Tags

, , ,

Nowadays, we are well-accustomed with generally accurate maps available on most mobile devices, as well as with tracking systems, such as GPS, on which we depend greatly in our everyday lives. Inspired by these tools displaying up-to-date information, we could try to imagine a new type of map, where, for a given location, we could go back in time and learn about its history and heritage.

In fact, a quick survey of the literature shows that the concept of digitalisation of historical maps is a growing trend in Digital Humanities. In the present article we will refer to three projects which have tackled problems that fall within this field.

The first of the three articles is Language, Cultural Influences and Intelligence in Historical Gazetteers of the Great War, which discusses an attempt to map the British and German trenches on the Western Front, used during the First World War battles, around 1917. Based on maps gathered from both sides involved in the conflict and using tools such as Linked Open Data, the project sets about mapping the exact locations of the battalions, trenches and army gear throughout the duration of the battles. This approach posed several difficulties: the initial maps were incomplete and in places erroneous, but mainly the fact that the names of the locations might have changed since the First World War, in addition to them being spelled differently in the languages of the original documents.

The second article is Data Revisualisation as Critical Humanities Practice: Reinterpreting 19th Century Data with Modern Tools, which presents the dynamics of the American population and territory between 1870 and 1920. The project uses the D3 framework for JavaScript on a series of maps found in atlases published by the US Bureau of the Census. Instead of army troops, here we can follow the distribution of the population of different races across the USA. In addition to the few errors to be expected in the original documents, a significant challenge was posed by the unclear and unstable frontier lines.

In a slight contrast to the two previous examples, the third project, Mbira: A Platform to Build, Serve, and Sustain Mobile Heritage Experiences, sets up to use state-of-the-art  tools in image processing and digitalisation to create a mapping platform where historical events that happened in an area can be recorded. In time, this protects the cultural heritage related to each location in an easily-accessible form. Once fully developed, it could englobe smaller studies like the two presented above. Although there are some recent projects along the same ideas in London and Florida, in order to tackle the difficulties that these projects did not overcome, the authors came up with an open source application, called mbira. The challenges were posed mainly by the diversity of the results the platform should use and understand, as well as the desire to make it easy to use and accessible across devices and operating systems.

Firstly, one should notice the variety of subjects that can be approached within the field of mapping historical locations. Therefore, the great diversity of tools used in the various projects should not come as a surprise. As we can see in the above-mentioned examples, some challenges are recurrent, for example, inconsistencies in the original documents, while others are specific to the project.

In addition to answering a natural call for knowledge, the results of mapping efforts can suggest more efficient ways to organise communities, to use the natural resources and, for example in the context of war-related maps, reveal hidden undiffused ammunition, which may still pose a threat to the inhabitants of the concerned areas.

On one hand, as text mining techniques evolve, information from old documents becomes easier to access, while on the other hand, more powerful computers allow for higher-quality modelling and image processing. Therefore, it is now possible to envision a mapping platform where, instead of only choosing the location, we can also get, in some sense, a historical overview of that place. Conversely, this can be seen as the role that place played in history!

References:

[1] Language, Cultural Influences and Intelligence in Historical Gazetteers of the Great War, Robert Warren, Dalhousie University, Canada

[2] Data Revisualization as Critical Humanities Practice: Reinterpreting 19th Century Data with Modern Tools, Benjamin Schmidt, Northeastern University, United States of America

[3] Mbira: A Platform to Build, Serve, and Sustain Mobile Heritage Experiences, Ethan Watrall, Michigan State University, United States of America

 

 

Advertisements