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When History Meets Geography: The Visualising Urban Geographies Project

Part of the Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography book series (LNGC)


The chapter proceeds from an account of the cautious embrace of historical mapping in Britain to explain why a new emphasis on open source mapping tools provides an attractive and productive way forward for historians. More specifically, the argument is that such tools facilitate analysis of historical sources and that these can be understood and applied with a very modest investment of time while yielding new perspectives on a wide range historical data. Furthermore, since there is a historical dimension to most humanities and social science disciplines, the tools development by the Visualising Urban Geographies (VUG) project at Edinburgh University offer productivity gains for researchers in other disciplines too.


  • Geographic Information System
  • Humanity Research Council
  • Archival Source
  • Jurisdictional Area
  • Registration District

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-00993-3_1
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  1. 1.

    An exception was Humphrey Southall’s large scale ‘Vision of Britain’ project. See

  2. 2.

    See for example, (Foresman 1997).

  3. 3.

    Gregory (2002), online at where a number links provide historical case studies that can be viewed.

  4. 4.

    (Knowles 2002), xi.

  5. 5.

    (Knowles 2008), 2.

  6. 6.

    (Gregory and Southall 2002), 120.

  7. 7.

    Not all of these maps are geo-referenced.

  8. 8.

    Batch geo-coding is not without difficulties. Like most datasets, standardisation using street, city and country column headings to ensures that Edinburgh is considered to be in Scotland, not the USA. Where streets have been obliterated, it is possible to develop ‘reverse geo-coding’—where the location in the city, if not the historic street, can be identified, so that a latitude and longitude or a post-code can be assigned. This is a laborious process where there are many such locations.

  9. 9.

    See for example, Balderstone (forthcoming).

  10. 10.

    If not already undertaken by an archive or other repository, the VUG project website provides a drop-down ‘Guides’ menu with step-by-step help on how to geo-reference maps. See This can be done using ArcGIS, QuantumGIS, and Georeferencer methods for cropping, choosing co-ordinates, adding control points and transformations. For further methodological considerations see Ballett (2006), Boutoura and Livieratos (2006).

  11. 11.

    These maps and WMS layers are all based on the British National Grid, OSGB 1936 (EPSG:27700) coordinate system.

  12. 12.

  13. 13.

    This sequence of steps is provided in detail and with several screen shots as part of the information on customising Map Builder and on how to publish maps as web pages See

  14. 14.

    In the 21st century the Office of National Statistics and the Scottish Government use respectively over 31,000 and over 6,500 geographical units to map various social characteristics and overall indicators of multiple deprivation. See

  15. 15.

    See for example, VUG Workshop (6 Dec 2010); VUG Launch (24 Feb 2011)

  16. 16.

    The partners are the National Library of Scotland, World Heritage Centre, Edinburgh City Council, Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland, and a private firm of conservation architects.

  17. 17.

    AHRC AH/K002457/1.


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The ‘Visualising Urban Geographies’ project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK, under the Knowledge Transfer Fellowship Scheme, Grant AH/G017077/1. See also Rodger et al. (2010).

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Correspondence to Richard Rodger .

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Rodger, R. (2014). When History Meets Geography: The Visualising Urban Geographies Project. In: Rau, S., Schönherr, E. (eds) Mapping Spatial Relations, Their Perceptions and Dynamics. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. Springer, Cham.

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