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With modern geography tools, researcher gains fresh insight on historic Gettysburg battle

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Gettysburg GIS
Gettysburg GIS

There's plenty of history in maps. That's what Anne Kelly Knowles' masterful understanding of geography and her embracing of modern technology have proven; they've led her to examine historical events like few historians before her. She rose to prominence by using geographic information systems (GIS) and a wealth of mapping data to offer up fresh insight on the battle at Gettysburg. "It’s a computer software that allows you to map and analyze any information that has a location attached," she told Smithsonian when describing her preferred toolset. GIS allows Knowles to instantly manipulate maps for any information she's after: she can recreate the exact view General Robert E. Lee had of the Gettysburg terrain, for instance — lending us a new perspective on his fateful battlefield decisions.

Knowles has also applied her GIS methodology to the Holocaust, teaming with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other experts to create some of the most accurate geographic depictions yet of one of history's darkest eras. But with the influence of Google Maps and other location services quickly growing in our lives, Knowles also takes care not place too much credit on computers and other tech. To her, these resources can be made all the more powerful with a knowledgeable mind employing them. "The technology is just a tool, and what really matters is how you use it."