Cartography — the science of mapping our world — has grown and improved over the centuries, and has in turn changed and improved our view of that very same world. Now, as cartography enters the digital 21st century, it could wind up rewriting history.
That’s the conclusion of Anne Kelly Knowles, a professor of geography at Vermont ‘s Middlebury College. Over the past three years, she and her team have been painstakingly mapping the site in Pennsylvania where the Battle of Gettysburg — one of the Civil War’s most decisive conflicts — took place. Using geographic information systems (GIS) software, her resulting map showed, not just an overhead view of the battlefield, but a full 3-dimensional recreation of the area from ground level.
And in doing so, Knowles realized she could (and not see) the same parts of the battlefield as General Robert E. Lee — which in turn, may have effected his attack strategies: “I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ Lee saw so much more carnage on the second day of the battle, more than most historical accounts say. How might that have contributed to his well-documented illness that night? And the next day, when he ordered Pickett’s Charge? It could make a whole new study of Lee’s emotional state and help us understand how he could make such a terrible decision and send his men into the teeth of destruction.”
Of course, it’s not just the historians who are benefiting from “e-mapping.” Anyone who’s plugged a destination into a GPS, fired up an augmented-reality smartphone app to find that little restaurant their friends are raving about, or even pointed and laughed at the Google Earth cars videomapping their neighborhood, is taking advantage of e-mapping’s advances. And while there may still be life in those accordion-folded paper maps, more and more we will see our world through computer eyes.
[Via the Philadelphia Inquirer]