I have never blogged before and am not quite sure how to begin… so here goes nothing!
I have decided to start my introduction with a brief overview of how I got to be in this position of beginning a blog, two months into my Master’s degree. This way, you get a feel for who I am and where I currently stand in the world of historical scholarship. Much has happened to get me to this point, but I will aim to be as succinct as possible.
So how did I get the idea to do this specific Niagara-based historical GIS project? A large part began with my work at the 230-year-old Nelles Manor Museum located in Grimsby, Ontario. The non-profit historic site opened to the public in May of 2016 where after completing the second year of my undergrad I was employed as the summer student through the federal Canada Summer Jobs program, and eventually worked my way up to the position of Museum Manager by the summer of 2018, volunteering my time there during every off-season. These experiences quickly taught me about the intricacies of museum life as well as the joys of engaging with local history. I often found myself realizing that the Loyalist settlers at the Forty (Grimsby) were not that different from you and I.
I was given another nudge during the fourth year of my undergrad. I have since completed my Bachelor’s degree at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario with a major in history and a minor in political science. In the second semester of my fourth year, I completed a directed research project in connection with the Town of Lincoln Museum & Cultural Centre. From January-April 2018, I digitized a ledger from a local farmer and miller named Michael Rittenhouse, who lived during the early 1800s in what is now the town of Beamsville. If you’d like to read more about the project, you can click the link here. This project was short and relatively simple, but it was the first time that I could could connect my university experience with my love for local history, andactually share the results with people beyond my classmates and professors.
I now knew that I wanted to continue pursuing knowledge in the colonial history of Niagara, in some capacity. My work/volunteering at Nelles Manor laid the foundation, and the Rittenhouse project was the final push that sent me to apply for my Master’s at Brock with a vague idea about wanting to learn more about how and why Niagara developed the way it did during the “Loyalist Era.” The Loyalist Era, wherein hundreds of families crossed the border post-American Revolution and entered into Upper Canada, is rich with economic and social development patterns that have been documented through merchant records, ledgers, diaries, enlistment records, administrative papers, etc. At a time when the British empire was struggling to hold onto the allegiances of its subjects in the North American continent, Niagara became a refuge and a new beginning for those who opposed the views of the American rebels. Now the next question for me was…. what exactly is this project going to be about?
With a little head scratching and a lot of guidance from my supervisor Daniel Samson, we came up with the idea of not only pursuing a local project, but incorporating a spatial dimension. When doing a project like this, it made sense to pick a topic that incorporated multiple dimensions of space and time. I had always intended on making my research available to the public, and mapping trade networks in an interactive, layered GIS project seemed like the perfect way to do this.
I began my MA thesis work in September of 2018 and am currently enrolled in a course that is meant to guide me in the use spatial tools for mapping these patterns. The months of September and October were spent reading about the theory behind historical GIS, spatial history, and the value of digital tools for the humanities. Now that I have a good grasp of the potential that HGIS provides, I am confident that my particular thesis will be perfect for presenting this type of visual analysis. The next months will be spent doing what I believe will be the more difficult hands-on aspect of GIS tutorials.
Like most students of the humanities, I chose to study history because I am naturally NOT great with technology. However, today I have figured out how to set up a blog and if I’ve made it this far I might as well keep going! Haha. Creating a database from the statistics found in primary sources will be tricky, but I am excited to get started. The bigger challenge that is facing me right now I think is to understand how to use the ArcGIS software. I’m going to Brock’s GIS lab early next week for my first tutorial. Wish me luck!