History 615

Finding Mayan ruins with geospatial technology…
September 29, 2010, 11:29 pm
Filed under: History 615

This week’s readings focused on the application of GIS technologies in historical research.  You would think being a GIS professional that I would have jumped right into this book.  Oddly enough, I haven’t gotten past the second chapter yet.  After last week I needed a break from all the reading and the school work, so I’ve been lazy this week.  Since I haven’t done the reading, I don’t have a whole lot to comment on about it.  I did take the time to comment though on both Rosendo’s and Daniel Miller’s blog posts this week. I must admit, reading everybody’s blogs and thinking about the potential of applying GIS technologies to history has got me really excited and I’m interested to see what Prof. Petrik has to add in class tomorrow night.


From PBS’s website:

“This NOVA scienceNOW video shows how experts are using NASA satellite photography to find ancient Maya architecture hidden deep in the rain forest of Guatemala. It’s a marriage of 21st-century technology and centuries-old archeological techniques that has already unearthed some striking Maya remains, including a jungle-covered temple containing an extremely rare, 2,000-year-old mural.”

For some reason the embedding code I got from PBS would not work on my blog, but PLEASE take the time to watch this video which I linked to above.  For me, this is probably one of the most fascinating applications of GIS and remote sensing I’ve seen to date.  I happened to come across it just flipping through the channels on TV one evening a few years ago.  It has stuck out in my mind ever since and I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to share it with you all.  It is more on the archaeological than the historical research side of things, and it is 14:07 long and it doesn’t get to the GIS/remote sensing part until just before halfway, but watch the whole thing, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Live Paint in Illustrator…
September 25, 2010, 11:05 pm
Filed under: History 615

I’m going to be straight-forward here.  I did not like using live paint for this exercise.  I’ve played around with it enough now to know how to use it, but I’m still not sold on it…at least not for coloring in Sanborn maps.  I can see where it has it’s uses, but for this…no.  I’m very into the “do it right the first time” philosophy (I know…deep huh?) and I hate having a tool do something for me and then I have to go back and clean up whatever it didn’t do.  I would rather just take the time, even if it takes a little bit longer to do something like this myself and not have to close gaps or fill in a bunch of “B”s or “D”s or “O”s everywhere.  I have a similar problem with many other automated tools I use in ArcMap from time to time at work.  That problem is that they don’t do their job perfectly, and I’m less prone to end up with errors/sloppy work if I do something myself rather than having to look for things that a tool didn’t do that I have to fix.  Don’t give me some tool that “sort of works”.  If it works great, if it doesn’t, I don’t want it.

Anyway.  I took another Sanborn map of Alexandria, this one is from 1885 and is a block or two up King St from my map I did the overlay with, and I decided to color it in this time.  Rather than using live paint to fill in the buildings, I took what I thought was a simpler and cleaner route.  I created another layer, layered it underneath my Sanborn outlines, and started drawing different colored polygons in that layer.  For this go round I just put all the different colors in one “polygon” layer.  If this was for a real research project I probably would have made a layer for each different colored polygon.  Can you tell I work with GIS?

So here’s my colored in map…

Orange is dwellings.

Blue is retail/businesses.

Green is more industrial/supply type buildings.

Red is other (government buildings, schools, hotels).

The Yellow is the interesting one…negro dwellings/shanties/tenements.

I’ve got to admit, I was not expecting to come across buildings labeled “negro dwellings” when I downloaded this map.  I didn’t even realize they were on there until I started coloring in the buildings.  Looking at it colored in though, an interesting (though not so surprising) pattern emerges, and I imagine this pattern continues the further north and east (away from King St…the main thoroughfare in old town Alexandria) you go.  The further you are from King St. the more you start to see the “negro dwellings”.  I’m actually tempted to download and color in some of the adjacent maps to this one to see how true that really is…but I think I can resist that urge.  What is even more interesting, is that this is a pattern that I believe somewhat still exists in old town Alexandria today…

My final project topic…
September 24, 2010, 8:50 am
Filed under: History 615

For those who were wondering what a NIKE missile was…

Remember everybody…DUCK and COVER!

Historical Atlas Evaluation (Part 1)
September 23, 2010, 11:48 am
Filed under: History 615

So for my historical atlas evaluation I’ve chosen Derek Hayes’s Historical Atlas of the United States (with original maps) and a yet to be determined online historical atlas (which will be part 2).  Why am I splitting them into two parts?  First…I really want to explore the benefits and drawbacks of each method (print vs. digital).  And second, honestly after spending the last 3 or so days reading Jeremy Black’s Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past (very helpful and interesting by the way), I’m struggling to find the time to get an evaluation of either one done.  So I intend on looking at one of the online atlases this weekend.  By the way, images to accompany the evaluation below will be added at some point this weekend as well.  I just don’t have the time to add them now.

Historical Atlas of the United States (with original maps) – Derek Hayes

On the front flap of the book jacket, the Historical Atlas of the United States (with original maps), authored by Derek Hayes, claims to be the “first [atlas] to tell the story of America’s past from a geographical perspective”.  Quite a bold statement for a first edition atlas published in 2007 and contains no maps created by the author.  While the Historical Atlas of the United States is certainly one of the more attractive atlases I have viewed, and displays a wide range and multitude of maps,  it is held back from being truly exceptional by its lack of new material and its disproportionate and at times even incoherent subject matter.

First off, the construction of the atlas itself.  Visually, Hayes’s atlas is stunning, and its overall design is my opinion, superb.  Nearly everything about the presentation and the way it was put together just seems to work.   True to good atlas style, the maps themselves are the most important pieces of the overall page layout and placement of the accompanying text comes secondary.  I agree with Hayes’s assessment that “Maps here take priority over words,” but I don’t always feel that “…the accompanying text tries to explain the stories behind the maps, how they were created, and what they show.”  (pg. 6).  What I particularly like about this atlas is that it is dynamic.  From what I could figure, no two plate layouts are exactly the same.  Different background colors for each topic signify a change in subject, and with the exception of the bright pinkish background color, the colors are well chosen.  To its advantage, there is no standard base map which is used to portray different topics across the same geographic area, though this is partially due to the fact that none of the maps displayed were designed for this atlas itself.  There were a few things about the design that I think could have been done better, but they were minor.  My only real gripe was that the font and font size for the map caption text was too similar to the narrative text.  Long captions tended to blend in with the non-caption text.  Something as simple as changing all of the caption text to italic or a different color probably would have done it for me. To sum things up, I think there is much that can be taken away in analyzing the design aspect of this atlas and applied to our own historical atlas final projects for this class.

The collection of maps displayed in this atlas is impressive as well.  In addition to numerous pictures, charts, etc. there are 530 maps, spread out over 257 atlas pages, covering the 58 topics as outlined in the table of contents.  The method used to display each and every one of these maps is different.  Some maps are shown as a whole and appear as if they are simply laid on top of the page.  Others have been “zoomed in” on and may display only a small portion of a particular map, but those portions are shown in much greater detail.  While I have obtained a greater understanding of the publication process and the limitations of the printed atlas (as addressed in Jeremy Black’s Maps and History:  Constructing Images of the Past), I can’t help but feel that many of these maps have been done a disservice. Every one of the maps shown in its entirety has been scaled down so much from their original size, that they are no more than really just a “thumbnail” of the real map.  It is consequently nearly impossible to use most of the maps as displayed in this atlas for any type of analytical purpose, and garner any information other than what Hayes tells you about them.  There does seem to be reasoning for this though, as the amount of detail shown in the maps displayed seems to be shown only as needed, and generally coincides with a point being made in the text. The maps portraying the state of “Franklin” are a good example (pg. 94).  Hayes does seem to recognize the problem with not showing the maps in their full glory though, and attempts to address this issue in the last paragraph of the introduction titled “A New Visual History”.  He points out that many of the maps he has displayed can be found in the Library of Congress collections and can be viewed either in person at the LOC, or online, “in detail, much enlarged from the printed versions”.  “The way of the future has been applied to artifacts from the past,” he says.  Ultimately, I feel that this atlas serves more as a catalogue of American historical maps than a real source for analysis of the maps themselves.

The organization of the atlas content and textual input from the author (not the map captions) however, leaves something else to be desired.  While this is not my atlas, and I will admit that my opinion is not without bias as my historical interest lie primarily in the 20th century, I am somewhat perplexed by the fact that though this is intended to be an atlas of the United States as a political entity (not the geographic area of North America in which the United States lies), more than a third of the atlas was devoted to the time period before the United States actually came into being.  That is not to say that the time period before American independence is not important, it just seems imbalanced to cover that period of time over such a large portion of the atlas.  Not until page 92 out of 257, do you actually get to the United States as a sovereign nation.  At the same time, roughly 60 years of American history, the period after World War II to the present, is compressed into a mere 9 pages and given the subject heading “Cold and Other Wars”.  I have no knowledge of Derek Hayes background, but for some reason his organization of content seems to emphasize the history of the United States pre-20th century.

In addition to browsing through the entire atlas, I chose three sections that not only were of personal interest to myself, but were somewhat evenly distributed throughout the atlas narrative as a whole to try to get a more complete feel of the subject matter.  They were:  “American Independent” (pg. 92-99), “The Transcontinental Link” (pg. 194-197), and “Cold and Other Wars” (pg. 248-257).  “American Independent” is a section that I think was done particularly well in this atlas.  It focuses on the initial formation and expansion of states as a union following the war for independence.  The maps shown effectively demonstrate the states initial territorial claims and resolutions, and the text compliments the maps.  The “Cold and Other Wars” section though I feel is somewhat of a disaster.  As already stated, it compresses 60 years of American history into 9 pages.    The Korean, Vietnam, and more recent wars in the Middle East and Asia are all discussed under this one subject heading.   Are they not important enough to on their own to have their own sections?  Other topics covered in the text in this section also include the American civil rights movement, Kennedy’s assassination, Nixon’s resignation, the environmental movement.  Yet these topics are represented very minimally by maps, if they are even represented at all.  This is an atlas, if there are no maps depicting these events, why include them?  There are some topics that this section does cover very well though, and where the text effectively puts the maps into context, such as the Cuban Missile crisis.  Even so, there just doesn’t seem to be any central theme of this last section.

I would have loved to have read and reviewed this entire atlas cover to cover, but time would not allow.  As such, I recognize that my overall comments here may not be applicable to the atlas as a whole, and therefore I suggest taking my critique of this work with a grain of salt.  Overall though, I am left with the impression that Hayes’ atlas amounts to not much more than a very well designed, American history text book, with a contemporary historical map theme.  Which is not to say that it has no purpose or value.  I do find it somewhat unfortunate though, because I really want to like this atlas.  On the back cover of the atlas you can find quotations of “Praise for Derek Hayes’s Previous Books”.  In that praise for one of his other books America Discovered, January Magazine is quoted as saying “…Another wonderful addition to the ‘armchair’ historian’s library.”  Coming from a self-proclaimed “armchair historian”,  I almost feel that it’s somewhat of a shame to say that the same could be said of Historical Atlas of the United States as well.

Am I wrong?

…And now I have to go to work.  See everyone in class.

Live Trace in Adobe Illustrator…
September 18, 2010, 2:44 pm
Filed under: History 615

So we were supposed to find a Sanborn map of an area that interested us and “clean it up” and add color and stuff like the Sanborn map that was handed out in class.  The goal of the exercise was to experiment with and gain experience with the live trace tool in Illustrator.  That sounded kind of boring to me so I decided to try something a little different.  I used the live trace tool to create a transparent version of the Sanborn map of the King Street riverfront area of old town Alexandria.  I deleted everything white and overlaid the black line work on top of a screenshot I took from Google Earth.  The Sanborn map is distorted, I had to re-size and re-shape it to get it to line up with the imagery.  Its as best as I could get it without spending hours trying to get it to line up perfectly.  All in all, my live trace experiment ended up backfiring a little bit as my end result turns out is kind of neat to look at, but really not very useful for historical analysis.  This is of course only about 2 hours worth of work and I’m sure I could have spent more time manipulating the map and making it more useful, but really this serves it’s purpose for this exercise.

Here’s the original Sanborn…

Here’s my result…

Yes I know all the writing is now upside down making it really difficult to look at and read.  When I took the screen shot from Google Earth I had the orientation so that North was straight up.  Of course I didn’t think ahead to realize that if I took the screen shot that way it would make it so difficult to read.  Yes I know I could rotate it…

Anyway.  What I found interesting about looking at this Sanborn map, was how much of a supply and industrial area this was in 1941.  Though I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me that much given that this was during WWII.  If you look at the screen shot below from Google Maps, you’ll see that the area is now a center for restaurants, ice cream shops, art galleries, jewelry botiques, and etc.  It’s funny to think that Bugsy’s Pizza used to be an old nail and seed warehouse.  My high school’s prom (blah…) was actually held in the old torpedo factory (now an art center).

Maps for this week…
September 16, 2010, 11:06 am
Filed under: History 615

The discussion for tonight’s class says it’s “Kinds of Maps”.  So I’m going to go that route.

“They Would Not Take Me There”

When I first opened this map I admit I was a bit overwhelmed.  The map takes a few minutes of studying it in just figuring out how to properly read it (or I guess I could’ve just went here…http://umaine.edu/canam/resources/champlain-mapthey-would-not-take-me-there/reading-the-map/).  After taking the time to really sit down and study that map though, I honestly feel somewhat more enlightened as to what a map can be.  What I like about this map though is how it handles the concept of time.  “They Would Not Take Me There” reads very well when looked at I think as somewhat like a flow chart, and as stated in the provided link, it can be read in different ways.  Essentially it is a narrative.  Multiple narratives really.  The overall story is that which you can follow along the blue ribbon waterway path documenting Champlain’s adventures from 1603 to 1616 as he heads further and further into the Canadian interior each year.  The five separate storyboards that branch off from the main path at specific points along the way recall some of Champlain’s more significant experiences in those specific areas regardless of where they fall into the larger story line.  Rather than follow the main story line (the blue ribbon) from start to finish right away, I paused to read each of the 5 storyboards along the way.  The stories are mostly told in Champlain’s own words, with the cartographer interjecting every now and then to sort of set the stage or at times present the voice of the natives Champlain encountered and who enabled him to continue by guiding him along the way.  In a sense this map can also be essentially the story of the natives as well and their key role in what Champlain discovered.  As indicated in the title “They Would Not Take Me There”, the indigenous peoples showed him really only what they wanted to show him.  By doing so, they were able to maintain control of the situation.  The last frame in the story board reflects this.  A green circle with green writing (indicating the voice of the natives) says “He is afraid.  This is our world, where we are in control”.

“The 1837 Ioway Map”

When I looked at this map the first thing I thought was “tube map”.  You know your basic metro map.  The geographic accuracy of this map is not so much what’s important here.  It’s the relative position of where something, say a village in this case is in relationship to another.

1837 Ioway Map

DC Metro Map

I find it kind of peculiar that what this map, drawn by the Ioway Indians ,was intended for was to prove ownership of the land depicted in it (nearly a quarter million square miles according to the Ioway map website).  By 1837 at least, the Ioway had taken hold of the idea that a map can be more than just displaying knowledge of locations or routes of travel.  In this case that knowledge was considered to be evidence of a history and therefore ownership.

I’ll admit, I’m a little all over the place right now.  I’m having a hard time seeing past the surface of the maps and digging deeper into what these maps really mean.  That is, I’m struggling to find the bigger picture as to what is really supposed to be learned from the reading and maps and how it relates back to the overall point in class.  Place names/knowledge = ownership/power/control seems to be sort of a central theme, especially when you add in the significance of the Tenochtitlan map and it’s role in the Spanish’s justifications for imposing their will in Mexico.  I don’t know.  I guess I’ll find out more tonight.

Tell me…what is “wrong” with this map?
September 12, 2010, 12:22 pm
Filed under: History 615

Maybe “wrong” isn’t the best word though…maybe “different” is a more suitable term in this case.  So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my final project/atlas entry to cover.  I’ve got a few ideas, but I think the one I’m most leaning towards is well illustrated in the map below (I’ll explain further in a follow up post later).

So, leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  If you leave the right answer you win a special prize!

Actually no that’s a lie.

But if you do get it right you win the satisfaction of knowing that you got it right.  Don’t go looking this map up on the internet right away either…that’s cheating.  Anybody can go and Google this map and figure out what makes it “different”.  Once you think you’re pretty sure you know what it is though, then go look it up here… http://www.davidrumsey.com/.

And I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on this.  How does your interpretation of the map change?  Does it change?  How significant is the “difference” to the user?  Is map above less (or maybe more) effective then the one found in David Rumsey’s collection?

P.S.  I’ve had a lot to say trying to play catch up this weekend.  This will probably be it though until sometime mid-week before class.  Please continue reading…