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
- Lesson 4: Georeferencing
ArcGIS Lessons (created by the HGIS Lab at the University of Saskatchewan). ArcGIS is proprietary software and it can be very 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 licence that allows students and faculty to install ArcGIS desktop on their computers. ESRI also offers a 60 trial, but we do not recemend going this route, as you would be investing a lot of time into learning software that will be expensive after the trial ends. If you do not have access to ArcGIS through your university, we suggest working with QGIS.
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 peer 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.