Soweto Historical GIS Project


Archive and Web Application, In Active Development, 2010-present

A little over four+ years ago, I began a collaborative project with three undergraduate students in the Department of Geography at Middlebury College to build a historical GIS database drawn from a collection of thirty-nine largely unseen maps, architectural plans and drawings discovered at the National Archives of South Africa.

It combines both an intense methodological engagement with a wide variety of analog and digital archival materials.

The Soweto Historical GIS Project (SHGIS) seeks to build a multi-layered historical geographic information system database that explores the social, economic, and political dimensions of urban development under South African apartheid regimes (1904-1994) in Johannesburg’s all-black township of Soweto. SHGIS is a unique project because it combines both an intense methodological engagement with a wide variety of analog and digital archival materials and, at the same time, is a pedagogical effort to write the spatial history of a traumascape shaped by the legacy of apartheid, racial terror, and political violence in Southern Africa. More simply, our research has allowed us to see how just one mitigating social factor (of the many we are exploring), population density or overpopulation, over time, became a determining factor in the kinds of resistance employed by township residents over subsequent decades against government sanctions.