HGIS Bibliography

Knowles, Anne Kelly, ed. Past Time, Past Place: GIS for History (Redlands, Calif.: ESRI Press, 2002).

Please contribute to this dynamic annotated bibliography by adding your own reviews, comments, and observations about this work in the comment form below.


Review by Jeremy Black in Agricultural History 50 (2002):  294-295.

Review by Patricia Molen van Ee in Imago Mundi 55 (2003):  137.

Reviewed by Steve Smith in Visual Studies 21 (2006):  194-198.

Reviewed by Hyun Joong Kim in Social Science Computer Review 27 (2009):  452-453.


Table of Contents

Preface, by Myron Gutmann

Introducing Historical GIS, by Anne Kelly Knowles

1. Historical Maps in GIS, by David Rumsey and Meredith Williams

2. Teaching the Salem Witch Trials, by Benjamin C. Ray

3. Similarity and Difference in the Antebellum North and South, by Aaron C. Sheehan-Dean

4. Telling Civil War Battlefield Stories with GIS, by David W. Lowe

5. Immigration, Ethnicity, and Race in Metropolitan New York, 1900-2000, by Andrew A. Beveridge

6. Redlining in Philadelphia, by Amy Hillier

7. Causes of the Dust Bowl, by Geoff Cunfer

8. Agricultural History with GIS, by Alastair W. Pearson and Peter Collier

9. Mapping British Population History, by Ian N. Gregory and Humphrey R. Southall

10. GIS in Archaeology, by Trevor M. Harris

11. Mapping the Ancient World, by Tom Elliott and Richard Talbert

12. The Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative and the North American Religion Atlas, by Lewis R. Lancaster and David J. Bodenhamer

Glossary of GIS Terms

About the Contributors


  1. Past Time, Past Place: GIS for History aims to showcase a wide variety of historical applications of GIS technology. One goal is to demonstrate to practicing historians the potential analytical utility of GIS. Another is to represent the great diversity of historical subject matter that could benefit from new spatial analysis. Thus various chapters address modern and ancient history, urban and rural history, ethnic and racial history, social, demographic, environmental, and military history, as well as historical cartography and archaeology. This is not a technical manual, and the reader new to GIS will not learn how to use the tool. Rather, this book is meant to entice, to show what is possible. It certainly has a missionary purpose: to sell mainstream historians on the value of learning GIS and applying it to their own historical research questions.

    Editor Anne Kelly Knowles, a geographer at Middlebury College, was one of a handful of pioneers who brought history and geography together around the emerging GIS technology. In the late 1990s and early 2000s a small group of researchers coalesced in the Historical Geography network of the Social Science History Association. Soon attendees at the annual SSHA meetings could expect several panels of paper presentations devoted to HGIS topics. At first mainly methodological, as historians struggled to learn the software and build datasets from primary sources, these sessions have, over the years, become increasingly analytical and less explicit about software and data structures. SSHA is still the best venue at which to find the latest developments in HGIS. Knowles tapped into this community to recruit contributors for what became the first published book-length overview of the emerging sub-discipline.

    The book, even a decade after its initial publication, remains significant. Reviews in a wide variety of journals were quite positive. It has sold many thousands of copies, far more than most academic books, and has been assigned in a variety of university classes in several different disciplines. It continues to serve its original purpose, of introducing scholars unfamiliar with GIS to its many possible uses for historical analysis.

    The book’s design and publishing history deserve comment. Lushly illustrated in full color with high quality paper and a nearly square shape, the book shows off the visual power of GIS. This format allows authors to take full advantage of their maps—both reproductions of archival maps and newly created GIS renderings. With text and images side-by-side it is easy for readers to link the analytical force of the maps to the explanatory and narrative flow of the text without the need to flip back to an appendix or plate collection, turn the book sideways, or squint at fuzzy black-and-white images. ESRI Press actually encouraged authors to submit more color imagery, unheard of at a time when no major history journals allowed color at all. After years of re-creating inferior black-and-white maps to meet publication constraints, many of these authors were able to publish their work in full color for the first time.

    The book required flexibility and some innovation on the part of ESRI Press as well. A publishing branch of the world’s leading GIS software company, ESRI Press typically publishes books meant to promote its own software and expand its market. A book that could create new demand among academic historians thus fit the press’s model well. But Knowles insisted that all of the chapters and the book as a whole had to be peer reviewed. Without peer review she would be unable to convince scholars to contribute chapters. ESRI Press agreed, and Knowles oversaw the peer review process for each piece. The result was a book with the benefits of a corporate publisher (a generous budget for high quality design and full color) and of an academic editor (peer reviewed work of scholarly significance). This book has continuing value for newcomers to HGIS and anyone interested in the early development of the field.

    Geoff Cunfer
    September 2012

Add Your Comment