Course Information

Spring 2021 Description

This course surveys the field of spatial history, examining a range of projects and platforms, and undertaking hands-on work as an introduction to a variety of methods. 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, and take a hands-on look at the tools used to create that form of spatial history.

Essential Information

  • The class will meet Thursdays, 7:20-10:00PM on Blackboard Collaborate – login to the course site in, click on Class Meetings in the left menu and then on the link for the date of the meeting.
  • 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>


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. In addition to readings, you will also do hands on work with one of the tools used. Working with tools provides an important perspective on how they shape scholarship, what is required to use them, the process of analysis, and what historical questions they can help answer.

As this is the first iteration of this course, there will likely be elements of the organization, assignments and readings that we find are not useful or take too much time. If necessary, we will make adjustments to the syllabus during the course.