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Initial Explorations in GIS for History

Initial Explorations in GIS for History

Annie Morrisette, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maine

My dissertation explores the role of historical memory in the perpetuation of collective violence through July 12 commemorations in Ireland and Canada between 1796 and 1852. Because my primary source of choice, court records, are not available for this project (due to being lost, scattered, or blown up), I’m focusing on newspapers. Fortunately, it seems that during the nineteenth century, newspapers reported select court proceedings almost verbatim.  Newspapers are also a great place to find editorial and local commentary on current events, and so seem to be a good fit for my project.

Working with newspapers is a complex challenge. Of course, most every paper has an ideological, and therefore often political, bent, which must be taken into consideration. This is especially true when the focus of one’s research is a charged political, religious, and cultural topic. In addition, newspapers aren’t only organs of reportage; as argued convincingly by David Waldstreicher in his work on the role of commemoration in the development of nationalism in the early Republic, they can have a reciprocal relationship with events. Part of Waldstreicher’s argument is that newspapers helped create a sense of nationalism by spreading news of July 4th commemorations from state to state. This suggests that studies of commemoration and their role in group cohesion would benefit from a spatial analysis. I’m generally convinced that place plays a huge role in the nature of historical memory, and therefore it is important that I know where riots occurred and what kinds of historical memories participants drew on in different places at different times. Here’s where the Geographic Information System (GIS) comes in.Read More.


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