Meet the Platoon

Name: Joseph P. Hupy (PhD)
Role: Course Leader/Professor
Hometown: Menominee, Michigan

Why Vietnam Historic GIS project?:My interest in historical geography combines history, a topic I’ve been interested in since childhood, with my career as a geographer. I fell into historical geography as a by-product of my research that explores the impact of conflict upon the physical landscape. In this type of work, one must understand the history of the conflict that occurred to know where environmental disturbance took place. Historical geography is fascinating because it looks at historical events at the landscape level. When history is then placed within the framework of a historical GIS, the results are even more interested.  My current research focuses on the central highlands of Vietnam, particularly in the area around Khe Sanh.   I have had the pleasure of working with several Vietnam veterans, mainly Khe Sanh, in studying how that battlefield was impacted by warfare. In working with those veterans, I have come to appreciate the vast wealth of geographic and historic knowledge of the events that took place now 40 years ago. I also came to realize that our country is obessed with remembering WWII, or the good war, where there was 'good vs. evil'. We tend to overlook Vietnam, and up until recently, ignore what the veterans have to say. This is a shame. More and more, I'm moving into the realm of Historic GIS to preserve the history of the Vietnam War. I'm taking the approach of creating a GIS database of the Vietnam War, and the amazing work of the students below captures a fraction of what amazing products can come from such a GIS.

Name: Tom Koehler
Role: GIS Database Manager
Hometown: Apppleton, Wisconsin

Why Historic GIS?:This project really gave me a chance to expand on the research I previously worked on in Khe Sanh. With the expansion of our data set and allowing it to incorporate a larger region, I can better put my research into a historical context. I think that the Vietnam War is an area of study that hasn't been given much attention in the GIS realm and this was a great opportunity to expand on that. In the future I'd like to continue developing this GIS database of Vietnam, and may even continue this research in graduate school.

Name: Ben Dunning
Role: Census Historian(Vietnam War Deaths)
Hometown: Apple Valley, Minnesota

Why Historic GIS?: Historical geography was something I was unfamiliar with at the beginning of this course.  Being a student perusing a degree in secondary education primarily focused in history, historical geography was something that interested me. Combining geography and history to form a new product was something I found to be incredible. The level of analysis possible with GIS gives a much better view of what actually happened and gives anyone the ability to answer questions that were not possible before. This discipline is something that was entirely new to me and was extremely helpful in an entirely new way.

Name:Mark Ingham
Role: Landscape GIS Analyst (Ho Chi Minh Trail)

Why Vietnam GIS?: I am a geography major and have only taken two history courses while in college.  As a result, historical geography was mostly an unknown term to me before this class.  I am still only beginning to scratch the surface of what historical geography actually means - and what it is capable of.  The main focus may be on past landscapes, but the interactions between humans (e.g. war) in the past can also be studied.
                Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a tool that may revolutionize historical geography.  In fact, it has created a new field known as historical GIS.  GIS is capable of capturing, storing, manipulating, and analyzing past information that was never possible before.  That is why I believe historical geography and GIS will only become more connected in the future.
                By relating this to my specific project, I have begun to understand historical geography/GIS a little better.  I will focus on Route 12 of the Truong Son trail network for my example.  The path of Route 12 changed drastically throughout the Vietnam War due to intense bombing by the South Vietnamese/Americans and additions by the North Vietnamese.  If I were to make a map of Route 12 using traditional methods, I would only be able to make a map of Route 12 at a single point in time.  Only one of multiple Route 12s (from different time periods) occupying the same space could be visualized on a static map.  Also, nothing connects these lines on a map to its attributes (i.e. route number, distance, region, etc.).  Thus, analysis is limited.  This is where GIS comes in and allows me to stack every known path of Route 12 on top of each other no matter what time.  In addition, each path of Route 12 is connected to a database containing the attributes of each path.  Thus, simple processes (e.g. determining how much Route 12 changed throughout the Vietnam War) are now easier to perform and more accurate.  With additional analysis, I believe my understanding of the trail network will only increase.
                Much discussion on previous landscapes and events relies on assumptions and speculation.  That is because primary sources are hard to obtain and even harder to analyze without the right tools.  In relation to my project once again, historical GIS has the potential to revolutionize the current information and view of the Truong Son Strategic Supply Route.  Current maps of the trail network are simply lines drawn on a map, which conjures up the issues of accuracy and how different trails are related to each other and the bigger picture of the trail network.  By incorporating primary source data on the trail network into a GIS database, more accurate maps of the trail network can be manipulated and analyzed.  Not only will this uncover many characteristics about the trail network, but it will give the trail network more of a context in relation to the Vietnam War.

Name: Kelli Julson
Role: Landscape Historian (A Shau Valley)
Hometown: Osseo, Wisconsin

Why Historic GIS?: Most people think of history as a study of past events but what most don’t realize is that the discipline involves many other different studies. Along with subjects such as sociology, psychology, economics, and many others, history many times incorporates geography in order to enrich research. Historical Geography is the study of an event, place or people in both a historical and geographic context. Geography plays a role in any historical event whether it is how the physical design of a valley affects the way battles play out, as in my history of the A Shau valley, how the geography proximity to resources affects a conflict, fights over political boundaries, the conquering of territories, the economic history of a certain environment and many other situations. In any situation, you are going to be in some sort of physical environment that can be described in a geographic context. With the development of the ArcGIS program, which we use in this project, historical geography has expanded in both interest and capability. The creation of data, maps, graphs, and other visual tools, helps the reader of any level, visually see the geography of the historical research. The combinations of these two subjects help deepen the understanding of both areas of study and the research being done.  As a history major, this class was a definite challenge. Learning how to use ArcGIS was the biggest hurtle but it definitely was worth the time. This project has helped me expand my thinking when it comes to putting historical information in a geographic context, something that will help in my history classes and help improve my work.

Name: Darin Mertig
Role: U.S. Census GIS Analyst (Vietnam War Deaths)

Why Historic GIS?:When I first started this class, I had a pretty good background in GIS, and it’s capabilities with data, but I had no idea what it could do with data from the past. I never thought I would find myself looking at a map from the Vietnam War and putting it to use in world of GIS. Historical GIS is a really great tool to use when talking about history, especially in the case of a war. When you can take a map or data that is historical and put it into a real world sense in GIS is can really give the reader a whole new perspective as to what is going on. When you see an old map drawn by hand of a battlefield it is as accurate as the person could make it for the time, but when you can take that map and place it over a new map that is very accurate and you can see the changes that happened or the areas that formed because of that map it is really amazing. Historical GIS, while still in it’s early stages, is going to help us in the geography world, and not to mention people in the History field, open up a whole new bag of tricks and accomplish things that have never been done before.

Name: Chris Rodengen
Role: Environmental GIS (Agent Orange)

Why Historic GIS?: Historical Geography is empirically interdisciplinary. The thought of combining two disciplines that require analysis from multiple gateways can be rather perplexing though I feel that this type of approach is very much underutilized as the science community seems to associate specialization with credibility. Without a doubt human activities have greatly altered our landscape, however a documented admission of guilt seems hard to come by when these activities result in self inflicted pain. It is said that epidemiological studies can never prove causation. For this reason I chose to do my study on the usage of tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or known more commonly by Vietnam Veterans as Agent Orange.  In a United States Veterans Administration press release regarding Agent Orange in October 2009 VA secretary Shinseki stated, “ We must do better reviews of illnesses that may be connected to service, and we will,” later adding, “Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence.” Digressing from the fact that the last recorded usage of Agent Orange was in April 1970 it seems that a retrospective study that carefully matched troop location information and locations where Agent Orange was used was long since overdue. Though some may disagree I feel that this type of interdisciplinary study provides the foremost quantifiable method for expressing causation in relevance to an issue that will live on through the offspring of the effected here in the United States and abroad. In the words of what I consider the foremost science writer, “I stand for what I stand on.”

Name: Roger Schulz
Role: Landscape GIS Analyst ( Khe Sanh Deaths)

Why Historic GIS?: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? The basic questions of life that mankind has been dwelling on since the beginning of time can be answered through our topic of study, Historical Geography. Historical Geography is the study of our history from a spatial approach. Historians focus on questions such as: when did it happen, who did it happen to and why did it happen? These are very valuable study questions, but the geographical mind adds a very valuable component to the picture, where. Historical
Geography asks: Where did it happen, and how did this affect the overall outcome of events? In essence, combining history with geography allows us to better learn from the past. These are the reasons why Historical Geography is of interest to me. I am a Geographer by nature, and dwell on the ‘where’ question all the time. However, the stories that a historian can tell have always interested me, especially those stories of individuals returning from conflict. I feel honored and privileged to retell their stories from the view of a geographer and apply the where element into the workings of history. Through the power full tool of GIS, the stories and legacies of these people can be observed, stored, and analyzed in a spatial context. I hope to tell the story of the soldiers who lost their lives in the battle of Khe Sanh as best I can from a spatial realm. Through Historical Geography, their story will be kept not only in the history books but also in the geospatial format it so much deserves.

Name:Jake Wise
Role: GIS Analyst ( Helicopter Crashes)

Why Historic GIS?:At the beginning of this class I had some understanding of how historical data could be applied to show historical events. As the course continued I saw how important Historical GIS really is and how it can be applied to store and represent the interactions of historical and geographical locations and events. When I learned that our class would be creating a Historical GIS for the Vietnam War I was excited, the Vietnam War has always been an interest of mine for a few different reasons, mainly because of the new tactics, equipment and weapons that were used in the Vietnam War, especially the new role of helicopters. For this reason I decided to cover the roles of Helicopters in the Vietnam War. In the early stages of the class I had to think about the best way to represent helicopter in a real world sense, I determined that helicopter crash locations are a constant historical and geographical features, this is why I used helicopter crashes for my project. When our class started creating a geodatabase for the Vietnam War it was clear to me how time consuming creating a geodatabases is. Overall I believe Historical Geography has been one of the most beneficial courses I have taken in my college career, I have faced and overcome many problems, these problems have taught me new techniques and approaches to working with a Historical GIS, the problem I faced have also refreshed and strengthened my abilities to use ArcGIS.

Name:Brandon Young
Role: GIS Animations (Helicopter Crashes)
Hometown: Planinview, Minnesota

Why Historic GIS?:Historical geography is a very interesting subject because people have been creating maps for many thousands of years and to be able to apply those maps in today’s world is remarkable.  I never would have thought of all the possibilities using historical maps and now by using historical GIS, it has become easier to analyze historical maps and use them in a variety of ways.  Historical GIS has made it so both history and geography coincide well with each other and has brought back the use of more historic maps to utilize with today’s technology.  I did not know too much about the Vietnam War before taking this course and now I have a much better understanding through the historical data as well as the geography data.  Being able to look at maps and seeing the patterns that occurred during the Vietnam War and also applying GIS to those maps was a great experience and a better technique in learning a subject.  Geography and history have always been interesting to me and now using GIS it is easy to explore historical maps and applying them to the real world.  Historical geography is still in the beginning phases of its many applications and I cannot wait to see what the future has to offer towards this subject.

©2010 University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire
Department of Geography and Anthropology