‘Buried Beneath the Waves’: Using GIS to Examine the Physical and Social Impact of a Historical Flood

Mathew Novak, Jason Gilliland


Natural disasters such as floods can periodically disturb and destroy the built and social fabric of communities. Despite their importance, specific ramifications of natural disasters can be overlooked in local histories due to a paucity of data. In this article we bring together several disparate sources of data within a historical geographic information system (HGIS) to study certain physical and social details of the flood which devastated the Town of London West, Canada on 11 July 1883. The integration of historical and contemporary data sources allow for the construction of a three-dimensional model of where the flood likely occurred. With the location of the flood determined, it is possible to discern which residents were impacted and the legacy of the disaster on the community. This study demonstrates how digital technologies such as GIS can help provide a richer understanding of urban and environmental history.


Environmental History, Urban Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Disasters, Residential Mobility

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