restricted access PART 2. Broadening Technology: Applying GIS to New Sources and Disciplines
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89 Part two Broadening Technology: Applying GIS to New Sources and Disciplines The previous three chapters take what might be termed “traditional GIS data” and apply them to historical research. By “traditional GIS data” we mean that they are based on quantitative attribute data that can be well represented spatially using points, lines, or polygons . The major sources used by all three chapters are censuses – statistical information about clearly defined administrative units that can be represented by polygons – with additional information on railway lines and stations in the case of Schwartz and Thevenin and locations of killings during the Troubles in the case of Cunningham. Representing these in a GIS is relatively straightforward, and the methodological challenges – exploring change over time in the face of changing administrative boundaries and analyzing data in ways that allow relationships to vary spatially – have been resolved previously and are not the main subject under discussion. As a consequence, the essays are able to focus on learning new knowledge about the topic under study, although what they can teach us about what GIS can, and cannot, offer to the study of the past is also of interest. The three chapters that follow face a different set of challenges. In each case the major issue that confronts the study is that conventional GIS technology does not easily do what the authors require. They face two sets of challenges. First, how can the technology be developed and enhanced in such a way that it is able to handle the sources that they are using? Second, how can the technology be used to reach new audiences, includingacademicswhowouldnottraditionallybeinterestedinhistory, 90 Part 2. Broadening Technology and people from beyond the academy in fields such as the commercial and heritage sectors? The three chapters are based on projects that have contrasts as well assimilarities.Thebiggestcontrastsperhapslieinthesizeoftheprojects and the stages they are at. Humphrey Southall has been working on the system that is at the center of his essay for nearly two decades, and it has received extensive funding from a large number of sources for many different purposes. Julia Hallam and Les Roberts lie at the opposite extreme , with much of their work being based on a single focused two-year project. Elijah Meeks and Ruth Mostern lie between these two. Four areas of similarity can be identified from the essays: the challenge of incorporating historical sources that are not easily represented into a GIS using the quantitative attribute data linked to points, lines, or polygons; using GIS to conduct academic studies in areas beyond traditional social science history; going further than this to use the technology to present results to users beyond the academy; and the problems of sustaining and enhancing major infrastructural resources. The first of these issues suggests the wide range of potential sources that researchers increasingly want to incorporate into a GIS framework that the original GIS data model is not well suited to handling. In the cases of both Southall and Meeks and Mostern the most important of these is place-names and the coordinates of the locations that the names refer to. While these can easily be represented as points or polygons, difficulties arise once additional information such as which higher-level administrationsorjurisdictionstheplace-namesbelongedtoatdifferent dates also need to be added. Changes over time add further complications . In both cases the authors have had to develop complex relational database structures to cope with these challenges. Southall additionally points out that environmental historical data tend to be in raster form, and he explores how these types of sources can be integrated with more traditionalHGIS sources.HallamandRobertshaveasomewhatdifferent challenge in that their material consists of historical amateur movies. Their challenge is to use such a qualitative and unconventional source of attribute data within a technology that was designed to represent and analyze quantitative material. 91 Applying GIS to New Sources and Disciplines Taking these sources and analyzing them is complex, but it also opens new opportunities. The authors of all three essays point to the potential of studies that lie well beyond traditional social science history, including modern medical research (Southall), environmental change (Southall and Meeks and Mostern), and film studies (Hallam and Roberts ). Beyond finding these new academic audiences, two of the essays also explore the potential with engaging with nonacademic groups, including the commercial sector, environment managers (Southall), and the heritage sector in the form of museums (Hallam and Roberts). The final issue returns us to the introduction to the first set of chapters , where we noted that HGIS...


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