Here’s another History-GIS website that offers some intriguing possibilities. The Lewis and Clark Across Missouri site offers visitors a virtual tour of the portion of the Lewis and Clark expedition that took place in the Show Me State. A particularly good application of the possibilities of GIS is the interactive map of the outbound and inbound campsites. Each site is plotted on a large state map and when you click on the site you get a detailed USGS map of the location. Where the creators of the project have added real historical value to these maps is with their recreation of the Missouri River’s course in 1804 or 1806. The old flow is drawn over the current USGS map so that visitors can see how the river has changed over time.
As much fun as this site is to peruse, it still lacks a lot of historical content. It’s one thing to learn where the campsites were and how the river has changed, but that only scratches the surface of the information that could be provided to visitors. What about diary entries from the day/night when the expedition was camped there? What about images of that moment in their journey? What about information on the Native Americans they encountered at various points?
My own take on these shortcomings of the site is that it was created by geographers who had a different set of concerns than a historian would. This is where I think historians and geographers can really enrich one another’s work. The geographers know how to do this kind of sophisticated map production. We know how to turn that map into a compelling interactive narrative. Now we just have to start talking to one another more than we currently do.