Course Information

Spring 2024 Description

This course surveys the field of spatial history by examining a range of projects and platforms. We will take an expansive view of spatial history, looking at maps and cartography, georeferencing historical maps, geographic information systems, data visualization, web mapping, deep mapping, mapping for mobile devices, story maps, 3D spaces, and virtual reality. In each case, building on an examination of concepts such as place, space, scale and movement, we will analyze historical projects to consider what questions and interpretations flow from a spatial approach. While we will give some attention to the tools used to create each form of spatial history, the focus of the course is how spatial history is conceived not learning to use software.

Essential Information

  • The class will meet Wednesdays, 7:20-10:00PM.
  • All the readings are available online through the GMU library; there are no books to purchase for this class
  • Professor Robertson can be contacted at srober30<at>

Learning Objectives

  • You will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the field of spatial history and the concepts employed in that scholarship.
  • You will be able to evaluate historical arguments, explaining how they were constructed and might be improved.
  • You will be able to demonstrate an understanding of how new technologies are transforming historical research, writing, and publishing.
  • You will be able to collect, sift, organize, question, synthesize, and interpret complex material to develop a well-supported historical argument.


This iteration of the course is organized to examine first the core forms of spatial visualization, then the broad themes examined in spatial history. This may not be the most effective framework for understanding the field. Many of the projects could appear in multiple different categories. We will critically examine the categories used to organize the class, considering what they highlight and obscure about the nature of spatial history, and what other organization could be used.  One alternative would focus more narrowly on the subject of analysis (the Routledge Companion to Spatial History is divided in to sections on the fields of population and demography, economic history, urban history, rural and environmental history, political history and spatial humanities). Or we could look at spatial history by historical period, or by national focus. Or we could organize the course around the concepts used in spatial history (place, space, scale, landscape etc).

Spatial history at present is generally published as articles or online projects of that scale, not as monographs or online projects of that scale. Consequently, where most graduate classes read a book and an article a week, you will be reading 4-5 articles, often together with related online visualizations. It will be important that you devote time to exploring the project sites as well as the more familiar task of reading the print publications. It can be less obvious how to read a site than an article; there is not always a linear narrative to follow. Often you will need to explore interactive visualizations, which requires conducting multiple searches and examining the results. We will discuss the concepts on which projects rely and the tools they employ.

If necessary, we will make adjustments to the syllabus during the course. This website will be the most current version of the syllabus.