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Published on June 20, 2024
Harvard's Digital Atlas Project MAPS Offers Window into Ancient Infrastructure's Impact on Modern EconomiesSource: Unsplash/ NASA

The digital realm has opened up a new avenue of exploration through Mapping Past Societies (MAPS), a project which sheds light on the correlations between ancient infrastructures and modern economic vitality. According to Harvard Gazette, the freely accessible digital atlas unveils patterns that span across historic events and locations, such as the alignment of ancient Roman roads with bustling contemporary European cities or the overlay of 15th-century bubonic plague outbreaks on the early COVID-19 hotspots.

Under the co-guidance of Santiago Pardo Sánchez, a Harvard alumnus, and Michael McCormick, a Harvard professor specializing in medieval history, MAPS reveals itself as a resourceful tool to students and researchers alike. With a dataset inclusive of a range of data, from economic activity to climate changes spanning two millennia, someone who's looking at Roman roads or investigations into the plague's spread finds a treasury of information at their fingertips. As per Santiago Pardo Sánchez's calculation, someone who's interested in historical economics to health patterns can draw meaningful parallels by analyzing the data.

The versatile ArcGIS software interface allows manipulation and visualization of a vast breadth of historical data, showcasing everything from economic indicators such as ancient shipwrecks to the geographic spread of historical pandemics. "The shipwreck data have been important to me and other economic historians," McCormick explained to The Harvard Gazette, providing a crude yet rich indicator of past economic activities.

Adding a layer of modern relevance, the MAPS project also suggested the enduring impact of ancient Roman infrastructure on present-day economies. With proximity to these historical roads being a veritable metric to predict economic vibrancy, as McCormick shared, "There was a whole series of economic studies on 21st-century Europe showing that proximity to Roman roads helped predict economic vibrancy today," according to The Harvard Gazette. Essentially, the connections between past and present are drawn through lines etched centuries ago, scrutinized through the technological lens of today.

Students, even those without prior experience, have made significant contributions to the success of MAPS. Maintaining the database requires an eye for detail and a knack for spreadsheets. Anika Liv Christensen, a research assistant working on the project, and a practical endorsement of its usability, stated, "My litmus test has been: Could a nerdy 12-year-old use it? Because if a nerdy 12-year-old can use it, then anybody can," as reported by The Harvard Gazette. Echoing the sentiment, a recent event highlighted how MAPS brings history to life by visually representing the progression of pandemics, drawing stark parallels with today's connectivity and disease spread.

The culmination of deep historical insights and interactive software hammers home the notion that, indeed, history repeats itself or, more accurately, resonates within the matrix of modern existence. Those with a curious mind and internet access can dive into MAPS's vast datasets, thus democratizing the nuanced understanding of history's reverberations into the present day.

Boston-Science, Tech & Medicine