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Among historians, Historical GIS is often regarded as a nice-to-have, work intensive method of visualizing interrelations that have already been discovered and proved in a “conventional” way. While this common reservation may be of some relevance in cases where only a limited amount of geo-referenced data has to be assessed, human cognitive capacity is usually not able to grasp spatial relationships and large interactive networks formed by thousands of interrelated datasets. This holds all the more true in the case of transcultural (historical) research that (a) necessitates the integration of both macro and micro levels of research and analysis and (b) emphasizes the dynamic and interactive character of its research objects, all of which are embedded in what Heidelberg University’s  Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context: Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows” conceptualized as (trans)cultural flows.

As part of the research cluster a virtual research environment – the Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA) – is being developed with the aim to provide researchers with a set of databases and analytical tools that support their work. Within the HRA, GeoTwain is a first, small attempt at overcoming the problem of visualizing masses of geo-referenced data produced on different levels of transcultural research. In this context it is important to point out that GeoTwain does not at all aim at replacing established GIS software, but rather seeks to provide an intuitive and easy-to-use tool that visualizes data with a minimum of user input on a well-known platform. The project intends to contribute to that "eureka moment when somebody sees data mapped for the first time" [1, p 18]. Several of the application’s functions will be encapsulated as Web Services, so that other components of the HRA will be able to make use of them. This approach follows a new paradigm known as Service Oriented Architecture [2], that is also beginning to gain ground within the e-Humanities, e.g. in the TextGrid-Project [3]. Such project architecture allows for the integration of different tools according to different needs.

Full IEEE 2009 article.


[1] KNOWLES, ANNE KELLY/HILLIER, AMY (ed.): Placing History. How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS are Changing Historical Scholarship, Redlands, Calif. 2008. read online
[2] ARSANJAN, ALI, Service-oriented modeling and architecture - How to identify, specify, and realize services for your SOA, IBM developerWorks, Nov 2004, <>
[3] GIETZ, PETER, TextGrid and eHumanities, Second IEEE International Conference on e-Science and Grid Computing (e-Science'06), p. 133-141.