Geospatial Analysis/Narrative Maps

When asking a historical question there are often many different layers of information that you need to look at to find your answer. (An example of this would be asking why World War I started, first looking into the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, which leads you to finding out about how high the tension in Europe was even before the assassination, with Otto von Bismark calling Europe a ‘powder keg.’) In peeling back these layers you may find out that what you were expecting the answer to be is not the case, possibly leading to you having to change the question being asked entirely, upon the discovery of this new information. A great example that genuinely lets you visualize what I mean when I say “peeling back the layers” in a geospatial map. The reason I use an onion as an analogy is because geospatial maps allow you to document more than a single set of information, letting you quite literally stack different pieces of information on top of each other.

In using spatial history maps we need to collaborate with others in the creation of the map. Collaboration is how we are able to store so much information in a single piece, with each collaborator adding the information that they are best specialized or educated in. As opposed to having someone who is adequate at each process, but not specialized in any, you can have someone who is the best in their field adding their knowledge together with other top-end historians.

Since there is always more than one cause for an event, this way of showing data allows you to see all of the possible causes of an event in a single piece, especially when a map contains both absolute and representational space. In doing this, you could better hypothesize the reasons why this event happened, or help let you discern the most probable factors that went into the occurrence of the event. Even though having both types of space on the map allows for more information to be represented, it can also cause confusion when you realize that absolute space is an exact and unchanging spot or area. Versus absolute space talking about how long it would take you to get to the point, you are studying. So one is a direct scientific answer to how we view space normally, and the other is a more hypothetical perspective of space. You have to decide which type of space would benefit your research the most on whatever project you are doing.

While I personally love these maps, specifically for the amount of detail they hold, I can totally understand why others may not prefer these maps. It can definitely be very overwhelming to some, especially those that don’t have prior experience with the topic or those who are still developing their critical thinking process. The ‘pitfall’ in using these maps is that sometimes the data being represented is so similar to another detail on the map that you think it may be related to it. This is where we have to remember the phrase ‘correlation does not equal causation.’ Just because something looks like it may be related does not always mean it is, this is why critical thinking is so important to the study of history.

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