Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features links to interesting, instructive, or thought-provoking readings about the English language and related disciplines. The selections could be anywhere from light and humorous to serious and scholarly, and they range widely from the reading, writing, listening, and speaking disciplines to the teaching and learning of English.

Understanding history through the language of geographic terrain

For her ingenious use of geographic information systems or GIS to cast fresh light on age-long historical debates, an American geographer from Kalamazoo, Michigan, recently won the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Awards.

Anne Kelly Knowles has pioneered the use of innovative cartographic tools to read the language of geographical terrain and its role in unfolding history. With GIS, she incorporates data from satellite imagery, paper maps and statistics to balance and clarify the paper trail that historians have traditionally relied on to understand major historical events. This way, she hopes, historical geography will act as a corrective and impart lessons that may resonate outside the academy.

“One of the most exciting and important parts of historical geography is revealing the dangers of human memory,” Knowles explains. “We can learn to become more modest about our judgments, about what we know or think we know and how we judge current circumstances.”

In particular, in a layered geographical recreation of the Battle of Gettysburg, Knowles has provided a better understanding of the peculiar behaviors and decisions of the combatant generals in terms of their vantage points in the battlefield, particularly those of Confederate General Robert E. Lee whose apparently foolhardy decision to press a frontal assault on the Union forces led to a disastrous rout of the Confederate army. Using the same GIS cartographic tools, Knowles has also accurately mapped the mass shootings of Jews in Eastern Europe by Nazi death squads during World War II.

Knowles is now about to publish a book, Mastering Iron, that uses GIS to clarify the overarching historical narrative of the American iron industry from 1800 to 1868. She blends geographical analysis with more traditional sources to challenge the conventional wisdom about this decisive element in the development of the United States as an industrial power.

Read Tony Horwitz’s “Looking at the Battle of Gettysburg Through Robert E. Lee’s Eyes” in the Smithsonian Magazine now! 

In “I Really Like That You Like What I Like: How did the Internet get so cozy?”, an article that came out in the November 18, 2012 issue of New York Magazine, Nathan Heller says that on normal days, there’s a deep and pervasive treacle of online life that you may not even notice. “But,” he quickly adds, “when a tsunami hits Japan, an earthquake crushes Haiti, or an embassy attack leaves foreign servicemen dead, even the most calloused tweeter goes soft inside, and every laptop turns into a small news service all its own.”

Read Nathan Heller’s “I Really Like That You Like What I Like” in New York Magazine now!

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