Developing techniques for analysing textual material within a GIS we will apply them to a qualitative example focusing on a relatively small area and focused corpora. This is more ambitious and widely aimed. In previous work we have used HGIS approaches to explore long-term demographic changes in topics including: infant mortality decline, health inequalities, poverty, the impact of the railways on population change and the potential of using GIS to study long-term patterns of migration (Gregory et al., 2001; Gregory 2000; 2008; 2009; Gregory & Schwartz 2009; Gregory & Marti Henneberg 2010). These studies have two important limitations: first, they are usually based on one or two quantitative variables. Second, while they have been good at challenging existing orthodoxies, they have been less effective at developing new explanations as they tend to be primarily descriptive as a consequence of the limitations of their sources. We believe that the real power of GIS approaches is their ability to bring together a wide variety of sources and explore both the broad patterns that they contain and the exceptions to these patterns. This will follow through this approach by studying how society in England and Wales changed through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries using a wide range of quantitative and qualitative sources. The particular emphasis of the project will be on exploring the impact of these changes on patterns of mortality and health.
We will primarily concentrate on rural areas and smaller towns as these have been under-studied, and our previous research has shown that some rural areas showed the biggest mortality declines over this period, while others suffered the smallest. Our questions include:
- Were the areas on which government and other reports concentrated the areas with the most severe problems? Were these areas the ones that subsequently showed the biggest improvements?
- To what extent were agricultural change, including national patterns such as the agrarian crisis of the 1890s and localised changes, linked to changes in mortality?
- Did the development of the transport network appear to affect health? This is linked to the previous question, the transport network allowed and forced many changes, some beneficial others not.
- Was there a relationship between rural out-migration and health? Out-migration could influence mortality patterns in a number of ways and we have individual level and aggregate data to help us explore this.
Answering these questions requires the integration of a wide range of both quantitative and qualitative sources together with having the methodologies to exploit them. The importance of the results will lie in two areas: firstly, the demonstration that using GIS allows us to integrate such a wide and disparate range of sources in a meaningful and useful way, and secondly by making an applied contribution to our knowledge of when, where and why mortality decline started in the different parts of England and Wales and why these places subsequently followed trajectories.