Creating a Historical Map with GIS

In the next few days I’ll be teaching a few workshops centered largely on teaching participants to georeference historical maps using ArcGIS. I’ll do this first at the Northeastern English Graduate Student Association’s 2013 Conference, /alt, and then at the Boston-Area Days of DH conference we’re hosting at the NULab March 18-19.

We’ll be learning a few things in this workshop:

  1. How to add base maps and other readily-importable data to ArcGIS
  2. How to plot events in ArcGIS using spreadsheet data
  3. How to georeference a historical map in ArcGIS

For that last goal, this step-by-step guide by Kelly Johnston should be your go-to reference. We’ll be following Kelly’s instructions almost to the letter, though we’ll be using different data.

We’ll be using these files for the lab. This tutorial, prepared for my graduate digital humanities class, walks through the same steps we’ll follow, in case you need to review a step here or later:

A few other worthwhile links:

  • The Spatial Humanities site is a useful clearinghouse of both spatial theory and praxis across a range of humanities fields. Kelly Johnston’s step-by-step above is only one of a growing collection of such resources on the Spatial site.
  • The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. If you want a historical map with which to practice—or, frankly, for your research, this is an excellent first stop. In short, it’s many thousands of historical maps, provided for free. In order to download high-resolution versions of the maps, you must create a (free) account and log in.
  • Neatline is an incredibly robust Omeka plugin that allows you to create spatial exhibits of your collected materials. Check out some of the demos—it’s really phenomenal stuff. We won’t have time to go over Neatline, but one could, for instance, make use of a map georeferenced in ArcGIS as a base map for a Neatline exhibit.
  • Hypercities is another important spatial humanities platform that makes use of Google Earth and allows users to build “deep maps” of spatial data, historical maps, images, video, and text. Check out some of their collections to see what Hypercities can do. The collections around Los Angeles, Berlin, and Rome are particularly robust.

Finally, two spatial nonsequitors:

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