Spatial History

I was nervous for this week’s readings (always nervous but especially this week) because it was my first time to hear the term “spatial history” or “GIS.” But it was also my first time to be amazed to know what digital history can do.

I was especially impressed by the map of Napoleon’s March by Charles Joseph Minard on The Spacial History Project. By combining the number of army, time, temperature, distance, and location in one map, we can see how weather or location or all five can affect the number of deaths or the result of the battle. But while I was looking at this map, I was wondering how can you figure out the temperature in the 1800s? I have read books on Civil War (or any kind of battle) where historians describes the weather on the day of the battle. (It usually starts out like this: On a rainy and humid day, the Southern troops marched…. or something like that.) How do you know the weather on a certain time or date that is over 100 years ago? We have many military history experts in our class, so if one of you know, please let me know. In fact, I like when historian does that because it makes history alive.

Another website I enjoyed was “The Racial Dot Map: One Dot Per Person for the Entire U.S.” This map is fascinating. The map also reminded me the result of the U.S. Presidential election on the New York Times‘ website a year ago. We can simply distinguish the states in red or blue by the total number of ballot. However, if we look closer and click “Counties” or “Sizeof lead” on the map, we can argue more about the results. For instance, many people voted for the Democrat Party in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida but if we examine the map by counties, red dominates larger geographically than blue in these states. If we, however, look at the dot map it shows where large population in blue are concentrated. This tells us more about the states than red or blue. And finally, these digital maps enables us to see and compare the shift or “human movement” in changes over time; something that can be done only digitally.

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