Information and Technology

Historical Mapping and Analysis with GIS

Posted June 08, 2007

To understand the history of the United States and to gain experience using primary source documents, Dr. Patrick Rael wanted his students to gain insight by using historical data and visualizing differences in the geographic regions of the United States. This project involved acquiring historical datasets such as the federal decennial censuses from 1790 through 1920 and historical voting data. Working with ERD, these data were brought into ESRI Geographical Information System (GIS) software so that students could create maps and conduct geographic analysis.

Within the courses History 236 (African Americans to 1865) and History 336 (Research in 19th Century United States History), students develop queries of the census data based on course readings and outside research, and then use the software to seek solutions. The final result is a research paper accompanied by full-color GIS maps. The system permits students to examine such questions as:
  • Why were the wealthiest free blacks often located in Deep South urban centers?
  • Why did New Hampshire buck the regional trend in the Presidential Election of 1856 and not support the American Party candidate?
  • Which Protestant church sects were most closely associated with large planters, and which with radical abolitionists?
Patrick Rael, Department of History
Jennifer Snow, Education and Research Consulting
Rather than simply relying on accepted authorities they read, students can test hypotheses raised in class by analyzing primary source data. Pedagogically, the assignments challenge students' capacity to think quantitatively about historical subjects.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) used to display and analyze the census data. ArcGIS software was used.
Partial funding was provided by John A. Gibbons Student Summer Internship Fund.

Mapping New Visions of History With GIS March 7, 2005

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