MX.digital: bringing Mexican historical statistics and maps to a laptop near you

For the last two years I have been collaborating with Michael Kirkland Bess and Martin Salmon on a project that I am – I have to admit – terribly proud of. We call it MX.digital and it is a grand project to put Mexican historical statistics and maps online, to make them accessible and shareable, and to make it easier for everyone, including – and perhaps especially – those that consider themselves non-digital or not particularly data interested, to access, use, and be knowledgeable of existing data sets when they research history.

Mike works at the Aguascalientes campus of the CIDE (which stands for Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica – and that means Center for Economic Research and Instruction). His thing is road & infrastructure history (he also blogs here, and his new book just came out, you should absolutely buy it/order it for your library), and he is kind of a road nerd – if that is a thing.

Our original plan was to digitize historical infrastructure statistics, and before we even got  the grant we applied to, that plan pivoted to *all* the historical statistics of Mexico we could find. The maps entered the picture (bc road maps) and from then on it was *all* the historical statistics and all the maps and a platform to dynamically connect them, and also visualizations (this is where Martin comes in).

We have had to pivot a few more times to come up with realistic database management plans, and robust content management structures, but we are there, almost. At least the historical statistics will soon come online.  We are collaborating with the Laboratory on on Public Policy, which has a solid database platform (and a big server) that will hold all the data we load on it (and more), and make it accessible and downloadable. It’s a marriage made in heaven. Their platform is super clean and easy to search – Mexican historian colleagues, rejoice!

Our origin story begins two years ago, when I got an email out of the blue from Mike. [Note here: if you wonder if you should cold-call or cold-email someone you want to work with, let Mike be an inspiration to you and DO IT. Similarly,  if you ever get an email from a scholar whom you don’t know and who wants a few minutes of your time to talk about a potential project – TAKE THE CALL].  Mike reached out to me asking if I wanted to be part of a funding proposal to digitize historical statistics and maps. His energy and excitement were contagious, and I was excited about getting involved in a big digitization project with someone.

We applied for and got the UC Mexus collaborative project grant  – and since then we have been collaborating on getting a shared database off the ground. The team in Mexico digitized public statistics that are not widely available online (unless you count scanned pdfs of statistical tables – which are a nightmare).  We received more funding from Mike’s institution, and started to dig into local archives for historical maps – which we digitized. As the database grew, Mike and our very gifted ArcGIS master/technical director Martin Salmon started coming up with ways to visualize the data. One of the products of their work with statistics and maps is here.  It’s in Spanish, but do not let that stop you.

We are getting ready to put the data base online – it won’t all go up at the same time,  but as it is up-loaded, it’ll be accessible, searchable, and downloadable. We are reaching out to other historians of Mexico who have been collecting information and generating datasets, and who would like to make them available to the community. We are offering to put their data sets online, and offering server space and safety for the invaluable information they have collected.

We’ll make the digitized maps available on a separate website, and we are still thinking about the best way and best place to showcase the visualizations we make with the data, and invite others to share theirs. A big part of our effort is geared towards outreach and dissemination. I think the work we are doing is important, but it is actually more important that the scholarly community join in.

To this end, we held a small ArcGIS workshop in Mexico City 2 weeks ago to introduce our colleagues in the History department at the CIDE to the methods and the data, and we plan on doing similar workshops for graduate students in the future.

The name we chose for this project is MX.digital. Pleas send logo and t-shirt ideas our way.

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