Tuesday 20 November 2012 – Ian Gregory – Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to Explore Historical Texts: Examples from the Lake District and Census Reports

Digital History seminar
Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to Explore Historical Texts: Examples from the Lake District and Census Reports
Ian Gregory (Lancaster)
20 November 2012, 5.15pm GMT
Room G37, Senate House or online on History SPOT

The IHR Seminar in Digital History would like to welcome you to its third seminar of the academic year.



Traditionally there has been a simple split in scholarship between social science approaches based on quantitative sources on the one hand, and humanities based approaches based on textual sources on the other. If you were interested in the former then IT had much to offer to help with your analysis, if however, you were interested the latter then IT offered little and you would instead stress the close reading of your texts. This cosy dichotomy is falling under threat because increasingly large volumes of texts are available in digital form and close reading is no longer a suitable approach for understanding all of the huge volumes of material that are now available. Unfortunately we know little about how to analyse texts in an IT environment in ways that are able to cope with both the large volumes of material – potentially stretching to billions of words – together with the traditional need within the humanities to stress detail and nuance. This paper presents some initial results from a European Research Council funded project Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places that explores how Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology can be exploited to help us to understand the geographies within texts. It is based on two examples: one drawing on early literature from the Lake District, the other from a much larger collection of census and vital registration material drawn from the Histpop collection (www.histpop.org).


Ian Gregory is currently Professor of Digital Humanities at the Universityof Lancaster. He is a geographer by training who, after doing an MSc in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) at the University of Edinburgh, was given a one-year contract at Queen Mary, Universityof Londonworking to create a GIS of some nineteenth century administrative data. Somehow this evolved into the Great Britain Historical GIS (GBHGIS), a major database that comprises the majority of statistical data from sources such as the census and vital registration data for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was also the subject of his PhD. Since leaving London he has worked at the University of Portsmouth and then as the Associate Director of Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis at the Queens University, Belfast. In September 2006 he moved to Lancaster to lead a new initiative in Digital Humanities. He has published widely on historical GIS including two books, one by CUP, and articles in journals including Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Annals of the Assoc. of American Geographers, Progress in Human Geography, and the British Medical Journal.

Seminars are streamed live online at HistorySpot. To keep in touch, follow us on Twitter (@IHRDigHist) or at the hashtag #dhist.

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