Historical GIS as a foundation for the analysis of regional economic growth: theoretical, methodological and practical issues

Richard Healey, T. Stamp

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The argument of this article starts with three key theoretical postulates: First,regional-scale explanation differs in important respects from either aggregate macroeconomic studies of development at the national level or microeconomic and business historical studies of individual firms. Second, neoclassical economic theory is unsuitable as a basis for the analysis of regional economic dynamics, and a different framework, called adjustment theory, should be used in its place. Third, utilization of adjustment theory in the historical geographical domain leads directly to the deployment of both the concepts and methods of geographical information science as the foundation for empirical inquiry. While the first two assertions would undoubtedly merit one or more articles in their own right, space only permits us to develop an outline justification of each. However, the theoretical questions raised in this justification provide the necessary background for the detailed investigation of the role of historical GIS in the analysis of regional economic growth, the main focus of our discussion. The first section of the article therefore addresses these theoretical issues, then examines a number of methodological issues and design principles that arise from the use of GIS in historical regional analysis.The practical implications of these issues and principles are illustrated by means of two individual case studies of GIS creation, both of which form part of a larger substantive investigation into the spatiotemporal dynamics of regional industrial development in the northeastern United States, during the second half of the nineteenth century.The first case study concerns the development of the railroad network of the Middle Atlantic states prior to 1900 and is thus at quite a broad geographical scale. The second is amore localized study of mining investment in the anthracite coalfields of Pennsylvania during the same time period.The concluding section of the article will summarize key implications and benefits of adopting a GIS approach to the analysis of regional development over time.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)575-612
    Number of pages38
    JournalSocial Science History
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2000


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