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Digital Maps

Richard White’s piece “What is Spatial History,” provided a comprehensive overview of the field of spatial history, and the different variations of the practice. I thought it was useful and interesting when he elaborated how spatial history differs from normal historical practice. He posited the differences as: collaborative projects, main focus is on visualizations, these visualizations overwhelmingly depend on digital history, the projects are open ended, and the conceptual focus is on space. These differences helped me to better understand the goals and processes of obtaining those goals in spatial history. One aspect of his piece that was particularly illuminating for me is that spatial history is not just a way to demonstrate information, but is rather a method of doing historical research. “Visualization and spatial history are not about producing illustrations or maps to communicate things that you have discovered by other means,”(36). An interesting aspect of visualizations pointed out by White is that maps and texts are both static, while movement is dynamic.

Cameron Blevin’s piece “Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region,” uses GIS technologies and spatial history to study the imagined geography created by the Houston Daily Post at the turn of the century. It was really interesting to study the frequency of place name mentions in the newspaper to determine what the imagined geography for that region was. It was particularly interesting to me that the Post spent very little time discussing issues in the American South, with “a national scale oriented towards New York and the American Midwest, and a dominant regional scale of Texas and its immediate orbit,”(129). Perhaps it is because I consider Texas, as part of the American South that I find it so perplexing that the newspaper would not discuss Southern issues. The influence of shipping routes, as demonstrated by the comparison between the Post and an earlier Houston newspaper, was fascinating; the earlier newspaper focused on shipping channels instead of railroads leading to a focus on the American South and Northeast through the Mississippi.

The Dust Bowl chapter of Anne Knowles’ “Placing History,” was my favorite reading this week. The prevailing understanding of the dust bowl places the blame squarely on the farmer’s shoulders, blaming the environmental event on the over plowing of farmers during the years leading up to the Dust Bowl. However, using spatial historical methods and GIS technologies, it can be demonstrated that dust bowls were a common occurrence in the Great Plains, and some of the areas hit worst by the Dust Bowl were some of the least plowed. The accepted belief that the Dust Bowls storms were cataclysmic and unprecedented is disproven by the visualizations produced in this study, showing the “occurrence of dust storms in conjunction with dry years is a regular component of Southern Plains ecology,”(110). This case study showed a really cool way to use these techniques to overturn prevailing history.

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