I’ve been active on twitter since April 2011. While somewhat skeptical when I joined, I’ve come to see twitter as a useful professional resource. In the past, Adam Crymble and Jim Clifford have written helpful NiCHE posts explaining the benefits of twitter and providing some basic instruction on getting started. This post is intended to supplement their contributions by discussing my personal experience with twitter. The aim is to use myself as an example in order to help interested but unconvinced environmental historians to imagine what they might gain through joining twitter.
I was motived to join twitter by the potential of following the tweets of conference-goers at events I was unable to attend. Since last April, I have followed multiple conferences through twitter. While the experience is not comparable to attending in person, it does allow for a sense of some of the issues discussed, at least as perceived by those participants actively tweeting. The experience would be improved were there a higher number of twitter users at any given event. (I do wonder, however, if this improvement would come at the expense of the experience of those conference-goers actually in attendance. What happens to the in-room dialogue if many people are focused on reporting via twitter?)
With the possible exception of friendly tweets to colleagues who are also friends, my twitter presence is entirely professional. My bio, the short blurb displayed beneath a twitter user name, reads: “Environmental historian and historical geographer focusing on Canada, with a special interest in the Canadian prairies,” and I have made the decision to post or distribute only material consistent with this description. Other historians, I should note, take a different approach to the matter, either in their bio or their postings or both, and their contributions to twitter are more eclectic (and probably far more interesting for that).
The main way I use twitter is as a compass pointing me toward good reads in the field of environmental or Canadian history. Many of the people I follow post links to popular or scholarly articles (whether authored by themselves or other authorities) on topics of mutual interest. Through twitter, I can quickly scan some of what my colleagues are reading, and make decisions about what pieces I want to take the time to read. When, in the course of my daily work, I find material that I think might interest others, I do my part by contributing a recommendation through a tweet.
Another way I have used twitter is to ask questions, many of which are related to whatever scholarly work I am doing at the moment. For instance, a few months ago, in the midst of some reading about agricultural science, I posted the following: “Is anybody working on an environmental history of nitrogen?” I received a number of replies, some saying such a study would be very interesting and some pointing me in the direction of relevant material. Obviously, such replies are not a definitive answer to my question, but they did form part of my information-gathering on the topic.
Twitter has figured in professional opportunities that have come my way. For example, a friend (who is also a professional colleague) drew the attention of a newspaper reporter to my work on the history of flooding in southern Manitoba. The friend, the reporter, and I were all following each other on twitter, so the connection was easily made. The result was a fairly extensive interview, published just a few weeks ago in the Winnipeg Free Press. Such a connection could have been made via email or through other means, of course, but the fact remains that it wasn’t. Indeed, I’m not entirely sure the opportunity would have presented itself without my presence on twitter.
Twitter is also useful as a means of providing frequently updated content to a infrequently updated webpage. I maintain a professional web presence on wordpress, but changes in the form of blog posts or new publications do not happen with any great regularity. Through my twitter feed, displayed on my webpage through the use of what wordpress calls a widget, I am able to display to any visitor that I am still active in a scholarly manner.
Following other scholars, I am considering using twitter as an instructional tool in a course I will be teaching in May and June. My hope is that twitter might provide another means through which students could engage with each other and participate in class (though not necessarily by tweeting during class). By providing a course hashtag, an identifying phrase through which it is possible to search for all tweets on a particular topic, it should be possible for me to track students’ comments and to include these in my assessment of course participation. Given my interest in diversifying the ways students can take part in my classes, I’m looking forward to seeing how this works.
So what, in my 10 months on twitter, have I gained? A new way to connect with colleagues, to find good stuff to read, and to access professional opportunities. And perhaps by the summer I’ll add to this list a new way to engage with students. Has twitter been worth it for this environmental historian? Unequivocably: yes.
After a year of fumbling our way through various efforts to produce an environmental history mobile application for iOS, Jim Clifford and I are finally ready to demo Environmental History Mobile 1.0 Beta. As we mentioned in our previous update, the goal of this project was to create an iOS mobile application that would facilitate the dissemination of online content relevant to the environmental history community, including news, blogs, and podcasts. What you can try out below is a demo of our first attempt to aggregate all of that content into a simple application.
Please keep in mind that not all of the components of the application in the web demo will function properly, as it would on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Nevertheless, you can click through most of the different sections of the application, including:
EH Top News
This top button on our first tab is our attempt to aggregate environmental history news sources and blogs from across the web. We created a new website, http://envhist.com as a way to bring together content from a collection of relevant blogs and other online sources of environmental history content. We are currently looking for content for this section of the app and we invite all environmental history bloggers to contact us about adding their RSS feeds to http://envhist.com.
Twitter has rapidly grown into one the best channels for environmental history content on the web. A large community of #twitterstorians have coalesced around the hashtag #envhist as real-time tool for sharing links and discussing environmental history matters on Twitter. Wilko von Hardenberg recently posted this visualization of #envhist activity on Twitter. To tap into this active and ongoing online conversation, we've added this button to take you directly to a stream of tweets with the #envhist tag (unfortunately, this button currently doesn't work on the web demo).
To keep users in the loop on all NiCHE activites, we've added a feed of all NiCHE news and annoucements.
The H-Environment email listserv continues to be an active source of news, announcements, and occasionally debates about environmental history. This feed keeps an updated list of the last twenty posts to H-Environment.
NiCHE's web video series EHTV has published ten short web documentaries about environmental history research. This button takes you to links to watch all of these videos in the app.
Tigers once roamed where buses and auto rickshaws now roar in Manipal, a university town in southern India. In December 2011 Manipal University's Centre for Philosophy and Humanities hosted an international workshop on "Sciences and Narratives of Nature: East & West". The workshop was co-sponsored by Situating Science, NiCHE's sister knowledge cluster, and extended a long-term collaboration between Canadian science studies scholars and their Asian colleagues. Since the workshop was intended to focus, in part, on ideas about nature and history, NiCHE was invited to send a representative. I, a novice to India, was happy to play that role.
It was a fabulous experience. The workshop hosts were gracious, generous and well-organized, and the participants, mainly from India, Canada, and Australia, presented wide-ranging perspectives on the history and social studies of science and nature. The workshop, and the experience of India itself, also suggested many opportunities for environmental historians to connect with science studies scholars and with India's complex environmental history and contemporary politics.
Workshop presentations provided overviews of topics familiar to historians of science, such as ancient theories of generation, the scientific revolution, the history of mathematics, the relation between science and materialism, and Indian medical traditions. Some participants surveyed current work on aspects of contemporary social studies of science: scientific images, the political economy of pharmaceutical research, and the relations between humans and non-humans. Other talks examined the historical relations between knowledge in Asia and the West. In my own paper, I discussed the prospects for linking environmental history and the history of science, in the context of the dual identities of science as situated and mobile.
The presentations were interesting. But they also hinted at the challenges involved in forming collaborations between environmental historians and historians of science. While environmental historians, particularly in Canada, emphasize the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this workshop suggested that historians of science, including those in India, remain more interested in earlier periods. They also tend to focus on intellectual and social developments, but less so on nature and the local landscapes in which these developments take place.
But as I also learned during my visit, there is much that Canadian environmental historians can learn from their Indian colleagues. The history of modern India is written on its landscape: managed and exploited forests, rivers reshaped by hundreds of dams and canals, mechanized and genetically manipulated agriculture, and protected areas set aside for tigers and other charismatic species, often at the expense of local communities. Many of these transformations began in the colonial era, but since independence have been reinforced by the imperatives of industrialization, centralized resource management, and conservation biology. These transformations have affected hundreds of millions of Indians: countless dispossessed forest-dwellers, perhaps 50 million people displaced by dams and reservoirs, and millions of farmers forced off the land. Undoubtedly these impacts help explain the political bite of recent work in Indian environmental history.
Tiger Circle: the crossroads of Manipal
Even today, the environment remains an inescapable fact of Indian political life. During my few days in India I accumulated a fat file of news clippings. In Maharashtra, farmers have too little water for their crops. Farmers elsewhere express frustration with ignorant agriculture officials. Scientists debate conflicting assessments of tiger poaching in Karnataka. Legislators protest inaction on drinking water shortages. Activists and residents protest coal power projects (because of the land they require), and hydro power projects (because of the land they flood). In Durban, Indian diplomats oppose a binding climate action treaty. State officials call for a national river policy to resolve water conflicts. Naturalists and activists debate the future of Kudremukh National Park, and the eviction of those who dwell there. Residents protest a polluting fishmeal plant near Manipal.
These clippings, and work by Indian scholars, also taught me that in India, science is itself an active site of controversy. Scientific expertise – in forest management, water engineering, agricultural science and wildlife biology – has been a driving force in Indian environmental history. But in recent years, people's science movements have used local knowledge to challenge expertise, and to map out new ways to manage forests and water, or provide health care and urban services. Even more so than in Canada, it's clear that in India, science is intensely political.
Indian environmental history, environmental affairs, and science politics presents many opportunities for comparisons with Canada. Beyond specific issues, and the obvious differences in contexts, Canadian and Indian history and current affairs share several themes: the lingering influence of colonial ideas and institutions; the exercise of state authority over landscapes (whether by building dams or designating parks); the apparently inevitable conflicts between science-based resource management and local people; and the intractable disputes that accompany industrialization.
The workshop ended by affirming the value of stronger ties between Canadian and Indian science and environment scholars. As I learned during my visit, the parallels (and differences) between our national environmental histories, and the important scholarly and practical work being done in India on science and the environment, also suggest many opportunities for NiCHE folks. Canadian environmental historians could certainly benefit from building their own passage to India.
Stephen Bocking, Trent University
The workshop website: http://www.situsci.ca/event/sciences-and-narratives-nature-east-and-west
Curating a museum exhibit is a new experience for both myself and Joanna Dean. In late January our exhibition – Six Moments in the History of an Urban Forest – will open at the Bytown Museum in Ottawa. We’re now in the final stages of writing and interpretation. In the new year we’ll be working on the actual installation.
The exhibit is based on Joanna’s current research on Ottawa’s urban forests from the 1850s until the present day. It explores the contested place of trees in Ottawa's urban history including early street-tree planting, the 1920s campaign to "control" urban trees, and the planting of commemorative crab apple trees for Canada’s centennial in 1967. Through the exhibit we explore how urban trees have tested our repeated attempts to discipline them as we make them serve our changing ideas of the good and the beautiful.
One of the challenges has been locating artifacts through which we can tell our story. Joanna’s past work in civic tree politics, however, has provided connections and access to some interesting pieces around which we have built the exhibition.
Our showpiece is a cross-section or “cookie” of a 150-year old bur oak that was felled this past spring in Ottawa. Joanna carefully negotiated her way through the local controversy that surrounded this tree’s demise—which came down to make way for an infill housing project—and retrieved this section.
The section introduced us to the labour required to prepare material artifacts: : in this case hours of sanding and preservative application. The cookie is so large it has to be hauled around Ottawa in a trailer. The attached photo shows Joanna posing with the cookie before we rolled it into a freezer in Carleton University’s geography department. The section had to spend several days in and out of the freezer to kill potential insect infestations. It also visited a metal fabrication shop to work out mounting details.
Elizabeth Paradis, an MA student working with us, secured a set of arborist tools from a local retired aborist, Bill Gardiner. Bill has generously loaned tools from his collection, which include a long lopper, a chainsaw, and a harness.
Throughout this process we’ve had to keep in mind how and where this would all fit in the Bytown Museum. Located in a large stone building right beside the Ottawa Locks on the Rideau Canal, the Bytown Museum has permanent exhibits dedicated to the canal’s construction and the history of Ottawa.
Our exhibit will fit into two rooms that the Bytown makes available for temporay exhibits: the largest is an elegant narrow room about 40 feet in length. Attached to it is a smaller almost square room with a rugged brick floor.
After much back and forth we decided to dedicate this smaller room to perhaps the most interesting moment in the exhibit: Lover’s Walk. The walk is a now-closed forested pathway located behind Parliament Hill, which winds its way along on a slope above the Ottawa River. The walk was one of Ottawa’s leading tourism attractions in the late 19th century until it was closed sometime in the late 1930s.
The walk had physically declined during the reconstruction of Parliament Buildings after the 1916 fire and had become a “rendezvous for an unfortunate class of society.” Authorities were particularly concerned with young men loitering and “performing vulgarly” here and at the adjacent public lavatories—and attempted to police and control their behaviour.
At the same time the second growth forest on the slopes began to decline, despite reforestation efforts in the 1930s. Construction debris made the slope unstable and a series of landslides provided an excuse for shutting down the problematic promenade.
We explore this uncontrollable space—a site of eroding slopes and private pleasures—and attempts to regulate both the trees and people. The small room in which we will present this story is itself adjacent to the now decrepit walk. Contemporary debates about the reforestation of the slopes make the exhibit particularly relevant.
Museum work is exciting and challenging. It is exciting to experience how an amorphous idea for an exhibition takes material and conceptual shape. It is also challenging to working out a historical narrative that will fit a given space and will engage visitors in the fewest words possible.
The exhibit runs from January 24-May 27, 2012 and is funded by the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), a Jack Kimmell grant from the Canadian Tree Fund, and Carleton University. A vernissage will be held at Bytown Museum on the afternoon of Sunday, January 27, 2012.
Web maps and mashups offer many ways to organize and display historical information. The ability to tile and share historical maps as rasters is relatively recent and presents unique opportunities for map libraries, archives, and environmental historians. For the purposes of research and teaching, it is also useful to take these documents “into the field” through the use of mobile mapping. This allows more vivid presentation of environmental changes, more accurate location of mapped features, and the ability to record observations, GPS points, routes, geotagged photos, and so on. High-level GPS devices have provided some forms of mobile mapping for over a decade now, but it’s suffice to say that these weren’t designed for academics with historical interests and small research allowances. The devices are expensive and they are usually designed to incorporate the most up-to-date GIS data – not historical maps.
Smartphone technology now allows easier and more affordable mobile mapping through apps like ArcGIS, iGIS, and “PDF Maps.” These apps offer a variety of tools that environmental historians can use in the field. Government agencies like Natural Resources Canada (Mirage) and the United States Geological Survey have released some of their historical topographical maps as GeoPDF files, or Adobe files with real world coordinates. Apps like “PDF Maps” can navigate around these files much like Google Maps does, and the phone’s GPS will show where the user is located in the map. GeoPDFs are easy to use, and they are easily shared through email, websites, GIS software, and to virtually anyone with access to a computer. The downside to using these files is that the mobile map is limited to the margins of the PDF and the app will not overlay the documents on top of other GIS features. ESRI’s ArcGIS app allows the device to interact with other layers and add GIS data provided by other ArcGIS.com users. However, as I mentioned earlier, ArcGIS.com does not do well with multiple rasters, and since historical maps are almost always rasters, it is difficult to overlay one historical map over another.
Josh showing how this intersection of environmental, transportation, and cultural signifance appeared on historical maps, Grand-Pré National Historic Site
We used some form of mobile technology at each of the GeoWATCH events, although the best mobile mapping applications we found for historians (iGIS) only became available toward the end of the project. Participants at each event took plenty of photographs and geotagged them either automatically with GPS, by enabling their phone’s location services, or afterward on Picasa Web Albums and Flikr. In the St. Andrews workshop we had an iPad 2 tablet for displaying the historical web maps from Service NB and ArcGIS.com, and several participants with iOS or Windows phones also installed the ESRI app for this purpose. At the Charlottetown and Grand Pre workshops in October, 2011, we used smartphones, and at this point the “iGIS” app enabled us to customize the maps and show a variety of historical and current GIS layers.
iGIS showing the Grand Pre, GPS points of interest in yellow, and Boot Island cover types in green
Using mobile mapping, historians can display and explore historical maps, query and measure GIS data just as they would on a desktop, and input place-specific information using GPS. We used the “iGIS” app at the Grand Pre salt marsh and interpretive centre to compare what we were seeing in the natural environment with a Google basemap and historical forest inventory overlays. Nova Scotia produced one of the country’s first forest inventories in 1912, and it has since been digitized and made available for download as GIS-ready files on the GeoNOVA website. Another, much more detailed, inventory offers a recent “historical” perspective on land use change, because it was based on the province’s first aerial photo interpretation, beginning in 1985. By adding these two layers to the Google basemap on iGIS, we were able to locate ourselves in the historical landscape and compare mapped and real world observations with what we knew from other histories and historical maps of the region. The Pre was a highly manipulated landscape. From the dyked harbours of Wolfville and the eroding Boot Island to the rural “town plat” of Horton Landing and the site of the Acadian deportation we were able to walk through these historical landscapes and trace the changes on paper and mobile maps.
Back on Prince Edward Island, we used smartphones to display the tiled maps of Malpeque Bay and Newton Cross as overlays on the Google basemap. The iGIS app can read tiled rasters and overlay them on Google maps directly on an iPhone or other iOS device. It requires the same processes as the other web maps, scanning the image, georeferencing it in GIS, and then tiling it with MapTiler. To bring the map into iGIS, you simply zip the group of files (see Figure 12) and copy the archived file to iGIS using iTunes. The app unzips the files, asks you what coordinate reference system you used to make it (in the georeferencing stage) and allows you to add the map as a new layer. Using the project properties and “layers” buttons you can make the map visible and adjust the transparency. In the Malpeque salt marsh my class was able to compare the 1845 Bayfield map with the 1944 NTS map in the exact location we were standing. As we learned about the different zones of a salt marsh, and the type of grasses used as marsh hay, we were able to identify where those important agricultural resources would have been located in the nineteenth century. Using the detailed topographical markings on the Bayfield map we were also able to identify where the coastline was situated in 1845 and where the height of land marked the edge of the marsh and the beginning of the agricultural uplands.
Malpeque 1845 overlay close-up of salt mash close-up showing 1845 and 1944 overlays
We also used mobile mapping in a field trip to the Acadian forest to help illustrate and explore the widespread phenomenon of farm abandonment and forest regrowth in Prince Edward Island and other parts of the Atlantic region in the early twentieth century. It was not immediately obvious from standing on privately owned woodlot in Newtown Cross, that this scrubby woodlot had once been a farm. The iGIS app helped us identify several historically significant features in the landscape. For one, the 1944 NTS map overlay showed the historical forest outline and the location of a barn and house that had long since disappeared from the property. We studied the map while standing in a clearing with a large mound that looked suspiciously like the ruins of a house foundation. The GPS beacon identified that we were actually in an old field that had long since grown up in forest and had been harvested. The mound was the remnants of a brush pile, and the house and barn were actually located to the north of this location in what is now a stand of spruce. The land which had been cleared in the 1930s was likely already abandoned for agricultural purposes, the house and barns beginning the process of decay.
iGIS app displaying location at the edge of an Acadian forest, Newtown Cross, PEI
The iGIS app also helped identify features in the natural environment that stem from human activity on private land. In recent decades the Newtown Cross property has belonged to absentee owners who participate in a woodlot management plan, and Brian Brown of the Provincial Department of Forestry, took us further into the woodlot to show the results of various management practices. Property boundaries may seem like arbitrary lines on a cadastral map showing land ownership, but exploring nature on the ground shows the dramatic effect a property line can have. As we walked away from the first property toward a steam in the woods we crossed into other properties and saw how the forest had responed differently to managed thinning and planting, selective harvesting, and clear cuts for firewood and lumber. We noticed how the health of the stream bed increased with distance from cleared land and steep slopes, and we saw evidence of changing hydrology and siltation between the 1944 map and today. The historical maps were useful for identifying the early alignment of farms, the location of homestead buildings, the amount of cleared land, and the way the forest was divided between multiple properties. The “back woodlot” was valued and managed differently by the owners whose properties converged in the part of the Newtown River watershed.
1944 NTS map of Newtown Cross overlaid on 2010 aerial photos; b) add property lines; c) add hydrology
Mobile mapping brings historical documents to the field, but it also allows students to make and share observations on the documents. This can be valuable for historians who want to create a map of environmental features and phenomena by taking GPS readings in the field. Most GPS devices and some smartphone apps will allow the creation of points, lines, or polygons, either mapped on site or afterward by memory. The iGIS app, for instance, let me identify points of interest on the Grand Pre, Malpqeue, and Newtown Cross field trips, which I could later use as material for writing summaries or displaying the route we took on a descriptive map. Some environmental historians may also want to enter the new features into a GIS for recreating and analyzing aspects of the built environment which have disappeared, for example the outline of a dock based on the location of posts.
Another important way of recording observations on these field trips was through photography, and GPS enabled smartphones are particularly useful (if not the best quality cameras). The use of GPS for geotagging fieldtrip photos was already mentioned; by sharing a geotagged photo or web album, historians are essentially sharing a map of documents with real world coordinates. Each coordinate indicates where the researcher was located when making that particular observation of nature. However, it is also possible to “pin” historical photos to a map and share them in the same way. Google Earth, ArcGIS Explorer, Panoramio, Flikr, and Picasa Web Albums all have this capacity, but another useful mashup, HistoryPin, exists specifically for organizing and sharing historical photos from the global community.
In summary, locative media are changing the way we research and understand history and the environment. Historical GIS opens up a new range of possibilities for teachers and students using maps for environmental history, and mobile mapping is making it easier to take those maps out of the archives. Any historian can create a basic web map or use mobile mapping in a field trip. All that is required are historical maps, a computer with GIS to georeference the maps, and a mobile phone that supports apps. Open source software for each of these stages is freely available, Quantum GIS, MapTiler, and iGIS were some of the examples discussed here, and this article attempts to explain how these applications can be used to use web maps and mobile maps creatively in a learning environment.
The strength of GIS is its ability to organize, overlay, and display multiple maps and large databases in a dynamic information system. Once environmental historians have assembled a GIS project, they can use it to find a location, identify current place names and land use in that location, query historical population data in a census table, quickly identify all locations with similar attributes, measure distances and areas, observe changes in the natural and built environment, and so on. Overlaying historical maps in the form of rasters enables quick comparisons between multiple time periods, or multiple perspectives of the landscape in a single time period. A web map allows the same sort of interaction with the primary documents to take place in a classroom setting or as an embedded map in a course website. We created two types of web maps for GeoWatch events in 2011. The first was an elaborate overlay of multiple historical maps using proprietary software and the assistance of Service New Brunswick’s mapping teams, and the second was a lightweight web map that used open source tools to overlay historical maps onto Google’s modern map.
In order to make a historical map mashup you will need the documents themselves and mapping software. Once the maps have been digitized, imported as rasters, and made “GIS-ready,” you will also need a program to “tile” the rasters for display online. This allows large map images to open quickly at multiple scales. Depending on the zoom level, it is not necessary for a browser or mobile device to download the entire map, and tiling frees up processor power by only calling up the sections of the map which actually appear in the browser window. Finally, you will need some way to serve up the maps with onto pre-existing web maps such as ArcGIS.com or Google Maps. In the first example, I will show how historical maps of St. Andrews, NB, were uploaded to GeoNB’s web server, and in the second example I show how to host files on a personal website so that they appear as overlays on a Google mashup.
In the first GeoWATCH event we had a number of digitized maps of the town of St. Andrews and we wanted to let the participants of the Canadian History and Environment Summer School explore the maps as overlays before setting out on foot to “groundtruth” our observations from the workshop. The problem was we did not have access to a computer lab, GIS software, or even internet until about 30 seconds before the workshop began. These barriers made it impossible to load historical maps and GIS files onto computers with the standardized equipment and technical support that come with teaching in a university lab environment. We needed a web-based solution. Even on-campus history classes which are usually too large to fit into a computer lab could benefit from this kind of solution. With an internet connection established and a good number of workshop participants with personal laptops most people were able to navigate to the GeoNB web map and explore the historical documents online.
The following map of St. Andrews, part of the 1878 Atlas of the Maritime Provinces of the Dominion of Canada, was full of clues to the town’s environmental history, and became the centrepiece of the groundtruthing component. We layered this map, and a selection of 1949 Fire Insurance Plans, with the current outline of the province’s coastline and salt marshes, in order to compare changes in the waterfront and urban landscape. Then volunteers led walking tours to different parts of the town, from the Eastern Commons to the hotel golf course, from the salt marshes to the commercial waterfront. For example, the group that explored the eastern commons area compared the historical outline of the rail yards, on the left half of the image, with the modern orthoimagery, roads, and land use layers for that part of the town on the right.
Eastern Commons, St. Andrews, NB showing historical overlays on left and GeoNB data on right
After the digitized historical maps had been given coordinates in a GIS, the georeferenced rasters were sent to Service NB and the UNB Geomatics Department who posted them directly to their copy of ESRI ArcServer. Then Service NB sent us a URL for the workshop participants, and we were able to focus the workshop on observing the differences between late nineteenth century features (Roe Brothers), mid twentieth century streetscapes (Fire Insurance Plans), and the current topography visible in GeoNB’s features and aerial photos.
Once the rasters were hosted on ArcServer, Service NB was able to tile the maps and post each one as a new public layer on ArcGIS.com. Then, anyone who knew the name of the layer could find it and add it to any combination of layers in the St. Andrews area. This allowed for flexible, custom web mapping. We added Service NB’s layers for parcel boundaries and civic addresses, and we were able to identify specific properties in the landscape and trace how they had been merged and subdivided over the last 133 years. Uploading the tiled maps from ArcScene to ArcGIS.com also meant that participants with smartphones supporting the “ESRI ArcGIS” app could bring the historical map along with them, zooming in and out, exploring the nearby features, and, maybe most important, “locating” themselves on the historical map using GPS (Global Positioning System). This was our first taste of mobile mapping, and I will explain more about the next stages in the third post in this series.
1878 historical map overlay and GeoNB data for St. Andrews NB, ArcGIS.com
One of the groundtruthing groups was led by Dr. Matthew Hatvany, a marshland historian from Université Laval. Matthew was able to show workshop participants the marsh as it appeared on his handheld GPS device, and those carrying paper maps and smartphones with the ESRI ArcGIS app could compare their surroundings to features on the historical maps.
The St. Andrews mapping exercise worked well for a large group with no access to GIS software, but developing a web map like GeoNB is a massive project and likely out of the question for individual researchers and teachers. Having a provincial agency tailor its web map to suit your needs is not always an option for researchers, and although we were fortunate to have received this help, the overlays were only hosted on the GeoNB and ArcGIS.com websites temporarily.
Another solution for teachers who want to display a historical web map for a longer period is to tile the maps and host them on a course or personal website. One of the best ways to do this is through an open source program called MapTiler, an application that converts georeferenced rasters to a directory of tiled images for online publishing. The program is designed to overlay each map over Google Maps, Google Earth, or Open Layers, and these can be explored locally on a single computer or published on a public website. You simply input the raster, the spatial reference system, and a title for the new map and MapTiler generates the html file and supporting data for your website. You will need to include a free and unique API for each web map, which MapTiler explains and then integrates into the html automatically.
In another environmental history field trip to Malpeque Bay, a Prince Edward Island wetland of international significance according to a Ramsar-designation, I wanted to show students the first detailed map of the bay’s complex hydrology and coastal features. Captain George Bayfield surveyed the bay in 1845, and students can see the large map on the wall of the UPEI library and in digital form on the Island Imagined website. Both of these media are static and do not show the map in relation to the real world. Since both the built and natural environments have changed dramatically since 1845, we wanted to show students an overlay that let them compare coastal features and land use change over time. We could explore the map from the comfort of the classroom using Google Earth by generating a KML file with MapTiler. This allowed the usual pan-and-zoom navigation within Google Earth and set the map in the 3D display that students are now quite familiar with.
George Bayfield’s 1845 map of Malpeque Bay, showing a geotagged photo from Panoramio as an example of dynamic material from Google Earth’s public layers
By setting the transparency of the Bayfield overlay we could see that the ecologically sensitive barrier islands along the north shore had changed considerably since 1845. In one dramatic change, the wind and tides reclaimed a 24-foot deep channel and replaced it with the surrounding sand dune ecosystem of Hog Island. The overlay made these landscape changes visible and dynamic, and students could quickly put it in the context of the Mi’Kmaq presence on the barrier islands, the fishing, farming, and tourism industries that developed along these shores, and the modern-day debates over dredging a deeper passage into the bay around Hog Island.
Transparent overlay showing the former channel and sand dunes on what is now Hog Island
MapTiler’s other strength is the ability to generate basic web maps for publishing on the web, In the early twentieth century, Canadian cartographers combined aerial photo interpretation with surveys and field observations to plot what became known in 1927 as the National Topographic System (NTS). The NTS maps are an important source for environmental historians as they identified features in the built environment such as roads, dams, residential, community, and industrial buildings, and they also offer a view of the natural environment including features such as surface hydrology, wetlands, coastlines, and a basic breakdown of forest cover types. The most detailed NTS maps were called “one mile maps” because of their scale of one inch to one mile. The maps are large and fragile, and at this scale the paper maps of Prince Edward Island would cover a desk almost 3 meters long and 2 meters wide. Viewing these documents in a Google mashup allows historians to identify patterns in land cover and land use change, and often they reveal the origins of disturbances ranging from deforestation and stream siltation to brown fields or other residual forms of pollution.
The “one mile” maps were particularly useful for a field trip I led to the Acadian forest along the Newtown River in Eastern Prince Edward Island. After selecting an area which would show good examples of different land use and woodlot management practices (including both healthy and highly disturbed forests), the class examined the NTS maps for clues to the region’s early twentieth century environmental history. These maps are not yet available on government websites or local libraries, but the University of Toronto Map Library scanned some for the GeoWATCH project and then hosted the web maps that I georeferenced and tiled using MapTiler. Once the files are tiled and ready to be uploaded to a web site, they include two html files (one for Google Maps, the other for Open Layers) and a series of folders containing the image files for each viewing scale in the Google mashup. The html link to the map itself will open a Google Maps or Open Layers map window with navigation tools, a transparency slider, and a variety of basemap options (Map, Satellite, and Terrain). If MapTiler is instructed to create KML files for Google Earth, then it will also show a button called “Earth” which switches the window into the 3D Google Earth viewing mode.
A Single NTS sheet overlaid on Google Maps
Detail of NTS Sheet 11, Newtown River watershed, 3D “Earth” view
There are pros and cons to each type of web mapping. Professionally prepared web maps can be very expensive to create and maintain, but the advantage of uploading data to a professional web map is that it can accommodate many customized options. Building a Google mashup with a lightweight program like MapTiler is free and simple, and it can be published on a personal website as html. If presenting the map locally in Google Earth, it is possible to combine multiple historical maps as layers, but if publishing maps online on Google Maps, the software currently allows only one overlay per map.
Some GeoWatch web map examples:
Follow these links to see some early National Topographic Series maps prepared by Josh MacFadyen and hosted on the University of Toronto Map Library website courtesy of Marcel Fortin. The maps are overlaid on a Google web map. Viewers can adjust the transparency with the slider bar on the top right, view the historical map as an overlay on terrain or satellite images, or click "Earth" to switch into Google Earth mode and see 3D elevation and modern buildings (in Halifax and Dartmouth). Note: these historical images are large and will appear on the screen slowly, especially as you zoom into the Google map.
We’ve all heard the pedagogical principle that students retain more information if they encounter it in multisensory experiences. We remember 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we see, 30 percent of what we read, see, and hear, and so on. These figures now represent more myth than meaning for history instructors, but it is probably safe to say that falling into a salt marsh in the Grand Pre after studying historical documents and touring the local interpretative centre with a group of your peers is about as multisensory a learning experience as you can get in environmental history.
This blog post and the related article are based on the experience of organizing a recent series of field trips for environmental history students in the Maritime provinces. These events demonstrated the value of integrating historical maps and historical GIS (HGIS) into pedagogy and groundtruthing exercises. New technologies such as mobile mapping allow teachers and students to bring digitized maps to the field, find their current location in the historical map, observe changes in the natural and built environment, and input those observations on handheld devices for later analysis, writing, and sharing. The process requires a digital copy of a map, a way to georeference it so that it fits real world coordinates, a way to serve it so that it appears as a web map overlay, and a mobile device with an application that can read and geo-locate it in real time. It sounds complicated and resource intensive, but free and open source applications are available for every one of these stages and the documents and devices themselves are becoming increasingly common. Not that long ago, GIS was only for experts and digitized historical maps were not available and certainly not mobile. Now, students can benefit from multisensory learning that integrates digitized documents and spatial data with real world observations and experiences.
In order to experience a place it helps to first know where it is. How does it relate to places around it? What kinds of habitat does it provide to people and other species, and how has that changed over time? What topographical features existed there in the past, and which ones remain in the present? How have these features been represented on maps over time? Visiting a place and studying modern atlases are valuable experiences, but sometimes the best way to acquire spatial information about the place over time is through a trip to the historical map library. This raises a problem when historical maps are concentrated in a handful of urban centres, when handling and copying them can destroy the larger and more fragile documents, and taking them to the place itself is often impossible.
Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are making it increasingly easy to manipulate and explore spatial data, and viewers such as Google Earth and Open Layers are making much of these data available to the general public. Not only can we search for familiar or foreign addresses and map the best way to reach them, but we can also explore the geographic features of those locations. This offers instant access to the cartographer’s opus, the atlas, but also allows us to leverage the power of dynamic databases when we search the internet for information about the place such as user-contributed photographs, Wikipedia entries, YouTube videos, concert listings, and so on. These specialized databases are growing rapidly, and they are beginning to include historical maps and other digital documents from archives around the world. If a document contains historical information about any place on earth, it is a candidate for these spatial search engines. These new tools provide a lot of new teaching opportunities and I hope that my experiences organizing GeoWatch can help others develop useful web mapping and mobile mapping applications for their students.
Joshua MacFadyen, University of Western Ontario
For more on GeoWatch, visit the event page.
Next week we will publish two more "how to" blog posts from Josh on web mapping and mobile mapping based on his experences organizing GeoWatch. If you'd like to read about the whole project in longer form, you can download the full article here.
You can also find a new NiCHE resource page on HGIS: http://niche-canada.org/hgis
When Alan MacEachern and I started working on the first edition of The Programming Historian in late 2007, our goal was to create an online resource that could be used by historians and other humanists to teach themselves a little bit of programming. Many introductory texts and websites approach programming languages in a systematic (if dull) way, starting with basics such as data types and gradually introducing various language constructs. This is fine if you already know how to program. Most beginners, however, are more concerned with addressing a practical need than they are with learning technical details that don’t seem to be immediately relevant. We wanted to approach programming as a means of expression. Plenty of time to begin learning grammar after you’ve had a few conversations, as it were.
Neither of us expected PH to become nearly as popular as it did. We’re still young (OK, technically we’re middle aged) but we’ll have to work pretty hard to ever gain as many readers for anything else we write. While gratifying, the success of the first edition raised new problems. Some people wanted to pitch in. Some wanted help with particular problems. Some wanted to translate the material into other natural languages or other programming languages. In the meantime, websites changed, operating systems changed, software libraries changed, programming languages changed. Change is good! But dealing with change is difficult if one or two people try to do everything by themselves. Fortunately, there is a better way.
For a couple of years now, Adam Crymble has been working with us on creating a new edition of The Programming Historian that will be open to user contributions. There will be a number of ways for people to get involved: as writers, programmers, editors, technical reviewers, testers, website hackers, graphic designers, discussants, translators, and so on. All contributions will be peer-reviewed, and everyone who participates will get credit for his or her work. One of our aims with the first edition was to maintain a narrative thread that led the user through a series of useful projects. The new edition is organized in terms of short lessons that build on knowledge acquired in previous ones. Informally, you might think of this as “choose your own adventure.” Technically the new site will be structured like a directed acyclic graph, with tools that make it easy to keep track of what you’ve learned so far and provide you with a number of choices going forward. All source code will be under version control, making it easy to maintain and fork.
Over the next few months we will be inviting beta contributors to help us design and develop the website, write and program new lessons, do editing and peer reviewing, and generally turn the goodness up to 11. There will be new lessons that lead into subjects like visualization, geospatial data, image search, integration with external tools, and the use of APIs. We will also be working with new institutional partners and exploring the connections to be made with other, similar projects. If you would like to get involved, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me and let me know. We will do a public launch when everything is working smoothly and we are ready to accept general contributions, hopefully sometime in 2012.
Transborder pipelines are nothing new. There is a long history, forgive the pun, of such enterprises in North America. In fact, Canada has historically been a pipeline pioneer. Yet the Keystone XL project has attracted what is likely unprecedented environmental opposition for a transnational pipeline, including protests featuring celebrities and arrests outside of the White House. Perhaps this pipeline has become a potent symbol of wider dissatisfaction with our current petro-regimes and environmental approaches?
The Keystone project involves several different elements: the initial Keystone oil pipeline runs from Alberta to Illinois, in part utilizing existing pipelines, while the expansion (Keystone “XL”) entails extending pipeline all the way to Texas refineries and eventually the Gulf of Mexico (see adjoining map or see a more interactive map). Both lines will be able to move over around half a million barrels of oil per day. The original Keystone line is already finished, and the extension is expected to be completed in the next few years, provided that it receives the necessary agreement from the American government. This expansion phase, however, has been greeted by visible protest.
This pipeline debacles speaks to many of the themes that I try to address in my research, which generally focuses on the history of transborder Canadian-American environmental issues. To this point, I’ve concentrated mainly on water (such as the St. Lawrence Seaway/Power Project and Niagara Falls), but there are many parallels between the history of transnational water and oil/gas pipelines projects. Earlier this year I began considering the history of Canadian-American transnational pipelines as a future research project (after a student queried the paucity of sources on such a topic). I found that little had been done from a historical perspective, aside of William Kilbourn’s book Pipeline; at about the same time, the public outcry about the Keystone XL grew, further piquing my interest.
Let’s take a crash course in pipeline history. In the 1850s, the first natural gas pipeline in Canada, and perhaps the world, stretched some fifteen miles to Trois Rivieries. The world’s first oil pipeline was built between Petrolia and Sarnia in the 1860s, and after Confederation a pipeline system was stretched around the Great Lakes region. Before the end of the 19th century, Canada was already sending gas via pipeline into the U.S. (e.g. Detroit).
It was soon discovered that the western areas held far greater reserves, and their exploitation – and concomitant pipelines – took off in the 20th century on both sides of the border. By the early Cold War, Canada and the United States had pipelines stretching across much of their respective countries. Technological advancements and further petro discoveries made the idea of the TransCanada pipeline feasible, and, in one of the great Canadian parliamentary controversies, legislation was passed in 1956 and the pipeline constructed in the following years. Since then, a vast network of transborder (state, province, and country) have proliferated in North America.
But if the Keystone XL pipeline is just business as usual, why is there so much resistance? In past pipeline disputes (e.g. TransCanada pipeline) there was certainly vociferous opposition, but it generally had to do with sectional, regional, political, and nationalist concerns. Many of those issues are at play in the current debate, but more than in previous cases, detractors are focused on environmental repercussions (see, for example, a New York Times editorial). In particular, opponents point out that, on top of the damage of the construction phase itself, pipelines inevitably result in spills and encourage the continual exploration and exploitation of oil and gas resources with their concomitant destructive effects, such as greenhouse emissions and global warming. For more detail on the impact of the tar sands, see Andrew Nikiforuk’s Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent as well as the tar sands aerial photography by Louis Helbig).
American proponents argue that the pipeline will bring jobs and help the economy, and provide the U.S. with energy security. On top of environmental concerns, critics reply that the job boom will only be short-term, and that much of the oil will actually be exported outside of North America. The argument has been made that Canada is going to develop and sell oil anyway, and if the Americans don’t take the oil and the concomitant jobs, someone else will.
It is claimed that worries about leaks, including the potential threat to the Ogallala aquifer, are overblown. But leakage fears are justified. There have been many pipelines leaks and spills in past years – as Sean Kheraj has shown on his Nature’s Past blog in regard to Alberta spills – and perhaps the major 2010 Enbridge spill in Michigan (Enbridge also owns a transnational pipeline) is behind the increased resistance to the Keystone XL. And that is to say nothing of the horrendous BP Gulf oil spill.
The history of resource development suggests that we take heed of the law of unintended consequences. It also shows that, even with environmental assessments, public input forums, and other checks and balances, the state and industry will continue to create environmentally destructive megaprojects to exploit natural resources because there is money to be made. But the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem outweighs short-term profits, even from a selfish perspective (e.g. more money won’t do much good if we don’t have clean water to drink).
Canada has a dirty history when it comes to developing and exporting natural resources, from oil to asbestos. The Americans can choose not to take part in the Keystone XL project, but the reality is that both countries (and the developed world) are locked into patterns of fossil fuel dependency, and it is going to take a long time and a lot of effort to change. Unless fundamental structural transformations are made, the view that these sorts of things are going to happen anyway has a lot currency, both metaphorically and tangibly.
Daniel Macfarlane is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at Carleton University. He is finishing a book, based on his doctoral dissertation, titled To the Heart of the Continent: The Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. He is widely interested in Canadian-American environmental relations, and is also conducting research on the transborder manipulation of Niagara Falls and co-editing a collection on the history of Canadian-American water relations.
The River Isar drains north from Austria, cuts east through Bavaria and bisects Munich before entering the Danube near Straubing. Viewed from a bridge near the Deutsches Museum on a cold October morning, the post-Oktoberfest fall colours are in view, as well as the modest flow of a redesigned river. Over the twentieth century the Isar, like so many European urban rivers, was plumbed and canalized, made to divert sewage and turn hydro-electric turbines. In the last twenty years a portion of this hard-working flow has been returned from a linear canal to the original river bed studded with new gravels and seemingly natural islands. In Munich’s famous Englischer garden the river tumbles through a naturalistic landscape and cascades in a precise arc over a manicured falls. East of the city, the natural river tumbles past another kind of nature, the Isar nuclear plants near Landshut. Along its length, the Isar reminds us of the many designs on rivers, and of the many rivers made by design.
Recently I walked along the Isar in the early jet-lagged mornings while attending a conference on energy continuities and transitions, an event sponsored by the Peter Wall Institute at UBC, the Technical University of Munich, the Deutsches Museum and the Rachel Carson Centre, and organized by Richard Unger. The key question animating the workshop was how have societies reoriented around new energy carriers over time? What made European societies adopt coal, or hydro and abandon peat and wood? And why did patterns and processes of adoption vary over time and space? Given pressing contemporary concerns about how to foster a post-fossil fuel future, the problem of transitions and how they have occurred is of more than historical interest. Although none of the papers offered prescriptive assessments based on historical research, participants did collectively point to the significance of fuel prices, institutional and policy contexts, crises, transportation geography, regulation and consumer preferences as factors shaping transitions and continuities in energy regimes. A summary of the presentations will be published in the Perspectives journal of the Rachel Carson Center.
Having recently been immersed in a project with Stéphane Castonguay on urban rivers and currently conducting research on urban water history in Vancouver, I was struck by some of the commonalities between energy history and urban environmental history. At the heart of both fields is a core interest in large systems that interact over distance and combine a complex assemblage of human, technological and environmental actors. The literature on urbanization shares some broad parallels with the literature on energy transition; both search for drivers, elements of institutional lock-in and path dependence. The differences I identified could hardly be isolated to the two fields but nevertheless seemed significant: urban environmental history seems more connected to place-based inquiry, energy history to model building and quantitative analysis of production and consumption trends at the national scale. Urban environmental historians seek to relate political and social change to the environmental context of urbanization and vice versa, whereas energy historians are less explicitly environmental in their concerns or treat environmental outcomes in a more abstract, less place-specific sense. Some of my observations were no doubt conditioned by the range of participants-- a mixture of economic and environmental historians, historians of technology, museum professionals as well as engineers and scientists.
The comparison nevertheless strikes me as evidence of the balkanization that has occurred in environmental history in the last decade. New subfields, water and energy history among them, with a range of networks, commitments and intellectual linkages outside of the field of environmental history, have recast our foundations and vantage points. Probably a good thing? A sign of maturation in the field and the expanding realm of inquiry? Or is the centre of environmental history too weak to hold the centripetal intellectual forces at play? Is the problem, as Sverker Sörlin and Paul Warde put it a few years ago, that environmental history lacks a coherent problem at its core, beyond a general interest in human-environmental relationships? Food for thought as I rambled along a re-invented river.
 Warde, Paul and Sverker Sörlin, (2007) “The Problem of the Problem of Environmental History: A Re-reading of the Field and its Purpose.” Environmental History, 12 (1). pp. 107-130.