Historical Spatial-Data Infrastructures for Archaeology: Towards a Spatiotemporal Big-Data Approach to Studying the Postindustrial City


While the use of geographic information systems (GIS) has become commonplace within the discipline of archaeology, the potential of a big-data approach to GIS is yet to be fully exploited within historical archaeology. Archaeologists inspired by developments in the social sciences and humanities have recently called for new ways of conceptualizing GIS as a process that is more theoretically satisfying and methodologically effective in its applications to archaeology. We respond to these calls by proposing a new approach for GIS in historical archaeology, an historical spatial-data infrastructure (HSDI). We outline the progression from historical GIS to the construction of an HSDI and present a series of case studies that demonstrate how using a spatiotemporal big-data-based approach expands the scale of archaeological inquiry to studying the postindustrial city.


Si bien el uso de los sistemas de información geográfica (SIG) se ha convertido en un lugar común en la disciplina de la arqueología, el potencial de un enfoque de macrodatos para los SIG aún no se ha explotado por completo dentro de la arqueología histórica. Los arqueólogos inspirados por los desarrollos en las ciencias sociales y las humanidades han pedido recientemente nuevas formas de conceptualizar los SIG como un proceso que es más teóricamente satisfactorio y metodológicamente efectivo en sus aplicaciones a la arqueología. Respondemos a estas llamadas al proponer un nuevo enfoque para los SIG en la arqueología histórica, una infraestructura de datos espaciales históricos (IDEH). Esbozamos la progresión del SIG histórico a la construcción de una IDEH y presentamos una serie de estudios de casos que demuestran cómo el uso de un enfoque basado en un enfoque de macrodatos espacio-temporal expande la escala de la investigación arqueológica para estudiar la ciudad postindustrial.


Si l'utilisation des systèmes d'information géographique (SIG) est devenue pratique courante dans la discipline archéologique, le potentiel d'une approche big data quant aux SIG n'est pas encore pleinement exploité dans l'archéologique historique. Les archéologues inspirés par les développements dans les sciences sociales et humaines se sont récemment prononcés en faveur de voies nouvelles pour conceptualiser les SIG à titre de processus plus satisfaisant d'un point de vue théorique et plus efficace d'un point de vue méthodologique dans ses applications à l'archéologie. Nous proposons une réponse à ces attentes sous la forme d'une nouvelle approche des SIG dans l'archéologie historique, à savoir une infrastructure de données spatiales historiques (HSDI––historical spatial-data infrastructure). Nous soulignons la progression à partir des GIS historiques vers la construction d'une HSDI, et nous présentons une série d'études cas démontrant comment le fait d'utiliser une approche basée sur le big data élargit la portée de l'enquête archéologique pour étudier la ville post-industrielle.

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    The HSDI projects outlined in our article make use of the ESRI software ecosystem. However, the HSDI concept itself is emphatically “software agnostic”; all of its essential features may be implemented using open-source tools and data formats.


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This project was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Michigan Technological University. The authors would also like to thank associate editor Barry Gaulton and the three anonymous reviewers for their assistance in preparing the final manuscript.

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Trepal, D., Lafreniere, D. & Gilliland, J. Historical Spatial-Data Infrastructures for Archaeology: Towards a Spatiotemporal Big-Data Approach to Studying the Postindustrial City. Hist Arch (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-020-00245-5

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  • historical GIS
  • postindustrial
  • big data
  • urban