HGIS Bibliography

Hillier, Amy. “Invitation to Mapping: How GIS Can Facilitate New Discoveries in Urban and Planning History.” Journal of Planning History 9 (2010): 122-134.

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  1. Using three historical urban studies with racial dimensions situated in the cities of Philadelphia and Toronto, Hillier demonstrated that GIS maps with aggregate data drawn from census data and land ownership records can nuance existing social analyses based in qualitative research. Hillier suggests that historians resist the use of GIS because of lack of training and a long-standing ambivalence about the usefulness of quantitative analysis.

    With the closure of many Geography departments at American universities, few historians have the ability to learn how to employ this analytical tool. The courses are rarely available and if they are offered to graduate students in history, these classes are elective rather than required courses. As such, few historians have an opportunity to acquire this skill set.

    Drawing on the work of Diana Sinton, Hillier proposes that historians are daunted by GIS maps because they are an academic group that do not believe in absolutes or easy answers based on statistics and mathematical findings. It is Hillier’s belief that historians need to learn to examine the subjective nature of GIS generated maps more critically. They are constructed documents that require an ‘interpreter’ to “extract the meaning”. In this sense they are likened to any other historical records and can work in concert with qualitative sources to provide a more nuanced picture of the past.

    Hiliier offers a convincing argument for the use of GIS in history and offers tangible examples of its benefits to urban, social, and cultural historians.

    Victoria Lamb Drover
    University of Saskatchewan

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