Introduction to Digital Humanities

RELI/ENGL 39, Fall 2015, University of the Pacific

Spatial History and Digital Humanities

How did space impact history? and how do digital technologies help scholars answer that question?

Today, scholars use technologies (similar to Google maps) in order to look at how geography relates to the people in a specific region. Using those digital technologies, scholars can look at how space changed overtime and how the society changed within the space. Jenna Hammerich ‘s article on GIS (Geographic Information System) technology provides a few examples of how studying spatial history answers questions like “Why did African American families settle almost exclusively on the near north side of St. Louis in the 1940s?” By looking at the northern area of St. Louis and other neighboring areas, scholars can see how the northern area could have been more convenient to African American families in the 1940’s.

I’m an English major, but I have always loved history, so I thought that this idea of using technology to answer questions relating to history. At least, at first…I started to think of the digital humanities really had a place in answering these questions. Couldn’t scholars answer these kinds of questions without digital technology? Well, Professor Colin Gordon, quoted in Hammerich’s article, answered my question, by saying that answering such questions and making discoveries would be possible without GIS technology, but “It would have taken longer.”

I think that is a reoccurring “theme” within the digital humanities. Scholars can answer questions about history and the humanities without digital technology. But the technology is time and cost effective (and probably fun to use).


  1. I think you brought up a good point here about how a lot of work in the digital humanities can be done without digital technology, but that it is more time consuming. Focusing more on the spatial history technology, I think it’s pretty interesting that GIS and similar technologies can look at the significance of a single place in multiple different contexts or histories. When learning about history, often the space is just mentioned, but the importance isn’t always emphasized. Spatial history technology enables us to do exactly that, and at the same time cuts down on how much time is spent researching. I think that, in and of itself, is pretty interesting.

  2. I agree with your assessment of the use of technology in the field of history and the humanities. In most cases, it appears, these questions can be answered without the assistance of technology, as that was how it was done for hundreds of years prior to the computer changing the world and how we interact with it. However, from my perspective, almost all cases will benefit from at least some degree of technology in their research. These technologies serve effectively the same benefit to humanistic research as the smartphone we all carry serve to us in our daily lives, they are a tool to make our lives easier. Can we live without them? Sure, but I doubt many of us want to go back to that time. Now I will admit I am not a history or a humanities major so my view may be skewed, but from where I stand I view these technologies an integral part of humanitarian research in the 21st century. The GIS technology mentioned in Hammerich’s article shows how useful that technology can be when it comes to interpreting data and trends and how they relate to the bigger picture.

  3. I really like how technology is being used to answer questions relating to history but I myself do not think it is needed. It seems like we are incorporating technology into all academics now a days and it is to needed most of the time. Yes, technology does make our lives a lot easier, but only when it comes to certain things. Technology can actually make our lives a little more difficult, (for those who have a difficult time with it.) For me, technology can sometimes make school a little more stressful because I sometimes have difficulty figuring out how to upload an assignment. I remember the good old days where we could actually turn in hard copies. I went through hell with canvas this weekend and ended up getting a late grade because I was not able to upload my paper due to technical difficulties in the system. So yes, technology can be helpful but not always!

  4. Jenna Hammerich’s GIS article does highlight new points that you cannot discover from reading a textbook. For example, you and Hammerich questioned, “Why did African American families settle almost exclusively on the near north side of St. Louis in the 1940s?” While you can read about it in a textbook, I feel with today’s generation being rooted in technology there will be a deeper understanding through the advancement of technology like this. Development of technology helps to provide new opportunities in and out of the classroom for students to use.

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