have mediated ideas of “the local” and “the regional” in a range of moving image genres, exploring the correlations between categories of genre, date, and location as assessed in relation to records in a spatial database consisting of over seventeen hundred films shot in Merseyside from 1897 to the 1980s. Significantly, the use of GIS has revealed the ways in which particular styles and genres of filmmaking create their own cinematic maps, initiating new modes of spatial dialogue between the virtual landscapes of the moving image and the architectural, geographic, and imagined spaces within which they are embedded.

 

7. Conclusions: From Historical GIS to Spatial Humanities: Challenges and Opportunities

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Conclusions: From Historical GIS to Spatial Humanities: Challenges and Opportunities

IAN N. GR EGORY AND ALISTAIR GEDDES

THE ESSAYS IN THIS VOLUME ILLUSTRATE THE DIVERSITY OF topics within and beyond history that can be conducted using historical GIS (HGIS) and the fields of spatial history, humanities GIS, and spatial humanities that are emerging from it. The topics discussed cover rural history, urban history, demography, religious history, and environmental history. Reflecting this diversity, the authors come from disciplines including history, geography, sociology, and media studies. The sources and approaches vary from the highly quantitative analyses of census data – particularly prevalent in Beveridge’s essay – to the very qualitative – exemplified particularly by Hallam and Roberts. Schwartz and Thevenin, in particular, illustrate that these two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Although their essay is based primarily on quantitative sources, they also make considerable use of qualitative material that could not be georeferenced, notably, the writing of contemporary journalist Richard Jefferies. The scales used in the book vary from a single city to a country the size of China, and the periods under study vary from the twentieth century to the Song dynasty. Within these, the studies cover time periods that vary from single-date snapshots to analyses covering a century and more.

 

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