Reading List - Spatial History

Books and Articles

Akerman, James R. and Robert W. Karrow Jr. eds. Maps: Finding Our Place in the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

This collection of Essays accompanied an exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago and outlines the history of cartography while introducing the reader to the history of maps. With text and visuals, the authors show the changes and commonalities in how society has used and made maps over time. According to the contributors, maps are intrinsically linked to the time and place in which they were made-its social conventions, its political climate, and its society. The collection poses many questions for cartographers and spatial historians today, as well as great visual inspiration.

Bailyn, Bernard, and Barbara DeWolfe. Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1986.

Bernard Bailyn’s Voyagers to the West (1986) won the author a second Pulitzer Prize while emphasizing an explicit spatial argument in an innovative Atlantic history perspective. On the very first page of Voyagers, Bailyn emphasizes the importance of the great quantitative shift in the number of immigrants arriving in the North American colonies at the same time that the geographical extent of settlement suffered a considerable expansion into the backcountry. The first chapter of the book is replete with detailed analytical maps (showing patterns of settlement, not just geographic accidents and “contextual” information) helping to underscore the importance of this shift in the spatial pattern of settlement and its attendant challenges to the British capacity for social control in the colonies. Bailyn goes on in the remainder of the book to trace out individual and collective destinies across the different spaces of the colonies–taking care, in this way, to use the comparative method to suss out the differences that geography made on spatial patterns of settlement and on late colonial society in broad terms.

Baker, Alan R. H. Geography and History: Bridging the Divide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Baker presents an exhaustive review of the scholarship that has emerged at the fertile intersection of the history and geography disciplines. Acknowledging the tensions that have existed in years past between historians and geographers, particularly where their research subjects overlap, Baker nevertheless argues for the interdependence of the two disciplines–that history cannot really be understood without incorporating geography, and vice-versa. This is perhaps obvious, in one sense, but historians and geographers do approach their work differently, creating challenges for historical geographers and historians embracing the spatial turn. However, the perspectives of history and geography ultimately complement each other, and Baker provides an engaging background in these perspectives and the prospects for continued explorations that bridge the divide.

Bodenhamer, David J., John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris. The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. Indiana University Press, 2010.

This is an edited volume of Essays by humanities scholars working with space. It deals mostly with theoretical topics rather than case studies, for example, “Turning Toward Place, Space, and Time” by Ed Ayers or “Qualitative GIS and Emergent Semantics” by John Corrigan. The editors hope that spatial humanities will “revitalize and redefine scholarship by (re)introducing geographic concepts of space to the humanities.” The volume is a little GIS-centric (perhaps necessarily), but does a good job of getting at issues beyond just the discipline of history.

Buisseret, David (ed.). Envisioning the City: Six Studies in Urban Cartography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Throughout their existence, the layered complexities of cities have presented challenges to those who have sought to understand them. This volume presents examples of cartographic approaches to understanding the city and its future potential, ranging from ancient China, to Renaissance Europe, to Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. What often emerges in these examples are idealized representations of the cities, subject to the desires of the map-makers and (especially) their patrons. These cartographic works, then, shed light on the cultural and social contexts that produced them in addition to the past urban forms represented.

Carter, Paul. The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History. University Of Chicago Press, 1987.

Paul Carter published The Road to Botany Bay as “an essay in spatial history,” which outlines the historical process of space construction through place-naming in Australian history. Of particular interest is Chapter 1, in which Carter details how European explorers like Captain Cook used naming to order the land they “discovered” into a narrative of imperial exploration. Carter comes at it from a literary criticism approach, but it is useful for historians interested in more theoretical discussion of how place gets constructed.

Cope, Meghan and Sarah Elwood, eds. Qualitative GIS: A Mixed Methods Approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2009.

This slim volume is a collection of scholarly articles bookended by introductory and concluding chapters by the editors. Targeting new researchers, the stated aim of the book is “to frame the emerging field of qualitative GIS, profiling the range of ways in which researchers and practitioners are integrating GIS with qualitative research.” While geographic information science technologies are quantitative tools, used to process, interpret, and represent data, Cope and Elwood make a case for the novel integration of these tools with qualitative skills, information, and research questions. The combination of techniques, they argue, requires ambitious and new methodologies that can deepen and shift our assumed conceptual frameworks and observations.

Cronon, William. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.

William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis is a tour de force of environmental, economic, and cultural history framed by an explicitly spatial regional perspective. The object of analysis, Chicago, is defined by its region, the Great West, every bit as much as the growth of the city as a central place comes to define the American Midwest. Cronon draws upon venerable ideas from regional science in developing the argument of the book; in particular, the author deploys the concept of cities as central places derived from the work of Von Thünen. The book begins with transportation networks, observing both the contingent character of Chicago’s rise (there were other possible centers) as well as illuminating what would come to be seen as decisive advantages. As networks of transport came to center on Chicago, so too did the growing city become the center of markets for goods such as grain, lumber, and meat. The spatial distribution of the production of these goods throughout the Great West provides the critical linkage between economic and environmental processes writ large and the specific configurations of markets and systems of processing and exchange that arose in the city of Chicago. In sum, Nature’s Metropolis is remarkably successful in merging the analysis of spatial patterns, especially in terms of the city of Chicago and its far flung hinterland, with the production of space (via markets and technology) in temporal, that is, historical terms.

Ethington, Philip J. “Placing the Past: ‘Groundwork’ for a Spatial Theory of History.” Rethinking History. 11 (2007), 465-494, 2007.

This essay, accompanied by several responses and critiques from other theorists, presents a dense but readable argument that time can only exist as a “place” in history. Ethington does a thorough review of basic theories of time and space, and critiques historians for paying too little attention to space - and, in fact, to time (as a concept). He argues that time, being often described using spatial metaphors (e.g. ahead, behind), is most effectively represented spatially (and therefore cartographically). His vision for a “vast multi-perspectival atlas of world history” is partially realized by the Hypercities project at UCLA.

Fox, Jefferson, Ronald R. Rindfuss, Stephen J. Walsh, and Vinod Mishra eds. People and the Environment: Approaches for Linking Household and Community Surveys to Remote Sensing and GIS. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003.

The studies presented in this volume highlight and advance the interdisciplinary work done to link the fields of remote sensing and GIS with the social sciences across multiple time and spatial scales. Looking at humans as “agents of landscape change that shape and are shaped by the landscape,” these papers attempt to carve out new theoretical frameworks and practices to integrate quantitative data (e.g. remotely sensed data on land use and land cover change) and qualitative data (e.g. community mapping efforts or demographic surveys) into comprehensive, integrative stories.

Fyfe, David A., Deryck W. Holdsworth and Chris Weaver. “Historical GIS and Visualization: Insights From Three Hotel Guest Registers in Central Pennsylvania, 1888-1897.” Social Science Computer Review. Published online 8 April 2009.

Using a custom-developed visualization environment (dubbed “HotelViz”), these authors demonstrate the value of examining spatial and temporal patterns together in a single interface. Using their application, they combed through thousands of individual records from three hotels in 1880s and 1890s, discovering spatial patterns that reflected types of business travel, place hierarchy, and transportation corridors and temporal patterns that reflected the periodicity of weekly, monthly, or seasonal journeys.

Hägerstrand, Torsten. “What about People in Regional Science?” Papers of the Regional Science Association vol. 24, 1970, pp.7-21.

In addition to shifting the attention of geographers to a focus on the behavior of individuals, this seminal article is credited as one of the first to articulate a theory of “time geography.” The central notion of this theory was that time and space are limited resources, and people behave according to these constraints to realize projects. Hagerstrand innovated the use of a visualization methods including space-time maps that allow one to plot an individuals path through time (with time as a third dimension) and space-time prisms that illustrate the opportunities and constraints of an individual in space and time.

Harmon, Katherine. You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

Harmon has collected hundreds of maps of real and imagined places to form a beautiful look at how cartography and spatial analysis add another dimension of how one views the world. Many of the maps are imaginary: maps of one’s mind, of a memory, of fictional cities and places, of the path to heaven or hell. Others are more speculative, like maps of the American west before explorers crossed the continent. Harmon’s book is a reminder that maps and cartography can be as insightful and beautiful as they are informative.

Knowles, Anne K. Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Redlands, Cal.: ESRI Press, 2008.

Placing History is a collection of Essays that reflect on the value of GIS for research in history and historical geography. With contributions by some of the leading historians and geographers, the book capture the depth and breadth of the current thinking and practical use of GIS for history (in 2008). It reveals the variety of methodological approaches to using GIS in different disciplines, and the case studies presented provide readers a clear path to engage GIS in their own work. The book is accompanied by a CD-ROM that includes data, basic instructions on how to use GIS, and supplementary PowerPoint presentations from authors.

MacEachren, Alan M. Some Truth With Maps: A Primer on Symbolization & Design. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Geographers, 1994.

Written in part as a response to Mark Monmonier’s popular and incisive How to Lie With Maps (1991), MacEachren seeks to distill best practices in geographic visualization for a growing audience of GIS users without formal cartographic training. The concepts and methods presented reduce the susceptibility to be unknowingly misled by on-screen displays of data. Of especial value are MacEachren’s discussions of best practices for data exploration, and how to acknowledge, integrate, and symbolize uncertainty in geographic information. Even today the representation of uncertainty remains a thorny problem, lending continued relevance to this work.

Mitchell, Timothy. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

In the vein of colonial and post-colonial studies, Timothy Mitchell uses space as a category of analysis in both senses of spatial history: space as a key variable in historical analysis; historical analysis as a critical element in describing the conceptual spaces of colonialism and modernity in Egypt. For instance, in Rule of Experts, Mitchell devotes the first chapter to an innovative exploration of the interplay between forces of modernity (dams, railroads, capitalist agriculture, wars) and the creation of a new spatial order in which the Anopheles gambiae mosquito moved into Egypt, caused an epidemic of malaria, and in so doing generated a whole new series of institutions and practices associated with vector control. In this way, Mitchell uses spatial patterns to help explain the unfolding of a particular historical episode and to draw together, under the rubric of spatial connections, the many disparate threads of the story of the mosquito in Egypt. He also points to the way historical data, read from a certain point of view, provide evidence for arguments about more universal themes, such as the space of capitalist modernity in colonial settings.

Moellering, Harold. “The Potential Uses of a Computer Animated Film in the Analysis of Geographical Patterns in Crashes.” Accident Analysis and Prevention (1976) 8: 215-227.

This pioneering work imagined the potential of revealing patterns in geographic data with animated displays long before developments in personal computers made such analyses practical for widespread use. Moellering’s significant innovation was his manipulation of the temporal element of the data. When viewed with a conventional timeline, three years of traffic accidents in Detroit had little discernible pattern, leading one to believe the phenomenon was essentially random. Moellering provided a complementary view that combined the accidents into 15-minute time slices and arranged them into a “composite week,” in which the frame for “11:15 am to 11:30 am, Tuesday,” displayed all accidents that happened during that time of the week across the three-year dataset. Reorganizing the temporal data in this way revealed times of the day, and days of the week more susceptible to accidents, in addition to particularly troublesome locations in the network.

Moretti, Franco. Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900. London and New York: Verso, 1999.

The Atlas of European Novel, 1800-1900 presents a unique and inspiring way of relating literature and geography. Through a series of simple, but information and idea-rich maps, Moretti describes the real and imagined places of individual novels and collections of novels. Ultimately, Moretti reveals the overlooked role of geography (both fictional and real) and ideas of geography (what is a boundary, periphery, spatial taboo, linear) on novels’ narratives. He shows this convincingly both in general–how geography guides literary forms–and specifically–how plots self-organize and cohere around spaces and places. The book is a pleasurable and creative interleaving of prose, quotation, map, and caption.

Mundy, Barbara E. “Mapping the Aztec Capital: The 1524 Nuremberg Map of Tenochtitlan, Its Sources and Meanings.” Imago Mundi 50 (1998): 11-33.

This is a wonderful article that analyzes a famous early modern map with an eye towards critical cartography. Mundy’s subject is a 1524 map of Tenochtitlan, long one of the most recognizable maps of the early Spanish conquistador era in Mesoamerica. Instead of a European map, Mundy convincingly argues that the map was based on Aztec cartographic knowledge. Mundy’s essay is, at its heart, an historical detective story that meticulously leads the reader through different indigenous elements of the map. Mundy reveals a cartographic skeleton of Aztec cosmology within the Tenochtitlan map. For example, by representing the city in a more uniform shape than its geographic reality, the map reflected a worldview that placed Tenochtitlan at its spiritual center. Like a lawyer amassing evidence for her case, Mundy carefully builds an argument that catapults indigenous cartographic knowledge to the forefront of the Tenochtitlan map.

Rae, Douglas. City: Urbanism and its End. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

In this book, Douglas Rae explores the historical processes that gave rise to the “centered” industrial city and then, over time, dismantled that same space. The setting is New Haven, Connecticut, and the time period runs roughly from the late 1800s through the 1990s. Rae employs spatial analysis in several ways throughout the book. Notably, he geocodes the addresses of businessmen, workers, politicians, and members of the “civic fauna” and discovers patterns and trajectories of change.

Reséndez, Andrés. Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Although not explicitly a work of spatial history, Andrés Reséndez’s study of identity-formation incorporates strong themes of spatiality. He examines how people living at the border of Texas/New Mexico and Mexico during the early 19th century were faced with a range of choices in how to construct their national identity (Spanish, Mexican, American, Texan, Indian, etc.) within a geographical imagination. Reséndez also describes the incredibly fluid boundaries between different geographic entities at the time, along with how larger structural forces (particularly the Mexican state and the American market) impacted identity and spatial imagination.

Schulten, Susan. “The Cartography of Slavery and the Authority of Statistics.” Civil War History, vol. 56 no. 1, March 2010.

Abraham Lincoln reportedly studied for hours a map of the slave population in the American south. The U.S. Coast Survey map collected 1860 census data into an effective heat map of the southern states. In this article, Schulten explains the significance of this map and others like it, as the map was one of the earliest instances of the graphic display of census data. Schulten argues that the maps were essentially nationalistic propaganda for the Union, as it justified the difference between the north and the south in a scientific, statistical medium. She goes on to detail other ways in which maps, charts, and the visual display of statistics helped shape American politics and thought.

Self, Robert O. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Self traces “the overdevelopment of suburbs and the underdevelopment of cities” from the 1940s through the 1970s, using California’s East Bay as his case study. The book works on two levels. First, as a history of political culture in the postwar period, it looks at the struggle of African Americans for rights and power, as well as at the politics of suburban city building. Second, and more importantly for this bibliography, it is a “history of space,” treating the ways space is carved up by ownership (“space as property”), by metaphorical meanings (“space as social imagination”), and by governmental entities (“space as political scale”). Self ultimately brings these two levels together, showing how radical Black political movements such as the Black Panthers, and conservative white movements such as Proposition 13, had roots that can be mapped onto the same metropolitan space.

Sonlit, Rebecca. Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

In a series of maps accompanied by short Essays, Solnit and ten other writers describe particular experiences of San Francisco’s past and present. Most use a familiar base map, oriented north-south with major roads and landmarks. But the places mapped are unexpected: the “lost world” of South of Market, 1960, before redevelopment; the “Third Street phantom coast” showing the current and former bay shoreline from China Basin to Candlestick Point, including former Chinese fishing villages, Butchertown, bygone breweries and race tracks; “Shipyards and Sounds” showing African American nightclubs and workplaces since World War II. This book seems more like homage than model, but the maps and text work together to show that where history took place matters as much as when it took place.

Thomas, William G. and Edward L. Ayers. “The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities.” American Historical Review 108:3, 2003, pp. 1299-1307.

The Valley of the Shadow Project, created by Edward Ayres and William Thomas, is a pioneering digital history focused on the histories of two communities in the Shenandoah Valley, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Virginia, around the time of the Civil War. Particularly significant, with respect to Ayers and Thomas’s project, is the fact that it appeared in print, in the American Historical Review, as well as online in an interactive digital archive maintained by the University of Virginia’s Center for Digital History. (An Overview: The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities, AHR 108:3, 2003, pp. 1299-1307) The online portion included maps created with GIS software portraying important environmental, demographic, social and economic patterns in the two communities. By placing the Augusta and Franklin counties side-by-side, the Valley of the Shadow project used GIS to put forward an argument about the fundamental commonalities found in these two communities divided by the institution of slavery. Clearly, the argument about the common patterns of life, except for slavery was substantially strengthened with the addition of detailed spatial information: seeing these patterns, with one’s own eyes in the carefully constructed pairings of maps provided by the authors, provides the kind of empirical confirmation that text alone would struggle to achieve. (The online version of the AHR article is located at: the digital archive of the Valley of the Shadow project can be accessed at:

Tobler, W. and S. Wineburg. “A Cappadocian Speculation.” Nature 231: 39-41 (May 7, 1971).

This is an interesting work that sought to deduce lost archeological town sites from scant evidence. Tobler and Wineburg built a network from the paired mentions of town names on cuneiform tablets, reasoning that towns mentioned more often should have larger populations, and that towns mentioned together more often are closer to each other. These two key assumptions, derived from the gravity model, comprise the logic of the resulting network of speculative town sites. Though the work did not succeed in pinning down exact locations for these sites (the authors suggest the average error in their calculations to be roughly 50km), it’s a daring and innovative spatial analysis of archeological source data.

Tufte, Edward R. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Second Ed. Cheshire, Conn.: Graphics Press, 2007.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information details the importance of visualization in understanding and interpreting statistical data. Tufte book discusses many disciplines, but highlights several historical and map-based graphics as among the best statistical graphics ever drawn. Among them is Charles Joseph Minard’s six-variable 1869 map of the fate of Napoleon’s army in Russia. Tufte’s book provides great inspiration for visualizations, and provides a theoretical explanation for what makes good visualizations usable, and bad visualizations difficult to read.

Wood, Denis. Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas. Los Angeles: Siglio, 2010.

Wood is the author of a pioneering work in “new cartography,” The Power of Maps (1992), Making Maps: A Visual Guide to GIS (2005, 2011), and several other influential works in cartography.

This book however is a very personal set of maps of the author’s home neighborhood in Raleigh, made with the assistance of students in the School of Design at NC State University over a thirty-year period. These include a map of Jack O’ Lanterns, paths of buses, postal carriers, and paperboys and street trees by size. All are based on-require-personal observation of essential but fleeting experience. Wood argues the sum of such observations is the essence of his neighborhood.

Ira Glass introduces the maps this way: “They describe human lives without ever showing us any people… Wood is writing a novel where we never meet the main characters, but their stuff is everywhere… Their lives seem far away and utterly present, both at the same time. Which somehow makes our world seem fragile and very precious. Maybe it is just me, but that seems like the opposite of the feeling ordinary maps give us, with their rock solid facts and their obsession with street names. They make the world seem anything but fragile.”