Time in Western culture is linear. Things have happened, are happening or will happen. It makes things easy when studying history and the past. When looking at events you can take a dot, place it on a line and that represents the event in a spatial format. From there you can overlay other events or trends that exist within time and space to find correlations and patterns for study. Similarly with time, you can plot a point on a map to represent an event. Using other events or trends, you can use that place to see any patterns that appear that can lead to further enlightenment. What I’m trying to get at is that using time and place to represent events, you can place them in a visual format to look at it from a different perspective which may reveal unseen patterns.
Using this concept of visual representation, Mapping the Republic of Letters has used spatial information for various collections of letters sent during the 18th and 19th century to view patterns on the movement of information, ideas, and people. They look at such figures as Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, and John Locke, notable intellectual figures during the age of enlightenment, and compare their correspondence to track trends of ideas and the flow of information. By finding patterns in these flows and trends, such as configurations of networks or nationalities exchanged with, the authors hope to answer questions about the age of enlightenment and the dissemination of enlightened ideas.
This project greatly adds to historical scholarship in its use of geographic information services to answer historical inquires. This level of interdisciplinary work shows how creative thinking about available sources can lead to answering questions that text based documents never could. Of course, these methods can compliment each other nicely to create a more whole picture about historical events and actors, and the ideas that influenced their lives and works.