The NY Times printed an article today (7/26/2011) about how Geographic Information Systems have helped historians “see” the past in more unique and arguably more accurate ways.
Although the article does not specifically discuss SHRA’s specialty – environmental history — the use of Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, represents a major leap forward in the search for historical accuracy in this field. SHRA’s clients often utilize GIS consultants to provide visual representations of the area in question. Their maps are incredibly helpful to our historians when reading primary sources such as General Land Office field notes and survey plats or even simple historical maps. GIS maps help us to understand historical changes in stream beds, watercourses, and any other physical changes in the land such as tree coverage or accumulation of mining waste. We have worked with many of these GIS firms over the past eight or so years to create our own maps, as well, showing changes in land ownership over time, road locations and changes over time, and any other number of important historical events. GIS is an incredible tool in legal settings where visual representation can help tell a story to opposing lawyers or to a judge who may have stacks of paper to read but for whom “a picture tells a thousand words.” That one perfect map — done in consultation with a GIS expert – can make your case.