What is Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS)?
HGIS is a historical methodology that uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database and mapping software to analysis spatial change over time. For some historians this involves exploring the spatial dimensions of quantitative data, such as census demographic statistics or infant mortality rates, to identify patterns and see how they changed. Others use the software to give digital scans of historical maps their real world coordinates and then digitize features, such as railway lines or factories. In many cases historians use a combination of the two methods.
For an overview of the methodology see Ian Gregory, A Place in History: A Guide to Using GIS in Historical Research (2002). For an example of a historian using HGIS to provide a new analysis of a major historical event, see Geoff Cunfer, “Scaling the Dust Bowl”.
Programming Historian Lessons (using free or open source software):
- Lesson 1: Google Map Engine Lite and Google Earth
- Lesson 2: Installing QGIS and Adding Layers
- Lesson 3: Creating New Vector Layers with QGIS
- Lesson 4: Georeferencing with QGIS
ArcGIS is proprietary software and it can be expensive. It is the industry standard and in some tasks remains a more powerful tool than the open source alternatives. Many universities maintain a site license that allows students and faculty to install ArcGIS desktop on their computers or to use the software in computer labs. ESRI also offers a $100 (USD) a year subscription for personal non-commercial use.
These lessons were developed for the classroom by Dr. Geoff Cunfer and adapted into online tutorials by members of the HGIS Lab with feedback from reviewers and the editorial team. Because software changes, these tutorials will need to be updated periodically. Please use the comments to make suggestions for improvements.
- ArcGIS Lesson 1: Mapping Great Plains Population
- ArcGIS Lesson 2: Mapping Great Plains Agriculture
- ArcGIS Lesson 3: Georeferencing Maps
- ArcGIS Lesson 4: Digitizing Archival Maps
- ArcGIS Lesson 5: Overlay and Spatial Analysis
Please contact us if you would have an idea for a lesson or are interested in submitting a lesson.