I had an interesting conversation today with Michael Buckland about the importance of mapping historical cultural data to time and place. Most documents refer to place names, which may be ambiguous (e.g., country names come and go, town names change or are reused), and refer to time in similarly ambiguous ways (e.g., "last year", "during the summer", "when I was 10", "after the war"). If such references can be disambiguated, then it becomes possible to see connections that might not otherwise be visible.
Michael Buckland directs the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI) an international project to develop and distribute digital data on historical and archaeological resources. To this end, they are working to "create digital maps that display a wide range of cultural material by using place and time as a common element."
Apparently current Geographical Information System (GIS) tools just don't deal with time in an adequate way. One exception is the University of Sydney's TimeMap system, which ECAI uses.
I've always loved maps, and we are seeing from recent innovations such as Google Maps just how powerful it can be to enable easy mapping of diverse data to geographical space. But I had never thought about the temporal dimension.