Grad student earns scholarship for digitizing Niagara history

At first glance, history and technology may not appear to go hand in hand, but Jessica Linzel (BA ’18) has shown they can make the perfect pair.

The Brock Master of Arts in History candidate used geographical information systems (GIS) software to translate historical information about colonial trade routes into spatial analysis — and a national organization took notice.

Linzel was recently honoured with the prestigious Esri Canada GIS Scholarship, which recognizes work in geospatial sciences by students in universities around the world. The scholarship is presented by Esri Canada, a company that creates GIS software to digitize the geography of the world.

“It was neat to win this award, as I am not a Geography major,” Linzel says. “This shows that my project was approved by geographers.”

When she started her master’s degree under the supervision of Associate Professor of History Daniel Samson, Linzel knew she wanted to continue to explore Niagara — where she has lived all her life — from a colonial perspective. However, knowing the topic has been well covered, she had to find a new way to interpret the information.

Samson encouraged her to connect with Assistant Professor Colin Rose in the Department of History, who has done work on digital history in the past.

Linzel was encouraged by Samson and Rose to implement GIS software, for which she also used services from Brock’s Maps, Data & GIS Library, with help from Sharon Janzen, Geospatial Data Co-ordinator.

A snapshot of wheat production in Niagara township during the late 18th century, which when analyzed using GIS technology revealed a host of significant conclusions.

Linzel learned the GIS language to explore trade in Niagara, mapping trade routes in the late 18th and 19th centuries. This helped her to understand how the settlements developed post-Revolution, using digital tools, all while translating her knowledge into an accessible format.

The map, including areas of Niagara and the trade routes that run through them, is available here.

The use of spatial analysis allowed Linzel to better understand how people participated in the economy at the time, and how that participation was limited by factors such as the physical features of Niagara (escarpment, rivers and creeks) and personal factors of race, gender and class.

Linzel, who has defended her thesis and will convocate Friday, June 18 during Brock’s Virtual Spring Convocation, now works as the Community Engagement Manager for the John Brown Heritage Foundation, which oversees the oldest house in St. Catharines. She uses the skills she developed during her thesis to help explain the history of the building and its relevance to the community.

Although she’s completed her studies, Linzel has maintained her connection to Brock through a number of projects. She previously worked with Associate Professor of History Elizabeth Vlossak on the Brock Sport Oral History Archive, an interactive digital archive that is preserving Canadian sporting legacies; is currently working with Associate Professor of Sport Management Julie Stevens to create an open education resource for safe sport, using the technological skills she developed in her master’s to turn that resource into an e-text; and is working with Associate Professor of Visual Arts Keri Cronin on an animal history project, teaching others how to incorporate GIS into their work.

Linzel says that going outside of her comfort zone to learn new techniques and skills aided the effectiveness of her project.

“Using imagery helped enhance the translation of my work,” she says. “I would encourage all graduate students to explore opportunities for learning outside of the class. Skills like GIS, web building, digital exhibits and text analysis can help open doors for jobs in the future.”

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