Imperiia: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

What is spatial history?

The concepts of "space" and "place" have always been essential to the work of writing history. In fact, historians spent much of the past century wrangling with the concepts (and very messy realities) of borders and borderlands, nations and empires, territories and landscapes. But histories about even the most compelling spaces are not necessarily spatial histories.

So, what is spatial history?

Spatial history - a term that describes a way of thinking and working as a historian - has three hallmarks. First, practitioners of spatial history apply the methods of spatial analysis to the study of the human past. They reconstruct spatial relations. They study concentrations and scarcity, distance and proximity, access and isolation. They do these things not in order to make pretty pictures, but in order to generate new knowledge and new insights. (Click here to read Richard White's straightforward and beautifully brief explanatory document.) Second, spatial histories contextualize and interpret, but they are different from most other works of history in that they use visualization as the primary language of narration and argumentation. Third, spatial history is often the result of collaboration among scholars, and often across disciplines.

Doing spatial history therefore means asking a different set of questions. It encourages us to define units of analysis beyond the nation state and city, and to do so at a range of scales. It allows us to assemble information in new configurations. To put qualitative and quantitative information in dialogue. To expose patterns and structures too deeply embedded in our sources to be retrieved by other historical methods. Spatial history requires us to read deeply and critically, with a thirst for context, an eye for data, and the humanist's devotion to the search for meaning. 

This page is referenced by: