Blog Post #7

The meanings and relationships between space and place is atopic oft discussed in the field of Public History. It is particularly relevant for the contextualization of historic sites and memorials, and the events and histories they tell (or don’t tell). This is, however, quite different from the approach to space and place in the digital humanities, though both contextualize history.

All of this week’s readings provide excellent examples of how spatial studies can be applied to history, and how these questions can create their own bodies of research for future historical inquiry. Encountering such variety in approaches to spatial history is as overwhelming as it is fascinating.

Blevins’ examination of the Houston Daily shows how individuals and organizations were able to impact how others perceived America geographically, by focusing on certain cities in their news articles over others. By providing well-executed written research, explanations for the methodology, and also interactive maps, Blevins has created an excellent study with which to set a baseline for any individual engaging in spatial research.

Mapping Inequality is both impressive and terrifying for its datasets. Evidence of racial segregation across the United States aided and abetted by a government organization is frightening indeed. The application of the concentric Zones Theory in conjunction with the HOLC maps is an interesting process of visualization (though a little difficult to understand at first). The written explanations and research for this spatial study provides great context for the overwhelming maps.

Visualizing Emancipation is similarly overwhelming, but sublimely executed. The sheer volume of data collected by the University of Richmond is incredible, and to have successfully compiled it into an understandable, interactive map is very impressive. How the researches approached the categorization of emancipation events, and applied them through visually recognizable icons is particularly interesting, as is the research on the security of the freedom of emancipated slaves. Admittedly, I feel this spatial study could have emphasized the navigation bar a little more, since opening with the map and no context initially is overwhelming. Also the legality of slavery map colors should have been more distinct; four shades of gray is very difficult to tell apart at times, especially when the map animation is in motion.

These spatial studies and their maps effectively show the benefits of approaching historical questions spatially, contextualizing them not only in history but in the related spaces and meaning-laden places in which they happen. Place is defined by events within space, and spatial studies can help us understand the geographic relationships of these events with incredible results.


Further Readings:

Cameron Blevins, “Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World from Houston,” and the digital supplement, “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space”
Review Mapping Inequality and Visualizing Emancipation
“British Travelers in Eighteenth Century Italy”

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