A Beginner’s Guide to Mapping Early America with Basic GIS

QGISOver the past couple years, friends have asked me a lot about maps and mapping software—questions I probably have no business fielding. I’m not truly formally trained in GIS, I’ve picked up a lot of things online, from books, in workshops, but mostly through trial-and-error, and half the time I still prefer to draw my maps by hand. (Yes, I like to draw.) It’s sort of like the four-eyed leading the blind.

There’s a reason, though, that my friends have few other places to turn. Workshops at universities, as well as many guides online, are still largely geared towards those working on more contemporary history, and to those looking to manipulate census and other large data sets. For those of us working on colonial America—especially those working on frontiers, borderlands, and native grounds—our materials rarely support this kind of work.

As I thought about my post the last couple days, I realized I wanted to write something less to those also working on spatial-intensive projects, and something more for those—like my friends—looking to find quick and simple ways to add maps to presentations and papers. In other words, those who aren’t about to download ArcGIS, run windows on their mac, enroll in a series of workshops, lose days (weeks and months) to inputting vector and raster data, and become geospatial pros. Those who are more interested in manipulating a historic map than creating a new one from historic data. Casual mappers and prospective weekend warriors of geohistorical analysis, this is for you. Continue reading

Guest Post: Megan Brett on the Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800

Today’s guest poster is Megan R. Brett. Brett is a doctoral student in History at George Mason University where her dissertation will focus on the challenges faced by early American diplomatic families stationed overseas. She is also a Digital History Associate at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 5.11.52 PMThe Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, is a rich resource, not only for its content but also as a community transcription project. Only a small percentage of the transcribers identify as educators or academics; what draws people to volunteer their time deciphering 18th century handwriting? Continue reading

Up to Code

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Today, The Junto chats with David Riordan, Product Manager of NYPL Labs, about Building Inspector, a crowdsourced digital project that invites citizen cartographers to “help unlock New York City’s past by identifying buildings and other details on beautiful old maps.” Read on about the Vectorizor, how you can contribute to The New York City Space/Time Directory, and how NYPL is making the “Google Maps of the past.”
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Digital History in the Surveillance State

nsahqThree days ago, the Washington Post reported the results of an investigation into a large collection of files provided by Edward Snowden. Reviewing 160,000 intercepted electronic conversations and 8,000 other documents, which Snowden apparently accessed on NSA servers after that agency collected them, the Post’s reporters found that nearly half of them contained information pertaining to U.S. citizens. Overall, the article says, the sample showed that the government scooped up information on nine bystanders (as it were) for every “targeted” individual under electronic surveillance. On that basis, the reporters speculate that the NSA may have collected information on as many as 800,000 non-target individuals in 2013.

I don’t intend to comment here on the legality, ethics, or wisdom of the NSA’s programs or the Snowden leaks. But I do think this report is fascinating and important. And I think it’s worth considering from the standpoint of digital history.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Mother’s Day! Consider our gift to the mothers amongst our readership to be the following links, links, and more links…  Continue reading

Throw John Smith Off Ship

Spring is in the air in Southern California! Well, to be fair, this isn’t usual: it always smells like flowers in Los Angeles (when it doesn’t smell like poisonous smog or wildfire smoke), but recent much needed rain has definitely made the city seem more verdant. My students are sunken-eyed and groggy from midterms, but spring break is just around the corner. What better time to take stock of how a new course is going?

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