As part of the postmodern turn in the study of history, the focus on space (alongside the usual questions of who, when, why) has become a mainstream topic of study. Justin Coulson summarises some of the latest studies to involve spatial data and in particular looks at how the digital is helping to transform what can be achieved and discovered through such studies. Coulson notes current projects such as Locating London’s Past and Mapping London – both of which use geo-referencing to create accurate maps of pre-modern London. Then there are postgraduate and postdoctoral studies such as Tim Bishop’s use of the Antwerp Alderman register to enable him to create an accurate map of the property boundaries in the fifteenth century city. At the University of York, Gareth Dean is using tenement records to spatially understand nearby Swinegate, whilst Nick Holder is locating London friaries and their development through time. Carley Dearing (Liverpool) is creating 3D maps of medieval Winchester and Marlas Craine is employing ‘space syntax’ to understand public spaces in the nineteenth century.
Coulson’s own research is focused on neighbourhood in medieval London. Early modernists claim that the rise of the self (amongst other things) led to the decline in neighbourly activity that had previously existed. However, this previous existence of a neighbourhood community is generally taken for granted and has yet to take on any properly understood shape. Coulson therefore has sought to use spatial technologies to find out to what degree there actually existed a neighbourhood in late medieval London. To achieve this Coulson needed to find out who lived where and map this onto an accurate medieval layout of the city.