Advanced Spatial Analysis

This website is preserved as an Archive for the NIH-funded GISPopSci / Advanced Spatial Analysis Training Programs (2005–2013). Current resources in support of
Spatially Integrated Social Science
are now available at the following:


Research Project Details

Spatiotemporal Dimensions of Population Change in Northern Orkney Islands, c. 1735-2000

Discipline: Demography     GIS     Population and Environment     History     

Project Category:
Institution: The Pennsylvania State University
Principal Investigators: Jim Wood (Anthropology, Penn State) Patricia Johnson (Anthropology, Penn State) Stephen Matthews (Sociology & Anthropology, Penn State) Timothy Murtha (Lanscape Architecture, Penn State)
Grant Number: NSF HSD Proposal 0527539

Description: Studies of long-term demographic change in the modern period have been dominated by demographic transition theory (DTT), i.e., the unidirectional transition from a preindustrial agricultural regime of high fertility and high mortality to a modern industrial regime of low fertility and low mortality. Despite early descriptive evidence supporting DTT, it is now acknowledged that many localized trajectories of demographic change deviate from the narrow predictions of DTT. Moreover, DTT is not really a theory at all as it does little to explain the mechanisms underlying demographic change. Therefore, this project is designed to address not only why fertility and mortality declined in the industrial regime, but also to identify how a preindustrial demographic regime was dismantled and what new regime took its place. Recognizing that demographic regimes have both temporal and spatial dimensions, this project will use an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating the methods of historical demography, ethnography, landscape archaeology, and spatial analysis. This project will focus on the changes occurring in the northern Orkney Islands, located on the northernmost coast of mainland Scotland, from c. AD 1735-2000. The islands are an ideal location to study these topics for several reasons: 1) the islands have been continuously settled from at least AD 850, 2) Detailed records allow for demographic reconstruction and reconstruction of the material conditions going back to the 1730s, and 3) the islands have experienced significant economic and demographic changes in the last 265 years, including a peak population of 6062 persons in the 1861 census with only about 1300 persons today. During the three year term of the project we will collect and code all of the relevant demographic records, conduct field survey of farms and households, compile relevant environmental and economic data using remote sensing and historic maps, and conduct open-ended interviews with community members over the age of 60. These data will be combined within a single GIS system to understand the processes of “demographic transition” that have occurred in Orkney over the past 250 years. This project brings to bear an innovative combination of models and methods from several fields on the study of demographic and economic “modernization”. Historical demography has never before been carried out in conjunction with historical archaeology, and the combination of the two will allows the investigators to understand demographic change within its larger environmental and spatial context. Ethnographic work with living informants will allow the investigators to tap rich family histories and personal memories of change. Finally, new theoretical models and statistical procedures have been developed to support the analysis, interpretation, and generalization of the field data, and these models and procedures can be applied to data from other parts of the world. The proposed research will have positive impacts on undergraduate and graduate education and training. It is being conducted in association with an undergraduate field school funded by NSF’s program in Research Experience for Undergraduates, and we anticipate that several doctoral dissertations will result from graduate student participation in the project. The project will also have an important economic impact on the local community since the investigators are working closely with community organizations to set up a genealogical database to support heritage tourism. Finally, because the work will be widely published in professional journals and made available to the general public on a project website, advances in the scientific understanding of the modern demographic transition will be disseminated to a wide audience. More >>