Historians and GIS

A debate on the question of what GIS can offer world history, based on this article by J. B. Owens (PDF), triggered a lengthy discussion on MapHist earlier this month. Unfortunately, the MapHist discussion was sidetracked by a throwaway comment by one of the debaters: “Given the general lack of interest by historians in maps and in thinking spatially, I am dubious about the success of Historical GIS in the discipline” (emphasis mine). Speaking as a lapsed historian, it’s not that my discipline is allergic to maps or spatial thinking per se, it’s that historians, generally speaking, are allergic to other disciplines’ methodologies. When someone publishes a historical monograph making use of statistics, economics or anthropology, other historians are awfully impressed, but tend not to follow in their footsteps. As a rule, we’re generalists with an aversion to numbers.

Here are a few self-interested Amazon links to books about the use of GIS in history: