November 10, 2006

Fun with historical GIS

My wonderful spouse has consistently reminded me over the years that as a union member, it is a violation of my principles to work on any specific task during a paid holiday. Today was a paid holiday, and I've tried to follow her advice by doing something new and completely unplanned, even if work-related. (There was also the chauffeur duty for a zebra finch and a 14-year-old daughter, but we'll skip the stories on those for now, except that my daughter acquitted herself well as the solos/ensembles festival in the county.)

So I tried playing around with GIS. I'd been wanting to use the National Historical Geographic Information System for some time but was intimidated by the cost of commercial software. Turns out there's now a nice open-source desktop program, QuantumGIS, and as soon as I figured out that the social variables (for thematic maps) needed to be inserted into the .dbf file for the shapefile set (actually a collection of files, one of them in DBase4 format), it was relatively easy. So where do I start?

Over last weekend, John Rury and I talked about the dramatic growth of secondary attendance and attainment in the post-WW2 years. This is a time when the secondary attainment gap shrank dramatically, and we're both exploring this in separate projects, John using census microdata and archival sources, me with my Georgia school reports from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. One starting point you could choose is 1940, when the county-level census statistics include the numbers of the school-aged population attending school, by relatively small age intervals. One of those age intervals is 16 and 17 year old adolescents, almost precisely the focus of John's work and a great indicator given the ages at which teens start to leave school (one way or another).

Could I get a map of the continental U.S. counties in 1940 showing the proportion of 16 and 17 year olds attending school? Check in the full entry!

16 and 17 year olds in school 1940 by county.png

Source: John S. Adams, William C. Block, Mark Lindberg, Robert McMaster, Steven Ruggles, and Wendy Thomas, National Historical Geographic Information System: Pre-release Version 0.1 Minneapolis: Minnesota Population Center University of Minnesota, 2004.

Just a reminder: everything in this blog falls under a Creative Commons license unless noted otherwise. You are free to use this image as long as it is attributed to me, there are no changes to it, and it is for noncommercial use. And if you're using this in a course, I'd greatly appreciate if you'd click on the Comments link below and let me know which course and university the material is being used.

Yes, I'm intending to create more over the next year. I'm teaching a history of ed course in the spring, so I have an incentive!

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Posted in Teaching on November 10, 2006 7:42 PM |