Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Window into our GIS Workshop

Blogging during class is my favorite! THIS IS WHAT BLOGGING IS ALL ABOUT. I stand by my decisions to blog during class - it's quite stimulating...and even though I'm posting this nearly a month after our GIS workshop, this unfinished blog post has allowed me to capture my intrigue and to revisit it with new and revised thoughts. Actually, part of me wishes I had documented more of my learning experience in this way...

Today, our colleague Don LaFreniere is giving us an introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

What I'm realizing is that spatial analysis is pretty neat! As a teacher, I'm always looking for different ways to present information - and visualizations can be so incredibly useful. Using maps and geographic locations can be a great tool for showing historical patterns, correlations, and changes over time.

What I'm loving about this presentation is that I'm seeing all different kinds of examples of how GIS can be used to analyze historical data for both public and academic history. From simple projects like mapping heritage buildings and incorporating hyperlinks, to past digital history projects that include heritage walking tours using GPS's got my mind working away.

What kinds of things can I "georectify" in the future? For my IED project? For my internship? Personal diaries?! I never would have thought to spatially analyze something like that.

Now, we are actually going to be able to get our hands dirty by georectifying a London fire insurance plan and analyzing the Talbot Street neighborhood that we all did projects on last semester.

This process was fairly easy (as we were given extremely straight-forward and helpful directions) and is basically a way of saying this point on the map = this point on the fire insurance plan. In this way, we can line up any coordinates and use this process to analyze or manipulate old maps, etc.

I love when technology works. It's so very encouraging.

The next step is to digitize our heritage properties on Talbot (607 for me), which basically just involves outlining it and giving it a pretty color.

Now, we're taking all the people from the census data in London and assigning them to their properties - putting the Londoners in their houses - using a "spatial join" that will say that each polygon (house) contains this point (person). In this way, we have linked several important layers of information: a map of London, a fire insurance plan, and all the census data according to where each person lived.

Now that we have this useful tool that contains all of this information in a visually organized manner, it's much easier to pull a meaningful analysis from it. For example, who was living within 200 meters of the Templar property. How many of those people had domestic servants? Did the Protestants and Catholics settle in different areas of London?

I don't think I've become a GIS master in those few hours of scrambling to keep up with the steps (mostly because I was simultaneously blogging) - but I certainly think of it as valuable exposure. Perhaps with a little more exposure and a bit of assistance, I can put the utility of these concepts into practice!

Here's a very simple GIS type project that was completed for a Banting House online exhibit entitled Captain Frederick Banting: The Luckiest Boy in France. Made in conjunction with a permanent exhibit in the museum, online visitors can spatially visualize Banting's military journey and learn information about his service according to geographic location.

Over the next few months, I am aiming at either expanding upon this online military exhibit, or perhaps installing a new online exhibit that focuses on another well-kept secret of Frederick Banting's, which is his extensive portfolio of artwork. I'm going to have to spend some more time with the content in the exhibits to come up with something, as my creative genius is escaping me during these final weeks of graduate school.

Anyone have any neat ideas for an online exhibit? Sharing is caring. :o)