A rising academic field called spatial humanities has opened new doors in understanding historical geography. Scholars in multiple fields- architecture, humanities, history, geography and others- are exploring landscapes of the past using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS technology, which is used in tools such as Google Maps and GPS devices, is being used in spatial humanities to recreate historical areas, such as the Gettysburg battlefield, regions that were hit during the Dust Bowl, and sites of the Salem Witch Trials.
Anne Kelly Knowles, a geographer at Middlebury College, says that by recreating these regions, we are discovering a “part of human history that otherwise we couldn’t possibly know” and we can “see patterns and information that are literally invisible”. Knowles herself is working on the recreation of the original Gettysburg battlefield. She has been trying to uncover what kind of landscape surrounded General Robert E. Lee, and how that affected his decisions during the time of battle. Since the area now contains many new features- a reservoir, quarry, different landscaping and new foliage- looking at the battlefield in its current state wouldn’t be accurate. Instead, Knowles pulled together historical documents and a variety of other resources to digitally re-build the land, adding roads, buildings and topography in it’s 1863 state. She was able to come to the conclusion that “Lee probably could not have possibly seen the massive federal forces building up on the eastern side of the battlefield on Day 2 during the famous attack on Little Round Top,” forcing him “to make decisions with really inadequate information.”