Historical mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS)

The ‘spatial turn’ is a now well established historical concept and practice. Scholars, publishers and readers expect space to be used as a category of analysis - with maps used as sources and research outputs illustrated by custom maps.

However, without training it can be challenging for historians to begin to work with this material.

Course Details

The two days are designed as one course, and most students will wish to take them together (for the full fee TBC). The charge for attending only the first or only the second day is TBC. Select your option of choice when ordering.

You might want to attend only Day 1 if you want a “taster”, you might want to attend only Day 2 if you have already experimented with GIS software on your own, or if you have previously studied Geography.

Otherwise all students are strongly encouraged to attend both days.

Day One – Historical Mapping

The first day of this two-day course discusses both creating your own simple web-based maps, and dealing with maps and other spatial data as primary sources.
Through a quick survey of the history of western mapping, we introduce the fundamental concepts of cartography, which you will need to understand both to create your own maps, and to successfully interpret historical maps as primary sources.
By discussing how maps were made in the past we both understand how to interpret them, and see the evolution of the techniques and concepts required to make your own maps:

  • Basic mapping concepts (projections, meridians, co-ordinate systems, etc.)
  • Thinking about spatial data – what can be mapped?
  • Exploring online historical resources that use maps to display data
  • Preparing data to be mapped – recording coordinates
  • Using basic online map tools – Google Tables and MyMaps

There are no prerequisites for this day, but all students should ensure they have a Google (including Gmail) account available and are familiar with Microsoft Excel.

Dates: TBC

Fee: TBC

Day Two – Mapping Historical Data with QGIS

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – can do much more than simply create maps as illustrations. GIS is being used in a variety of contexts to make sense of information with a spatial component, be it at the level of buildings and streets or at the level of nations, and to perform sophisticated geospatial and topographical analyses. Historians approaching their work with geographical research questions in mind not only have to come to terms with the cartographical and technical learning curves that come with the use of GIS, but they also have to address the added complication of changing geographical units (both administrative boundaries and physical topography) over time. Fortunately, these complexities can be overcome, turning GIS into an extremely powerful research tool

This workshop introduces the key concepts and the practicalities of mapping historical information using GIS software. It will focus on a number of areas:

  • The notion of GIS as a database – where data is graphical as well as alphanumeric – rather than as ‘map-drawing tool’
  • Different types of geographical and historical data (vector, raster, polygon, point, tabular), and the various approaches to combining them to answer research questions
  • Sources of existing geographical datasets (both current and historical) to help you begin mapping your own data quickly
  • The preparation of historical data for use with a GIS (geo-coding and geo-referencing)

The workshop will focus on hands-on practical sessions using QGIS software to view and manipulate historical data, and will provide the opportunity for generating (and analysing) the kinds of thematic mapping that are the product of this research tool.

Day One is not a pre-requisite, but participants should be familiar with concepts such as projection, coordinate systems, and layers. Confidence with spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel is essential and familiarity with relational databases such as Microsoft Access would also be beneficial. No previous experience of using GIS software is necessary.