HGIS Bibliography

Bodenhamer, David J. “History and GIS: Implications for the Discipline.” In Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship, ed. Anne Kelly Knowles. (Redlands, Calif.: ESRI Press, 2008): 219-234.

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  1. Despite the title of David J. Bodenhamer’s article, “History and GIS: Implications for the Discipline,” Bodenhamer spends a vast majority of the article not describing the accumulative effects of GIS on the field of history thus far and in the future, but rather detailing why GIS technology has not yet been adopted on a large scale by the history community, thus demonstrating that the implications are yet to be discovered. Even though GIS provides an excellent platform by which to analyze spatial information, particularly seemingly disparate sets of data, historians have not embraced it for a number of reasons, according to Bodenhamer. Firstly, arguments for the use of GIS in history are often made from outside of the discipline, thus often not resonating within the historical profession itself. Secondly, unlike the Social and Natural Sciences, history tends to generalize from the particular, rather than seeking to create concrete laws. Thirdly, historians have been trained to prefer words and manuscripts, rather than visual and quantitative sources; the use of GIS in historical research, basically means the learning of an entirely different discipline and way of thinking. Fourthly, the limitations of the GIS software itself have deterred widespread use in the historical discipline. For instance, GIS cannot deal well with incomplete, shifting, or vague data sets, and the availability of complete historical data sets is often hit and miss. Fifthly, the humanities do not often have the financial and technical resources to support GIS research. Lastly, history, particularly in the last fifty years, has moved away from spatial questions, thus making GIS irrelevant. However, with improvements in the software, Bodenhamer is confident that GIS can begin to play a larger role in the writing of history. In the future, he states, GIS will serve as either the means or a medium for historical research. As a means, GIS can contribute, through the explicit demonstration of space and time, by helping historians find patterns more easily and provide enhanced comparisons, perspectives, and illustrative data. As a medium, Bodenhamer argues that it can serve as a tool for the production of a new generation of postmodern scholarship, by enabling the historian to better demonstrate the complexity and subjectivity of historical events. Bodenhamer concludes historical GIS true value is that it “offers an alternate view of history through the dynamic representation of time and place within culture.” (231)

    Jessica DeWitt
    February 2013

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