Toward a Geographically-Integrated, Connected World History: Employing Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Over the past decade, historical groups, ranging from the Organization of American Historians to the World History Association, have called for research and teaching focused on the ways that the history of any place has been shaped by the place’s interactive connections to other geographic locations. This work demands the aggregation and connection of a huge amount of information, which is increasingly possible due to advances in information management technologies. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) appears to be a particularly attractive technology for data management, visualization, and analysis by world historians. However, historians relying on existing off-the-shelf GIS software must exercise care that the technology does not begin to control their questions. Instead, historians must shape the software development agenda to get what they need to pursue the issues they feel are most important for understanding world history. To expose the limitations and possibilities of current GIS, this article presents the research difficulties of two giants of the field who did not use this information technology, Joseph R. Levenson and Andre Gunder Frank. On the basis of this discussion, the article suggests how GIS can be used effectively to create a more geographically-integrated, connected world history, which can be queried at any scale from the global to the individual in order to improve understanding.
J. B. Owens

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