restricted access Notes on Methods and Literature: From Historical GIS Databases to Narrative Histories
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229 Notes on Methods and Literature: From Histori­ cal GIS Databases to Narrative Histories This book sits astride two approaches to history. It presents a traditional argument in response to perennial questions in Irish history, but it does so using a nontraditional method. By tapping the power of new geospatial technologies, the book is able to offer a different perspective on the intersection of religion, politics, and power in Irish history—a perspective that stresses the importance of space. What follows is not a standard bibliography or a discourse on method, both of which could be the subject of separate books.1 Rather, it is a brief reflection on the issues raised by this approach and a suggestion about where it fits within the scholarly literature. Space, Time, and Theme in Irish Histories A monograph covers a range of different but related topics that are brought together to create and structure a coherent overarching story. To achieve this, histories frequently use either time, theme, or a combination of both to structure their central narrative. Perhaps the most common approach is for a book to tell the story of change over a period of time. To achieve this approach the book is subdivided into chapters that cover shorter time periods within which authors discuss multiple themes. Examples of this approach from Irish histories include R. F. Foster’s Modern Ireland 1600–1972; C. J. Beckett’s The Making of Modern Ireland, 1603–1923; F. S. L. Lyons’s Ireland since the Famine, which splits Ireland spatially into north and south after Partition; and, for a shorter time period, M. Laffan’s The Partition of Ireland 1911–1925.2 Theme can also be used to derive the main structure. J. Mokyr’s Why Ireland Starved: A Quantitative and Analytical History of the Irish Economy, 1800–1850 uses this approach.3 It includes chapters on themes such as population; land, leases, and tenures; and the economics of rural conflict. Other histories, in­ clud­ ing M. E. Daly’s The Slow Failure: Population Decline in Independent Ireland, 1920–1973 and C. Ó Gráda’s Ireland : A New Economic History, use a combination of both time and theme.4 Daly’s chapters cover themes such as rural Ireland, the Irish family, and emigration, each of which is explored over three major time periods, while Ó Gráda’s book includes chapters titled “Industry 1870–1914: An Overview,” “Industry 1870–1914: Problems and Prospects,” and “Banking and Industrial Finance: 1850–1939.” In this way the stress on time and theme—in different proportions—­ allows an author to present a coherent narrative. The problem is, of course, the neglect of space. While most of the titles listed above contain the word “Ireland” or “Irish,” geography is basically only used as a container and is rarely raised in any other context apart from in a very minor way, such as N Troubled Geographies 230 occurs in Lyons to tell the differences between North­ ern Ireland and the Free State/Repub­ lic after Partition.5 The difficulty is that this implies that there is only one story (diverging into two in Lyons’s case) and that this story occurred in much the same way in all places.6 In actual fact, this single story results from the aggregation of the combined experiences of many local communities. As E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield’s Population History of England 1541–1871: A Reconstruction notes, the aggregate experience can be thought of as an average that may only reflect the actual experience of a very few in­ di­ vidual communities.7 An alternative approach to structuring a history that is more space-­ centric is to use an atlas. In the early days of His­ tori­ cal Geographical Information Systems (HGIS), use of an atlas was seen as an obvious way of turning the database into a book. Irish examples include L. Kennedy et al.’s Mapping the Great Irish Famine: An Atlas of the Famine Years and J. Gleeson et al.’s The Atlas of the Island of Ireland: Mapping Social and Economic Change, which, despite its title, only covers the period from 1991 to 2001/2002.8 One issue atlases of this type have is that they are limited in their ability to manage time because they are based around choropleth maps. A sec­ ond, more serious issue is that they fail to provide an overarching narrative, instead resorting to short sections of text to accompany sets of maps covering...


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