History Mapper

Letter addressed to the wife of Cornelis Berghe, who lives in the Nieuwe Wal Strate in Flushing

At Leiden University, I headed a digital humanities project for which I received a Faculty of Humanities Teaching Innovation Grant of Leiden’s ExpertiseCentrum Online Leren (ECOLe). This project has further developed History Mapper, a software application which I have created with Steven Ottens, then software developer at Geodan Research (now working at Webmapper).

History Mapper is a simple tool to map and visualize correspondence networks. With this tool, students can create a database together in a shared Google spreadsheet, which they can simultaneously visualise. Their spreadsheet is linked to a web page that visualizes the data they have entered into the spreadsheet. Through this application students learn to organise their data in a way computers can work with, they learn how digital tools can help them get new information out of their old sources, and they also are challenged to investigate the limitations of digital methods. The visualisation gives the opportunity to discuss the progress of the students during a class and to check if all the information is entered correctly.

During a class the progress of the students can be displayed and discussed

With the grant from ECOLe, Steven Ottens from Geodan’s research department has developed the functionalities of the tool, adding different characteristics that can be represented, such as nationality and gender. While first the web tool was only suitable to visualise one dataset, with the ECOLe grant the project has yielded an environment in which multiple datasets can be entered and visualised at the same time, so more lecturers and students can use this software in their teaching and research.

To take a closer look at the visualisation of a History Mapper example sheet, click on the image below.

With History Mapper, the students practice to organize their data in a spreadsheet. They also learn that every individual needs to have a unique code for the computer to recognize that individual. This is especially important for early modern correspondence, as there are many ways to spell a name. When they enter a new letter, they first need to check if the author and recipient have already been assigned a unique code. If not, they have to enter that person in the list of correspondents (the ‘Key’ tab) and assign them a code. Then they can enter the details of the letter (the ‘Data’ tab): author, recipient, place of writing, address of recipient, date of writing, and information about the letter’s content. They enter the coordinates of the address. As the students are all working in the same spreadsheet, they can make a lot of progress in only one class. The lecturer is able to supervise their progress through the visualisation and through the google sheet, to which the lecturer also has access.

To start a new History Mapper project, click here.