GIS Is Enabling Rich Historical Investigations

One of my favorite types of books is those where the photographer visits the same spot a century after the original photograph was taken, such as John Fielder’s Colorado visits in 2000 to where William Henry Jackson had stood in 1879. In the same spirit, I created a movie in a West Virginia hardwood forest from the same point six months apart to document seasonal change. It is fascinating to compare the differences over a century, or a season, or just a day, as I did on the Maine coast.

The amount of traditionally non-georeferenced information now being placed into a GIS environment is rapidly increasing. Many of these new GIS databases are incredibly innovative, multi-disciplinary, and information-rich. One example is Giuseppe Vasi’s Grand Tour of Rome. It references the work of two 18th century cartographers, Nolli (who published the first accurate map of Rome in 1748) and his contemporary, Vasi. One described Rome through scientific measurements and a ground plan; the other through careful observation and sketches that relied on mathematics. The resulting geodatabase contains over 240 of Vasi’s detailed topographic prints georeferenced to Nolli’s map.

Modern photographs were taken at the same locations as Vasi’s prints, enabling the student, educator, and researcher to compare 260 years of landscape and urban change. Interestingly, many of the modern photographs were taken from an elevated height. Why do you think this was necessary? Investigate the website to find out!

The database was built using ArcGIS software. Data was fed into an inventory that recorded Vasi’s views and their spatial location on a georectified Nolli map, supplemented by historical and modern field notes. As described on the website, the geo-enabling of this data has “proven useful for interpreting the work of Nolli and Vasi. It has facilitated comparisons and enabled a means to discover connections between the two that had not been apparent beforehand.” By geo-enabling a large body of work, this illustrates the power that GIS: helping us see with fresh eyes. Old meets new!

Read more on:

–Joseph Kerski