Data/Visualizing the Past

Mapping History

You may read the: Which came first, the Chicken or th Egg article, and think: ‘what does it matter?’ – I certainly did.

In the end, it was impressive how Morris came up (with hopefully) a final answer to which photo was taken first. You have to admire his perseverance. While I might still not get the full point of why it really does matter, it does show a great example of how to do historical research in a different way, using technology.

The other sources for this week, are also great examples of how to do historical research in a different way. Especially with Georeferencer it is very easy to use and you can tell your story in a more engaging way. It will be especially useful for immigration studies, because you can just with one click , show your audience the immigration routes relevant to your research.

Furthermore, I think making maps using GIS or arcGIS is very relevant for the history field. A friend of mine, is studying Urban History and she can show me with one map how the Jewish population changed over time in Amsterdam, using these programs. You can color-coordinate it, with dark red being a lot of Jews, and the more orange/yellow the color, the fewer Jews. This also speaks more to your imagination, than to just read numbers and percentages.

The only doubt I have about using mapping and software in the history field is, that it is not very common. At least in the Universities in the Netherlands they do not use it, nor do they teach it. (With the exception of Urban History). And I am not sure if this is going to change soon, and if teachers and students are willing to change the history field.

6 replies on “Mapping History”

Like you, I definitely questioned why it mattered the order of the cannonballs being OFF and ON the road for a few minutes while readings. Is there really a point, does it truly matter? It it so significant that this part of history will be horribly misrepresented if the “wrong” photo is selected for higher representation? I especially thought this while reading Baldwin’s theory on the matter. If the cannonballs were not moved by Fenton, if they were moved organically by those around him without his direction- then both photos would be historically accurate without doctoring. Would they not?

Also, that sounds like a very cool map your friend showed you! Using color in graphical representation really cannot be underestimated. I know many people who need visualization software, including those with mapping options, to wrap their head around large data sets. It makes me wonder how effective and useful this software is for mathematicians and people who can already “think in numbers.”

I agree that mapping is a great new tool for studying and researching history. For me its really important when looking at Revolutionary War Battles. Mapping software can lay out where a battle was if it was fought in a what is now a large urban area like Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro NC. The mapping software could also be used to show troop movements.

Thank you for writing this post! The Urban History class that your friend took sounds fascinating and the mapping tool that she used seems very useful. It’s too bad that software like that isn’t being used and taught to the fullest extent, as it could only better our understanding of history. I wonder if that will change as children who grew up in the digital age become adults. Universities are going to start teaching students who learned to use an iPad before they could write with a pencil. Perhaps adjusting to that will lead to the implementation of programs and software that so many professors have thus far ignored.

Mapping technology is used quite a bit in the Department of Cultural Resources (where the archives are held). This is both because maps are easy to interact with (because you don’t need to be able to read), and because they have extremely high information density. Similarly, the National Park Service makes a fair amount of use of the same tools.

I agree that with the photographs that Morris was discussing it may not be important which came first or if one was altered by the photographer, but this could lead to others intentionally altering important photographs that inform historian’s, and other professionals’, interpretation of a historical event. Therefore, an altered photograph could change how history is interpreted, creating a false narrative.

I definitely understand the idea of wondering why the photos mattered. Some may consider the idea of faking the photo as fraudulent and speaks negatively to the character of those that take them and perform similar acts. Others may look at this event and simply say reasonable artistic liberty was taken. As Antonio said, it really is all about perception. I feel the ultimate argument was that, in many situations, you do not have to insert bias into the picture. Reasonable and accurate answers can be obtained by purely methodical means, such as analyzing light patterns along cannonballs. It worked well while also giving an accurate narrative. Also, the entire article together provides a good example as to how one can post research online for masses of readers and convey ideas of good habits and research.

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