Spatial History: GIS Map-Making and Historical Research

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Spatial History: GIS Map-Making and Historical Research

Spatial History: GIS Map-Making and Historical Research is about the new discipline of spatial humanities, which promises to be of great help to genealogists. Creating a map of family burial locations or towns where ancestors lived before emigrating are excellent examples of genealogy combined with spatial history.

A recent piece in the New York Times, With Digital Mapmaking, Scholars See History:

Now historians have a new tool that can help. Advanced technology similar to Google Earth…has made it possible to recreate a vanished landscape. This new generation of digital maps has given rise to an academic field known as spatial humanities. Historians, literary theorists, archaeologists and others are using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)— software that displays and analyzes information related to a physical location — to re-examine real and fictional places like the villages around Salem, Mass., at the time of the witch trials; the Dust Bowl region devastated during the Great Depression; and the Eastcheap taverns where Shakespeare’s Falstaff and Prince Hal caroused.

Spatial History: GIS Map-Making and Historical Research

San Francisco’s Butchertown, after the 1906 earthquake.

A spatial history project from Stanford illustrates the butchering profession in San Francisco. Using city directories and insurance maps to determine the locations of slaughterhouses and retail butcher shops—then mapping those places using GIS—this project was able to document how the city developed and changed.

The map above shows this occupation in 1860 San Francisco during the continuing Gold Rush. The photo at right shows how “Butchertown” in San Francisco had to relocate in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Prior to 1867, slaughterhouses and retail butchers existed throughout San Francisco.

…In nineteenth century San Francisco, early accounts describe a multitude of species within the city. “The spaces separating these houses are filled with domestic animals,” wrote French journalist Etienne Derbec in the early years of the Gold Rush, “Horses, mules, sows, pigs, chickens live in freedom in these unusual sections [of town], and you, sir, can imagine all the inconveniences such a population brings in its train: one’s sense of smell and of hearing are, as you can well believe, somewhat offended.”

A link to the North American Religion Atlas also looks promising for family history research.

For more posts on family history research and mapping, click here.

By |26 Jul 2011|Maps|Comments Off on Spatial History: GIS Map-Making and Historical Research

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”