How GIS And Mapping Digital History Changes The Way We View The Past.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

When standing at the National Mall in Washington D.C., there are historical monuments, markers and museums everywhere you turn. The underlying history of that one area can be overwhelming, but what if you had access to history that is not able to be seen with the naked eye? This is when map-based applications and digital history blend together, creating accessible information within the simple search of a smart phone.

Photo by Christian Wagner on Unsplash

The Building Histories of the National Mall project is a great example of one of many digital map projects which provide itself to historians, students and researchers alike. More often than not, there is usually more to history than what meets the eye. When public historians and these digital history projects collide, the opportunities are endless. For example, behind the seemingly finished and well put together National Mall are the dreams of many other plans that were never brought to life. So, the Center for History and New Media created a way for visitors to get the inside scoop on some of those forgotten parts of history that make up what the National Mall is today.

Mead’s Tavern page on Clio

Clio is a free mobile app and website that provides geographic information system (GIS) services to find historical places, markers, and museums closest to your current location. It has a summary and back story of the historic significance, pictures, related links and even uses Google street view. Specific sites can also be searched without location services by using coordinates, an address, or the name of the place itself. The app is designed for the general public and is user friendly.

Not all digital history projects are meant for the public’s enjoyment and personal inquiries. In fact, most are put together specifically for researchers. A great example of a project for an audience of a select few is Placing Segregation. The digital mapping of segregation and racism takes a closer look at the different written records of the mid-19th century in different American cities. This technique has been used by countless African American historical figures and activists. A key part of digital humanities is visual representations of archived records, especially in light of the racial injustice towards African Americans during that time. This helps researchers properly understand fragments of history that were not discarded. It helps put together the missing pieces of history that give a glimpse of what it was like for those effected by segregation and hate crimes during that time.

Another project that students and researches can utilize, is Anne Kelly Knowles’ interactive GIS of the Battle of Gettysburg. The niche topic was created for the use of a few historians in order to understand part of Lee’s downfall, as well as many other factors within those few days. The topic is now more common amongst historians and students, but still was not made for the average tourist.

Digital and public history come together in many ways, GIS being one of them. It can be used by researchers, historians, students and occasionally the public as well. GIS lets us take a look into the past and find out more details through specialized documents, statistics, and forgotten history.

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