This has been one of my favorite sections thus far. I absolutely love history (obviously), organizing things, and creating different ways to visualize things. Maps have always been a favorite to pour over and look between Google Maps and older maps. My favorite day during my 1876 roleplaying training was walking through downtown Mystic with the lead roleplayer and two fellow trainees, trying to figure out what exactly was there in 1876. We not only had to learn where we lived, but how we would have gotten from our homes to work, church, school, the store, and of course, up to Mystic Seaport. It really created a better understanding of the space. But I digress.
There were three different historical GIS programs to look at: HyperCities, Digital Harlem, and Mapping the Republic of Letters). Because I had already read a lot about Digital Harlem for last weeks class I wanted to look at the other two. Now, sadly neither wanted to load correctly on my KindleFire. So, boo to them. After loading them on a laptop they were pretty cool to play around with. The later, Mapping the Republic of Letters, was a bit confusing and really needs a better introductory video. I assume it’s a visualization of the content, written location, addressees, etc. for great post-Enlightenment thinkers from the United States and Europe from the mid to late 18th century. I think. The problem I had with the visualization drop down bar was that it was blank. I’d click on a ghosted selection and charts would appear. The charts would explain themselves a bit, but I didn’t couldn’t figure out how to manipulate it to learn more.
The other GIS site was HyperCities, which blends GoogleEarth and historical maps. There are a few dozen cities to choose from, although you can scroll around and type in various towns to see if they have maps. The fantastic parts of HyperCities is that you can adjust the transparency of the over laid maps and limit/expand your potential time span. The particular city I spent the most time looking at was Tokyo (Yedo, Tokio, or Edo) and thank goodness a lot over the overlaying maps ended up in Asakusa! It’s one of the areas of Tokyo I know pretty well. I stayed for a few days at a youth hostel across the river from Asakusa and went there a number of times. I was inspired to visit Asakusa after reading The Scarlet Gang of the Asakusa, which details the bohemian 1920s in vibrant Tokyo. This area, like so many others in Tokyo, was heavily firebombed during WWII and almost completely destroyed. It was still an interesting place to see, but it was quite hard to visualize what was and was not there before the 1940s. HyperCities allows you to overlay the various maps and visitors can see which buildings and areas were rebuilt and which were altered post-WWII. In this particular example it’s tough for anyone who doesn’t read Japanese to figure out exactly what’s missing, but the outlines of the street are still helpful. In my particular case I can read most of it and can see that the shrine, although mostly destroyed, was rebuilt in the same location.
What would make HyperCities even better would be to open it other users. I’m currently using two maps of Mystic, Connecticut that would be an interesting addition and I’m sure many other smaller communities would be happy to add their maps too. Also, HyperCities could add additional resources, such as the book I previously mentioned about Asakusa, or photographs.