Spacial History

Spacial History provides an interesting look into how we make sense of history. For more visual learners, mapping can provide a good aid to historical texts. Much like the other methods of digital history, mapping only provides a piece of information that can get left out in strictly a text based historical account. An example of where spacial history is extremely helpful is when talking about big issues spanning great distances, as White states in his article, “Historians still routinely write about political change, social change, class relations, gender relations, cultural change as if the spatial dimensions of these issue matter little if at all.” (6) If an idea or discussion or important topic at a given point in history is spread through out a large geographical space, having that record displayed in a visual manner can show exactly how widespread the idea was at that time in history. 

There are some limitations for spacial history, which White expresses, “A georeferenced map is a first step, but because it depends on absolute space, it has definite limits for historians. The first is obvious: not all peoples at all times have constructed space in ways that can be easily made commensurate with absolute space.” (28) With historical research often things are not adequately documented, this is also true for how people document space. But in cases where travel or usage of geographical space are well documented, spacial history provides an excellent tool to better understand how life was. An example this is found in the Orbis Project. They initially provide background resources on both the history and the methods used in creating the maps. This is very important, without giving this information first the maps can be taken out of context and can be misunderstood. Because they provide that material first before you can see or play around with the maps, you get an insight into how to read and understand the maps. The actual data on the maps is very helpful, it provides information how long traveling lasted, how much the cost would have been.

The Orbis Project example proves how successful digital mapping can be. I think after reading Time on the Cross we can all see how easy it is to manipulate data, the same goes for manipulating data on maps. In the map projections on Jason Davies’s website, it’s clear to see that how a map is even displayed and interrupted can show how geography can be manipulated. Most people know that Antarctica and greenland are smaller landmasses, but in certain types of maps, they get stretched and distorted in a way that makes them look larger. This just shows how traditional map making can distort understanding, adding historical data to maps can further the distortion if it was not done well or incorrectly.  I think these forms of digital history are all good tools, to be used along with historical research and even other forms of digital history. So far in the examples we have seen in class there are very few forms of digital analysis that could stand alone and be understood as historical evidence. All of the mediums including digital mapping, at this point in time need to still be explained and supported by text and research to make an effective scholarly argument.


Nikki Reed: First year MA student in Public History. Interest in Digital Archiving, Art History, and Art.

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