More geographical coolness

Konrad’s post on the GIS dataset below is well worth looking at, as this is a very cool dataset.

I saw Peter Bol give a presentation at AAS (which has been getting some attention) in panel 161 Mapping Chinese Modernity: Industrial Technology and the Question of Space in Modern China (1850-1950). Bol was brought in because no panel on modern technology is complete without a Song intellectual historian1 and because he is one of the main movers behind the China GIS project. He showed us a set of maps that proved that the Chinese railways did not really change the pattern of economic development in China that much because they mostly followed existing transport routes.2 What made his point really interesting is that he was able to illustrate it with maps that he had made up in “a few minutes” using the GIS data. I suspect that easily available GIS data will change a lot of things in the world of scholarship. One example is Google Books, which now automatically generates a map which shows all the places mentioned in any given book.  Any suggestions for other cool things that cheap, convenient GIS data will make available to us in the future?

  1. his joke, not mine 

  2. I’m actually not sure how good this is as a point, as I am pretty sure that railways always follow existing trade routes, since that is where the cargo and passengers want to go. I assume I get this bit of knowledge from Cronon Nature’s Metropolis since it is the only train book I know at all well. 

1 Comment

  1. “Any suggestions for other cool things that cheap, convenient GIS data will make available to us in the future?”

    I’m planning a paper that uses numerical data and place names in historical chronicles to study patterns of state expansion and contraction in western and central mainland SOutheast Asia (c. 1200-1700).

    About two published papers, 2 years ago, I tried to use a gigantic dataset available through the Harvard-Yenching site you give as a link, a dataset that had about every river and stream and coastal boundary from BUrma to Tibet to Korea, but….

    I found the GIS software (Mapinfo?) incredibly complex and almost impossible to use. Couldn’t even start pruning the millions of distracting little streams, so I just trashed it and drew a rough map with photoshop. Still on my to-do list though, make a beautiful and precise map with a GIS system. Already have the longitude and latitude points of the settlements. Regional boundaries are a little bit more difficult, but believe can be extracted roughly from gazetteer. Sorely in need of a GIS book, that sketches the big picture and then steps through some common steps that historians commonly need.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.