Digital data, historical geography and...

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    Contemporary human geographers can directly experience the world they study but historical geographers must work at second hand, relying on documentary and, less frequently, on archaeological evidence; the latter is beyond the scope of this article. Exploring the past through documentary sources traditionally meant individual research in libraries and archives, but the digitisation of historical sources offers several benefits. Firstly, it widens access: original archival documents are by definition unique and the archives holding them are often remote from researchers and inaccessible to students. Computerised versions are usually accessible on the web, although digitisation programmes are often selective and material of interest to family historians may be accessible only on a “pay-per-page” basis. Secondly, computerisation has generally been a prerequisite for analytic work, notably research from the 1970s onwards using parish registers and census enumerators books. There the organisation of the computerised data closely followed that of the source material, but a third benefit of computerisation is that, without doing violence to the source materials, data can be reorganised to reconstruct historical geographies. This in particular is the potential offered by historical applications of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationInternational encyclopedia of human geography
    EditorsR. Kitchin, N. Thrift
    Place of PublicationOxford
    Number of pages6
    ISBN (Print)9780080449111
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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