Using geographical information systems for historical research

15.4.2014 Magdalena Gauci

Historical Geographical Information System or HGIS enables you to understand through storing, analyzing and displaying historical geographical features of an area, and give you an idea about the changes that have taken place over time. Though GIS was mainly used in cartography, environmental sciences, etc., its reach has been extended to various other areas of research, and one of this is historical research.

The techniques of GIS historical research can be summed up as geo-referencing of cartography. It is everybody’s knowledge that the old maps are likely to contain details about places which the present generation may not know. Through additional coordinates to these maps, researchers are bringing out featured layers to the GIS data supplied by contemporary research. This is a wonderful tool to understand how our regions were earlier, as the layers will reveal the past of the regions, through the many layered presentation.

Apart from giving the details of the past, it can throw light on the evolution of land in a particular area, and can be related to a variety of fields like population studies, demographical research, data collection of ancient water bodies, etc. Usually the maps are improvised through rubber sheeting technique, spatially warping the data to coordinate with the contemporary maps.

GIS historical research can help you to re-create and understand boundaries. The technique applied by GIS is to construct polygons of earlier borders and administrative sub-divisions, statistical aggregates are arrived at and compared with the present statistics.

GIS historical research also helps us through geo-referencing micro data of ancient times, like records of the parish, or census details, which gives a clearer picture of the historical data and enable us to conduct spatial analysis. A number of projects have used HGIS, extensively to arrive at the past, and relate it to present conditions, so that they can improve a variety of needs of people.

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