Geographic Information Science specialist Chris Gist has been working with religious studies professor Benjamin Ray in the Scholars’ Lab to confirm the exact spot in Salem Massachusetts on which researchers believe nineteen people were executed for witchcraft in 1692.
Ray, who oversees UVA’s Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, worked with Gist to digitally map the area around Salem’s Gallows Hill. Gist created “a viewshed analysis of the topography surrounding Boston Street and Gallows Hill to determine which ledges on the side of the hill would have been visible from the houses on Boston Street,” the vantage point from which suspected witch Rebecca Eames testified she saw five of the accused hanged. After analyzing a map of the area drawn by 20th century historian Sidney Perley, Gist and Ray were able to confirm that Proctor’s Ledge was in all probability the place of execution.
According to Gist, studies of spatial data “can contribute to research in history, religious studies, politics, environmental science, architecture and many other disciplines.” The Scholars’ Lab provides University-wide training, classroom and software support, and consultation on GIS and the creation and use of maps.
For more about the research and the Library’s role in it, read the story in UVA Today.