Literature Review

Literature Review

The purpose of this project is to develop a digitized environmental history of Davidson College. This project expands on a senior environmental capstone project that combines aerial photography, remotely sensed data, historical maps, and oral histories to map environmental changes throughout Davidson College’s history. The previous project created a series of maps using ArcMap 10.1 united with a rich historical narrative and timeline to analyze Davidson College’s environment history. While the capstone is comprehensive, its presentation as a manuscript is not sufficient for presenting various maps, timelines, narratives, and images as a cohesive unit. By presenting the above material as a digital Neatline exhibit, this project allows for interactivity and inclusivity throughout the web. Many authors have demonstrated the importance of developing environmental histories, the significance of the college campus in an environmental history context, and the importance of mapping; however, only recently has digital mapping emerged as a reputable discipline. As times have progressed into a digital age, the ways in which authors address and present environmental history problems should continuously develop.

The discipline of environmental history is well recognized and accepted as an area of study. Noted environmentalists such as Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson promoted a moral and political agenda towards the environment, establishing a base for future environmental scholarship. More recently, Donald Hughes (2006) defined environmental history as “history that seeks understanding of human beings as they have lived, worked and thought in relationship to the rest of nature through the changes brought by time”(Hughes, 2006). Although the discipline has evolved to include “ecohistories”, “historical geographies” and “ethnographies of landscape”, environmental historians today agree that the environmental history of a place should be examined in conversation with anthropogenic developments.

Only recently have the college town and campus emerged as focuses for scholarship and, even more recently, as a focus for environmental history studies. The importance of the college campus as a significant entity emerged when Gaines (1991) described the college campus as a work of art. His book was one of the first to stray away from the valuations of merit and scholarship, and ranks colleges based on urban space, architectural quality, landscape, and overall appeal. Moreover, authors such as Gumprecht (2007) have examined the historical environmental and social importance of the college campus. Gumprecht (2007) highlighted the needed balance between aesthetics, academics, and development in a particular college’s history, and provided a useful case study that situated the college campus in an environmental history context. Gumprecht’s work highlights the importance of the physical campus as a symbol central to the identity of the college, town, and even state.

Environmental historians focus on various sub disciplines, including geography, when reconstructing historical narratives. In many cases historical geography and the theories of several dimensions of space, provide substance to environmental history narratives. Additionally, authors have adopted the idea of social space or constructed space as a way of critically understanding the surrounding physical environment. The idea of constructed space originated in Lefebvre’s (1991) work The production of space, where he presented different levels of space from abstract space, to natural space, to a more complex social space. Without getting lost in philosophical jargon, it is important to note the significance of Lefebvre’s argument. Social space as a social product gives subjectivity to geography. Lefebvre addressed the argument that space is natural and socially constructed, which highlighted the idea that maps are never completely objective. Lefebvre’s work also highlights the uniqueness of individual spaces, such as Davidson College, with histories that are formed by a combination of physical and social interactions.

Expanding on Lefebvre’s call for understanding socially constructed and physical spaces, existing literature demonstrates the importance of mapping as a form of scholarship. In two of his books chapters, Monmonier (1993) demonstrates the importance of cartographic symbols as a form of analysis. He argues that maps are a “scaled down version of reality”; therefore, various symbols and scales demonstrate different arguments of the cartographer. While Monmonier examines specific symbols and scale levels, his text demonstrates the overall subjectivity of mapping and the importance of the cartographer’s decision making in constructing a narrative. Monmonier demonstrates how maps can be used to create certain arguments of spaces, and are useful when examining human-environment interactions. Moretti (2005) applies the importance of mapping to literary history and argues that mapping literature allows for a different level of understanding about the text. For example, he discovers a circular pattern of geography when he maps out Mary Mitfords, Our Village, and suggests that “when you map out the book, everything changes” (37). Although Moretti’s (2005) arguments examine literature, his concepts can be applied to historical narratives. When one maps out the history of a place, the past may be seen in a different light.

Conversations surrounding the physical and social construction of space have intrigued scholars, but these arguments were not accessible to the public until digital studies emerged as a reputable discipline. In her article, Fitzpatrick (2012) defines digital humanities as ““a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities, or, as is more true of my own work, ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies.” Adopting Fitzpatrick’s first definition, this project attempts to transform a humanities study into an interactive digital exhibit. Expanding on Fitzpatrick call for the essentiality of digital studies, digital studies allow for public consumption of scholarly work.

Other authors address the importance of digitizing maps and argue that digital projects allow for public availability, and for varying levels of argument nonexistent in paper maps. In their book, Hypercities: thick mapping in the digital humanities, Presner et al (2014) develop the term “thick mapping” to describe the processes of “collecting, aggregating, and visualizing ever more layers of geographic or place specific data” (Presner et. al 17). Thick mapping, as Presner et al (2014) define it, can be easily achieved digitally. In his article, Long (2013) argues that digital maps such as google maps can return many elements to the map, including social, political, economic, climatological, biologic, and many other elements.” Although my project does not use google maps, Long highlights the general interactive nature of digital maps, which allows for a combination of spatial and non-spatial data. Additionally, Long (2013) addresses the importance of layers in digital maps as they allow for the “mashing up of non-spatial data on digital mapping interfaces in order to bring together multiple pieces of situated knowledge about and to get diverse perspectives on a particular space” (Long). By combining the arguments presented by Presner et al. (2012) and Long (2013), this project attempts to digitally combine spatial and non-spatial data of Davidson College’s rich environmental history.

The last requirement of this project is that it be interactive. In his interview with the Onion, Douglas Adams highlights the importance of interactivity of digital humanities and argues “putting in the extra element of interactivity should just add to the possibilities” of any text. Charles Cumming demonstrates the usefulness of interactivity in his digital novel, 21 steps ( In this interactive story, the reader follows the characters on a geographical journey that combines spatial and non-spatial data that connects the reader to the story world.

Considering the importance of interactivity, this project employs the Neatline plugin for Omeka to create an interactive historical archive complete with a narrative, archived photos and ArcMap maps. Ramsey and Rockwell (2012) present the argument that digital tools and the act of digital construction are scholarship themselves, regardless of the thing that is being presented. In conversation with Ramsey and Rockwell (2012), it is important to select the correct tool when developing a digital project. Nowviskie demonstrates the usefulness of Neatline by arguing “It’s a geotemporal exhibit-builder that allows you to create beautiful, complex maps, image annotations, and narrative sequences from collections of documents and artifacts, and to connect your maps and narratives with timelines that are more-than-usually sensitive to ambiguity and nuance” (Nowviskie). As Nowviskie demonstrates, Neatline is capable of combining various forms of media into a unified exhibit – a requirement of my final project. David Mclure, one of the builders of Neatline, declares Neatline is intended for “scholars who want to use maps and timelines to tell stories and make arguments about their subject” ( In the same article, Andrew Staffer values how “Neatline will allow [him] to layer historical maps”, and is impressed by the “power of Neatline as a framework for integrating spatial analysis into humanities scholarship.”. Considering these critiques and the requirements of my project, Neatline proved to be an appropriate tool for presentation.

Existing literature demonstrates the importance of constructing environmental histories, the usefulness of mapping as a means for presenting humanities research, and the need for digitizing projects using tools such as Neatline to create interactive and comprehensive exhibits. From Lefebvre’s theory of constructed space to Staffers comments on Neatline, this project adapts various previous frameworks to create a comprehensive environmental history of Davidson College.



Fitzpatrick, K. (2012). The humanities, done digitally. In M. K. Gold (Ed.), Debates in the digital humanities (). Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press.

Gaines, T. A. (1991). The campus as a work of art. New York: Praeger.

Gumprecht, B. (2007). The campus as a public space in the american college town. Journal of Historical Geography, 33(1), 72-103.

Hughes, J. D. (2006). What is environmental history?. Cambridge: Polity.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford, OX, UK; Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.

Long, Seth (2013) Digital maps and social data (

Monmonier, M. S. (1993). Mapping it out : Expository cartography for the humanities and social sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Moretti, F. (2005). Graphs, maps, trees : Abstract models for a literary history. London; New York: Verso.

Nowviskie, Bethanie (2014) Neatline and visualization as interpretation( )

Presner, Todd Samuel,, Shepard, David,,Kawano, Yoh,,. (2014). HyperCities : Thick mapping in the digital humanities

RAMSAY, S., & ROCKWELL, G. (2012). Developing things: Notes toward an epistemology of building in the digital humanities. In M. K. Gold (Ed.), Debates in the digital humanities (). Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press.

Seal, Rob. (2012). Neatline Helps Map New World of Digital Humanities Scholarship. (


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