© 2013

History and GIS

Epistemologies, Considerations and Reflections

  • Alexander von Lünen
  • Charles Travis

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiv
  2. Alexander von Lünen, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie
    Pages 15-25
  3. Detlev Mares, Wolfgang Moschek
    Pages 59-72
  4. Alexander von Lünen, Gunnar Olsson
    Pages 73-87
  5. Monica Wachowicz, J. B. Owens
    Pages 127-144
  6. Charles Travis, David J. Staley
    Pages 145-152
  7. Edward L. Ayers, Robert K. Nelson, C. Scott Nesbit
    Pages 195-210
  8. Alexander von Lünen
    Pages 211-239
  9. Back Matter
    Pages 241-242

About this book


Geographical Information Systems (GIS) – either as 'standard' GIS or custom made Historical GIS (HGIS) – have become quite popular in some historical sub-disciplines, such as Economic and Social History or Historical Geography.

'Mainstream' history, however, seems to be rather unaffected by this trend. Why is it that computer applications in general have failed to make much headway in history departments, despite the first steps being undertaken a good forty years ago?

With the 'spatial turn' in full swing in the humanities, and many historians dealing with spatial and geographical questions, one would think GIS would be welcomed with open arms. Yet there seems to be no general anticipation by historians of employing GIS as a research tool. As mentioned, HGIS are popular chiefly among Historical Geographers and Social and Economic Historians. The latter disciplines seem to be predestined to use such software through the widespread quantitative methodology these disciplines have employed traditionally. Other historical sub-disciplines, such as Ancient History, are also very open to this emerging technology since the scarcity of written sources in this field can be mitigated by inferences made from an HGIS that has archaeological data stored in it. In most of Modern History, however, the use of GIS or its intellectual benefit is rarely seen.

This book investigates and discusses this controversy. Why does the wider historian community not embrace GIS more readily? While one cannot deny that the methodologies linked with a GIS follow geographical paradigms rather than historical ones, the potential of GIS as a 'killer application'  for digital historical scholarship should be obvious.

This book brings together authors from Geography and History to discuss the value of GIS for historical research. The focus, however, will not be on the "how", but on the "why" of GIS in history.


GIS historical geography history philosophy spatial turn

Editors and affiliations

  • Alexander von Lünen
    • 1
  • Charles Travis
    • 2
  1. 1., Department of GeographyUniversity of PortsmouthPortsmouthUnited Kingdom
  2. 2., Trinity CollegeUniversity of DublinDublinIreland

About the editors

Dr. Alexander von Lünen is a Geography Research Fellow at the University of Portmouth, Hampsire, UK. His principle research interests are digital humanities / historical informatics, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and history, history of diving, history of aerospace medicine and physiology.

Dr. Charles Travis was awarded a PhD in Historical-Cultural Geography from Trinity College Dublin in 2006. He is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow with the Trinity Long Room Hub. His research concerns the historical, cultural and environmental geographies of early twentieth century Ireland; the development of Humanities GIS methodologies and applications, as well as media geographies.

Bibliographic information


“This book is a collection of debates, opinions, experiences, and reservations along with some case studies. The former are a rich source of ideas for those interested in the differences between the geographer’s and the historian’s craft and concerned with the role of technology as enabling or disabling research.” (Mary Kelly, Journal of Historical Geography, Vol. 48, 2015)