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Digital Humanities

This guide provides an introduction to digital humanities (DH) theory and practice and an overview of DH methods, tools, and resources.

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An Introduction to Mapping in the Digital Humanities

Maps and GIS are an important part of digital humanities research methods, especially in the context of spatial and network analysis. A map can be an excellent way to present data visually, as either an alternative, or supplement to, narrative text.

Geographic information systems include tools (such as software) and related data used to in spatial analysis.

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Digital Primary Source Collections with Maps and Geographic Data

Many of UCI Libraries'  digital primary source collections contain historical maps, geographic search interfaces, and/or interactive and other built-in tools that may be of interest to digital humanists. There are more tools and collections than could possibly be listed here. The following is a selection only.

Note that most of the resources on this list require authentication through UCI and are marked with an (*). If you are off-campus, you will need to use the VPN to access.

  • American Civil War: Letters and Diaries (Alexander Street Press)* : Contains approximately 100,000 pages of diaries, letters and memoirs from the 1840s-1890s. This link takes you directly to the "Browse by Place" interface.
  • British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries (Alexander Street Press)* : Includes over 100,000 pages of material, all forms of diaries - religious, travel and journalistic by British and Irish women between the 16th - 20th centuries. This link takes you directly to the "Browse by Place" interface.
  • China, America and the Pacific: Trade & Cultural Exchange (Adam Matthew)* : Explores the cultural and trading relationships that emerged between America, China and the Pacific region between the 18th and early 20th centuries. This link takes you direct to the "Maps" landing page, with access to interactive maps and a map gallery.
  • Early Encounters in North America: Peoples, Cultures, and the Environment (Alexander Street Press)* : Contains letters, diaries, memoirs and accounts of the peoples, cultures and the environment of North America between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.This link takes you directly to the "Browse by Place" interface.
  • East India Company (Adam Matthew)* : Collection of India Office Records, containing royal charters, correspondence, trading diaries, minutes of council meetings and reports of expeditions, among other document types. This resource charts the history of British trade and rule in the Indian subcontinent and beyond from 1600 to 1947. This link takes you directly to the Data Visualization page, which features an interactive visualization of the East India Company's trade between 1760 and 1834. Use the map, line graph and sparklines to select markets, commodities and date ranges to explore.
  • Images of the American Civil War (Alexander Street Press)* : Posters and ephemera presents the imagery of nineteenth-century Americana as experienced from the social, military, and political perspectives. This link directs you to the "Browse Places Discussed" interface.
  • Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration & Cultural Exchange (Adam Matthew)* : This primary source collection includes visual, manuscript and printed materials from more than a dozen companies and trade organizations around the world focused on 15 major commodities and their impact on the world. The Data & Maps section includes: price data visualizations, energy data visualizations, interactive maps, historical maps. Dates of coverage: primarily 18th - 20th centuries
  • Manuscript Women's Letters and Diaries (Alexander Street Press)* : Letters rom the American Antiquarian Society, 1750 - 1950; collection includes 105,000 pages of the personal writings of women from the 18th, 19th, and 20th century. This link takes you directly to the "Browse by Place" interface.
  • North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories (Alexander Street Press)* : Personal narratives of immigrants to the U.S. and Canada. Covers a wide range of nationalities and ethnic groups. The materials begin around 1840 and extend to the present, focusing heavily on the period from 1920 to 1980. This link takes you directly to the "Browse by Place" interface.
  • North American Indian Thought and Culture (Alexander Street Press)* : Contains biographies, auto-biographies, personal narratives, speeches, diaries, letters, and oral histories of indigenous peoples. Coverage: 17th century - present. This link takes you directly to the "Browse by Place" interface.
  • North American Women's Letters and Diaries (Alexander Street Press)* : More than 300 years of women's correspondence and diaries (colonial to 1960). This link takes you directly to the "Browse by Place" interface.
  • Slavery, Abolition & Social Justice (Adam Matthew)*: Includes collections on the transatlantic history of the slave trade from the 16th through the 19th century. This link takes you to the map page, from which you can view historical maps digitized in full color or select a region from an interactive map to see all primary source documents for that area.
  • Slave Voyages : This is the online portal for the Trans-Atlantic and Intra-American slave trade databases, which are the culmination of several decades of independent and collaborative research by scholars drawing upon data in libraries and archives around the Atlantic world, including from UC Irvine. Special map-related features include an overview of the slave trade in a series of maps, a 3D rendition of a slave ship, and a timelapse view of the movement of slave ships across the Atlantic.

See the Primary Sources Research Guide for more!

Mapping and GIS Tools Available Online

Free Tools

  • Google My Maps: Design and publish customized maps using Google services
  • Google Earth: This free downloadable software is a virtual globe program for viewing satellite images of the Earth. Use it to create maps as .kmz or .kml files, which can be posted online or imported into Google Maps or Esri's ArcGIS
  • Harvard WorldMap: Open source software for creating and publishing maps. The system attempts to address the gap between desktop GIS which is generally light on collaboration, and web-based mapping systems which often don't support the inclusion of large datasets.
  • Historypin: A user-generated digital archive of historical photos, videos and more, that can be displayed interactively in multiple formats, including a gallery, timeline, or map
  • OpenStreetMap: This is a community-driven, open-source map of the world that includes open data for use in creating maps.
  • Neatline: This add-on tool to Omeka allows you to tell stories with maps and timelines. Note: Contact Digital Scholarship Services at UCI Libraries if you are interested in building a project on our institutional Omeka site.
  • QGIS: Free and open source desktop GIS software that allows users to create, edit, visualize, and public geospatial information on Windows, Mac, Linux and some other operating systems
  • Palladio: Data-visualization tool developed by Stanford's Humanities + Design Lab that can produce maps and network graphs
  • StoryMapJS: Developed by Northwestern University’s Knight Lab, this tool allows users to stories on the web that highlight the locations of a series of events by pulling in media from a variety of web sources, such as Google Maps, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Wikipedia, DropBox, and more


Fee-Based Tools ($$$)

  • ArcGIS: A robust, industry-standard GIS tool for the management, analysis, and display of geographic information. ArcGIS Online (details in the free section) is a browser -based version version of this software and it is possible create a free public account. A license is required for the full software package. Below is information about accessing licenses at UCI Libraries or virtually through UCI OIT.
  • Esri StoryMaps: Users can combine maps with narrative text, images and multimedia content to create geographically-focused stories to share online
  • Carto: This is a drag-and-drop GIS and web-mapping tool for display in a web browser. Pricing models apply, but they do offer free software for students through their Github Student Developer Pack
  • MapBox: subscription-based web mapping platform; use it to store, share, and geolocate data, as well as create interactive and time-based maps that can be  embedded into a website.
  • Tableau: This subscription software serves as a powerful data analytics tool with built-in mapping tools. Free trials are available, as well as limited free educational licenses.

Licensed Data and Mapping Tools

Many of UCI Libraries data and mapping databases are designed for researchers in the social sciences, but may be highly relevant to digital humanists.  Note that most of the resources on this list require authentication through UCI and are marked with an (*). If you are off-campus, you will need to use the VPN to access.

  • Social Explorer*: Provides access to demographic information about the United States, as well as thousands of interactive data maps going back to 1790
  • PolicyMap*: An online data and mapping application with access to thousands of of indicators related to things such as housing, crime, mortages, health, jobs, demographics, and education in the United States.
  • SimplyAnalytics*: Web-based analytics  and data-visualization tool for creating interactive maps, charts and reports, including thematic maps using demographic, census, business, & marketing data.

ArcGIS Access at UCI Libraries

ArcGIS Workstations at the MRC

ArcGIS is a powerful mapping software developed by the company Esri. UCI Libraries holds 2 licenses for ArcGIS 10, available at the Multimedia Resource Center (Science Library)

Get in touch with the MRC for the best hours and access information.

  • MRC phone: 949-824-7072
  • MRC Email:

More GIS

Need more information about GIS? Check out the GIS Research Guide.

Helpful Non-UCI Guides

Many libraries curate lists of tools for DH and mapping. You many find some of the following to be particularly helpful.

Intro to DH: GIS Mapping Guide (Temple)

DH Tools & Software (includes a nice section on GIS Apps & Sites) (NYU)

DH: GIS and Other Mapping Tools (with links to tutorials) (Dickinson)

Virtual Access to ArcGIS via OIT

Access ArcGIS through UCI OIT's Virtual Computer Lab

UCI's Office of Information Technology (OIT) allows anyone with a UCINet ID to access specialized software, including ArcGIS, through a virtual computer desktop that runs through your internet browser. Read more about this virtual service, including detailed instructions, on OIT's website.

Note: Esri also offers some versions of its software for free. Learn more about free versions of ArcGIS here.