DH fun at SSHA 2017

SSHA 2017 included a number of DH-related sessions–I was able to attend a few.

Exciting work is being done with the full-count data from the U.S. Census, available through IPUMS. Lance Freeman (Urban Planning, Columbia) gave an extremely interesting talk that showed some stark differences in segregation that can be measured by contrasting the 1910 and 1920 full-count data. Drawing on the indices of dissimilarity and isolation, he found major increases in segregation in cities nationwide, including Southern cities. In his response, John Logan (Sociology, Brown) called into question any use of enumeration districts as levels of measurement for segregation prior to the 1940 census. Logan’s name was mentioned in other sessions, in connection with work he is doing on this question of scale and measure–Urban Transition Project Site

Historical GIS is a wonderful network within SSHA, in which hope to present work someday. The awesome historical geographer Ian Gregory (Lancaster) presented his views on the field in “From Numbers to Text (and Back Again): New Directions for Historical GIS.” Gregory presented examples of various projects on which he has worked that used GIS to its full potential by combining such analysis with textual resources. Using textual analysis to identify text strings related to specific place names, then mapping such trends, questions can be identified. Answers can be found by returning to the text and looking for contextual meaning. This combination of distant and close reading, using a variety of tools, can produce impressive and interesting results.

Robert Nelson (Digital Scholarship Lab, Richmond) was on hand to talk not just about the HOLC redlining maps that we’ve all been clicking through frantically, but also to demonstrate the next phase of the site, set to launch within the next few weeks. Mapping Inequality will be joined by Renewing Inequality, a site that will showcase the thousands of federal urban renewal projects that were carried out across the United States. Most intriguingly, site visitors will be able to toggle between the urban renewal sites and the redlining areas to see the deeper history of the neighborhoods. This will be a wonderful tool not only for scholarly research, but also for teaching.

Anne Knowles (Maine) spoke about Visualizing Holocaust Geographies, a project that encompasses many different types of mapping, from GIS to freehand sketches. Drawing on oral history projects, archival records, and architectural plans, among other materials, this book from the project is one I will ensure we have in our university library. Knowles also offered challenging statements during the discussion, questioning the role of GIS in pedagogy. How can we use GIS without stifling creativity? Definitely a question worth considering.