Digital Historical Geography:
Uses GIS to explore historical events and landscapes
2012- . As an Advanced Research Assistant to Professor Anne Kelly Knowles in the Middlebury Geography department, I contributed to two historical GIS projects that sought to approach past events from new spatial perspectives.
Drawing on archival research in German, I designed and built a database of all deportations of German Jews from Germany from 1941 to 1945. The resulting visualization revealed patterns in Nazi deportation policy and spatialities of ghetto and camp systems outside of the Greater German Reich. Four distinct waves of deportations were identified that correspond to shifting political, infrastructural, industrial, and military conditions. I became interested in both the systemic and the experiential implications of deportation, exploring within it the dichotomies of chaos and order, fragmentation and concentration. To visualize deportation patterns, I created an animation of each recorded event.
This work is ongoing, as I continue to add data and consider different frames for the use of the database. I am fascinated by the unknown, the unrecorded, and any missing testimony that might highlight diversities of deportation experience and deemphasize the perspective of the perpetrator in representations of Holocaust histories.
In the Spring and Summer of 2013, Professor Knowles and I built a troop movements database, conducted historical battlefield research, and contributed to the publication of an accompanying interactive map. I digitized and vetted thousands of troop movements taking place during the Battle of Gettysburg. Using hand drawn brigade position maps, testimony, and historical accounts, Anne and I depicted the battlefield at 24 moments and situated troop movements within both battle and battlefield landscape context. Motivating the project was the question of the significance of sight during the course of the battle. Deploying detailed, georeferenced historical elevation data, we determined sightlines of generals and soldiers at six decisive moments using viewshed analysis. The resulting visualization, built in collaboration with ESRI and International Mapping, explores the importance of visibility to strategy, battlefield experience, and outcome. The work was published in Smithsonian Magazine to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle. The work was also written about in Professional Surveyor Magazine and covered by the Associated Press.
Team: Anne Kelly Knowles, Middlebury College Geography Department
Collaborators: ESRI, International Mapping, US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Tasks: Spatial + historical research, data analysis, map design, writing
Tools + Technologies: GIS (ArcGIS, QGIS), Adobe Suite