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Lecture 11

HIST 1F90 Lecture Notes - Lecture 11: Honshu, Crowdsourcing, Google Earth

Course Code
Elizabeth Neswald

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Digital History II: History in Two- and Three Dimensions
Augmented Reality - relies on computer-generated 3D objects, but situates them in a different locale
It mixes them with your view of real space
The Appeal of AR- Cheap and Relatively “Easy” way to overlay models of historic structures on original site
AR will get better…
Currently: content shakes, looks cartoony, doesn’t look very good in bright light
Future Systems will …
– …provide better looking objects, ones that are indistinguishable from real world objects
– … provide better systems for viewing than current HMDs and Tablets (lighter, 180 degree field of view)
Improvements are occurring even now …
In 20 to 30 years (DeCew House)
Aside from Heritage Structures…
…one can foresee two other ways AR will be applied by historians
One: creation of virtual heritage villages (like Upper Canada Village)
Two: creation of spatial narratives
o– Voices of Oakland Project
o– Cross-Section of Atlanta History (Confederate Soldiers to Civil Rights Era)
o– Challenges first-iteration of Project (weight of equipment: five parts reduced to three)
Let’s shift to a second application…
• Geographic Information Systems
• What It Is: A Map combined with a List
• More specifically: It combines Cartographic Information with Information pretty well about anything
• Why? It enables you to see …
– …important patterns in data
– …connections between data set
• The Idea is not new …
Early efforts to combinate spatial and attribute data
John Snow: a 19th century physician
Helped stop a cholera outbreak in London, 1854
Used method shown here
Pattern of cases revealed likely source: contaminated well
Snow, founder of modern epidemiology

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– work led to improvements in London’s water and waste systems
Improvements spread around the globe
In principle you don’t need a computer…
• …to perform this kind of analysis, BUT as the quantity of data mounts it becomes essential
• As we consider historians view of GIS, we’re faced with the following questions:
– In what fields of history have scholars used this software?
– What contribution has it made?
– How has it altered our understanding of the past?
• Before we start, one observation: GIS has given voice to the voiceless
– Farmers faulted for being environmentally irresponsible
– Farmers faulted for being poor farmers
– 19th century urban residents of Victoria unregenerate racists
However, histories built on quantitative records have upended or qualified these characterizations
• Let’s start with the field of environmental history
• For Cunfer, a central question: What caused the Dust Bowl of the 1930s?
• Common wisdom: Farmers
• Standard Narrative:
– Rapid expansion farming early 20th century prompted by Industrialization (tractor) and Rising Crop Prices
– More farmers in Plain States; More land, including marginal land, under cultivation
– Things go great until: (1) Great Depression; (2) Onset of Drought and Dust Storms
In ensuing years Contemporaries of 1930s ask why?
Emerging answer: blame the farmer
Agricultural Economists, New Deal policymakers, Intellectuals (John Steinbeck, Dorthea Lange) contribute to narrative in which farmers engaged in unsustainable farming
Narrative continued by historians
In particular, Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (Case Study Approach)
Cimarron County (OK) and Haskell County (KS)
Government Documents, Newspaper Accounts, Oral Histories
Late 1990s: Geoff Cunfer, University of Texas graduate student, decides it’s time for a re-think
Purchase of Worster argument: his two counties are representative and the 1930s Dust Bowl was unique
Cunfer Project: GIS database with records from all 280 affected counties
His data: agricultural census data, data on soil types, weather reports and newspaper reports

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His mission: locate dust storms of the 1930s, and their positions relative to farmlands and grasslands
His mission: determine if similar dust storms had emerged before
His conclusions?…
Donald Worster and those who preceded him were wrong
– American farmers not to blame for Dust Storms
– 1930s Dust Storms were not unique
His Case based on three things:
First: There is a competing explanation for the storms, namely drought (1930s hottest time in 110 years; there were higher temperatures and less rain over decade
Two: He looked at the location of dust storms, and discovered an important correlation (with grasslands suffering from drought, not plowed lands)
Three: He examined reports of Dust Storms from the standpoint of time. He located hundreds of dust storms between 1855 and 1895 His conclusions?…
His Conclusion: “It is time,” he writes, “for environmental historians to consider the possibility that dust storms are a normal ecological disturbance that coincides with
extended periods of drought and high temperatures on the southern plains, rather than evidence of human ecological failure.”
A similar problem in Brian Donohue’s The Great Meadow
• Book treats farming practices of New England farmers from 16th to 18th centuries
• Verdict of 18th and 19th century elites: scathing
• Here again: an appeal to quantitative methods and routinely-generated sources has corrected our understanding of the past
• Prior to Donahue: American historiography based on writings of farmer critics
– Standard Account: After settlement in 16th century, farmers began process of expansionary cultivation
– After five generations of settlement, cultivation and population growth, the region was exhausted
– Overcultivation and high population growth initiated social and economic stressors, precipitated the rise of the American Revolution, the Market Revolution, the Industrial
Revolution and migration to the West.
Is that a fair burden to lay on farmers?
Donohue sought to re-visit the issue by using routinely-generated sources
– Evidentiary ground of social history, largely quantitative
– Often only record of day-to-day life of non-elite populace
– Records include: wills, tax valuations, census records, parish records, probated estates, account books and court records
– Records don’t tell us what people thought; but do tell us how they behaved
Donohue added two things: USGS map of soil types; and settlement patterns of settlers through the 18th century (common-field system of settlement)
Records all told provided – at a remove – farmers’ own account of their activities
Donohue’s Case…
Donohue explored three key questions
How farmers used the land?
How the pattern of cultivation changed and expanded over time?
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