Reading Reflection: Spatial History, Another Historical Context

The assigned readings gave a good argument for why the “Spatial Turn” in history is important in addition to the “Linguistic Turn” of recent historical scholarship.  The most important point I got out of these readings was that spatial history is more than just a tool and the historians that employ spatial history are more than just “technicians.”  Spatial History is another way of looking at the past that enables historians to ask new questions and come up with new answers.  This field of history is similar to other digital history areas in that it is collaborative, open source, and is more effective with a large amount of data.  Richard White did an excellent job of giving a clear explanation of Spatial, Representational, and Absolute space.  Spatial history is thinking about different forms of space like going from your bedroom, to the bathroom, to the kitchen.  Representational space is anything like maps or timetables that try to recreate space.  Finally, Absolute Space is physical space that can be recreated on a map as opposed to other types of representations of space.  For example, Bill Cronon’s “map” of the time it took to get to American cities over the course of several years.   Other readings show that you can overlay maps with other data like population, wealth, and sanitation on the same map to see if one can find any connections.


The “Place and the Intellectual Politics of the Past” reading showed how historians and geographers come at maps differently.  Geographers are interested in location for its own sake while historians are interested in maps and other visualizations for what it can teach people about the humanities.  It was interesting to see the strengths and weaknesses of spatial history.  Spactal history focuses less on the individual and more on overall trends.  However, it is less equipped for telling a narrative.  Another important point that was raised is that spatial history is determined by how you define your location.  For example, people were concerned about different things when looking at cities as opposed to nations as a whole.


After learning more about spatial history I could definitely see applications for it in my current studies.  I am reading a book about the Irish immigration after the Potato Famine and their effect on Liverpool and Philadelphia.  The author talks about many trends like poverty, sanitation, overcrowding, and less personal stories.  There are no graphs, charts, or any other visualization supplements. I think the book would be vastly improved if there were visualizations so that the reader could see the things that the author was writing about.


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