GIS as a Phenomenological Bridge-An Example

-by Christy Hyman

GIS can be a phenomenological bridge between experience and measurable qualities within cartographic data. This quote captures the alterity of experience (as it relates to enslaved people) within landscapes of domination during the antebellum era: “You cannot talk about space as it relates to Black people—to African people—without talking about movement or moving through space. And once you talk about moving through space as it relates to Africans, then you must confront the forces that prohibit or restrict that moving.”***quote is M.NourbeSe Philip, “Black W/Holes: A History Of Brief Time.” Fuse Magazine, 1998. Found in Jessica M. Johnson’s blog “Afrx Wonders Diaspora Hypertext.

With this idea in mind we can assess the GIS task of georeferencing maps for instances in unearthing the past:

We find a point location-find it in real world space

Create control points, Add map data

*Assess that at this point this is unknown spatial reference*

Zoom in

Right click white space

Turn on georeferencing tool

Match it to a base map in ArcGIS;download map data

Zoom in realworld map of counties…make new layer file

Add basemap–imagery

*Widest perspective is best; Look for extant location on both maps (Gatesville, NC in this case)

Screenshot (26)–(geocoding finds Gatesville)

Turn on auto adjust;View link file- real world coordinates-residual tells quality of the point;Then rectify.

Now an old map has real world data


I can then map out flight paths of enslaved people with point distances indicated from enslaved runaway maps. This is an example of the lived experienced being brought out by the GIS. Because the terrain, the cost paths(politically and geographically) tell us many things about living and surviving freedom-making in the slave regime.


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