Visualising Urban Geographies: Developing New Tools for Integrating Historical Data and Mapping

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of History, Classics and Archaeology

Abstract

Context
Throughout the humanities and social sciences significant volumes of data are held as an address - we often describe things by postcodes - health care, poverty, crime, insurance rates, and so on. However, at all levels, from undergraduate projects to advanced academic staff research to the interests of the general public, the spatial dimension of historical information is often under-developed because the learning curve of Geographical Information Systems for non-specialists is steep.

An accessible tool will
(i) transform learning and teaching possibilities and the research potential of those who wish to map their data as a basis for class projects or research publications but who are currently deterred by need to learn GIS
(ii) enrich the historical engagement and spatial awareness of the general public
(iii) demonstrate the public benefits of university research in the humanities

Recent developments in open-source web-mapping technologies allow many new tools, applications, and research directions to be undertaken. For example, the work of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (http://www.osgeo.org) the widespread use of the Google Maps API and Google Earth, and Web 2.0 projects involving collaborative geospatial applications have allowed new ways of integrating spatial information in the humanities. However, very few of these projects use historical maps, and fewer still have been able to use archive-based socio-economic and cultural data. There is a huge, untapped potential here. It will be realised through the proposed project by developing tools for geo-referencing and integrating historical information, and by allowing online interrogation.

Visualising Urban Geographies will release this potential by re-using existing historical research on nineteenth century Edinburgh to develop a web based application that will enable users at all levels to input and manipulate map data without the need for specialist applications or scripting skills. The application will use popular, public domain web services such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth. In partnership with the National Map Library's unique collection of historical maps, it will build on their existing expertise in making these accessible online, and create new tools by integrating the maps with socio-economic data.

An easy-to-use 'one stop shop' would be hugely beneficial to spatial analysis of historical information. The project team initially identified this user need in the Humanities and Social Sciences but have subsequently, through discussion with academics both at Edinburgh University and in other HE and cultural institutions, identified a powerful demand across disciplines for a teaching and learning tool that will map geospatial data.

An example may be useful. The list of cholera patients' addresses in 1848 is difficult to interpret as it is entered in Hospital ledgers. Like entries in the Yellow Pages, making sense of the distribution of cases according to a list of addresses is not straightforward even to those who know the city well. Running these tables of addresses through post-coding software, though imperfect, renders the data in a form that with scripting, can be imported to a scanned and geo-referenced map. Repeating the exercise for the next outbreak in 1867 would reveal the extent to which the same or different areas were affected, and contribute to an assessment of how far policy measures eg slum clearance influenced the incidence of the disease. Since a considerable volume of data is address driven, many other characteristics could be mapped to provide an initial assessment of information that is difficult otherwise to evaluate. An important benefit of this process is that the spatial dimensions revealed prompts the development of research questions and hypotheses. The descriptive thus leads to the analytical, and to enhanced research quality.

Publications

10 25 50
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Prof Richard Rodger (Author) (2011) Visit by Royal Scottish Geographical Society 11.5.11.

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Prof Richard Rodger (Author) (2010) Cairt, 17, 2010, Scottish Maps Forum.

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Richard Rodger (Author) (2010) Cairt, 18, 2010, Scottish Maps Forum 2011.

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Rodger, R. (2010) Visualising urban geographies in e-Perimetron: An International Web Journal on Sciences, and Technologies

 
Title Housing Paper Worlds, Contribution to 4th year architecture students input to exhibition. 
Description Mapping of Cooperative housing developments in conjunction with collaborative exhibition by Heriot Watt University and Edinburgh Univerity students hosted by Edinburgh City Council. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact This research contributed to the Conservation Area status assigned to a number of distinctive housing developments in Edinburgh, 
 
Description 1. Developed geocoder for bulk entry of spatial data;
2. Developed measuring tools - distance and area

All materials can be plotted on historical maps provided digitised and georeferenced by the National Library of Scotland.
Exploitation Route More durable tools will be necessary handling ever laeger numbers of data items;
The development of Open Street Map allows for widespread use of tools without the restricitve licence and copyright conditions iposed by Google and Ordnance Survey.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail,Other

 
Description National Library of Scotland have improved their mapping platform as a result of project contributions; local history and community organisations have expressed an interest in the project.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Title Historical Maps compared 
Description Tool enables 2, 4 or 6 maps to be inspected side by side 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Development of comparable side by side historical maps. Used by general public, students. 
URL http://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/side-by-side/#
 
Description Knowledge transfer; Improving mapping accuracy; linking databases 
Organisation City of Edinburgh Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Underlying every partnership and collaboration has been the construction of a robust and accurate mapping of the city. This substantial infrastructural development is something of lasting value to all potential users - whether official partners or simply users in the city. The principal bus company uses it; departments of the City Council use the OSM developed by MESH. Many organisations come of their own volition to use the OSM developed by MESH. The emergency services know about it, and have begun to use. The business community and heritage sector know about it and use. MESH mapping underpins the maps.me API widely used by visitors to the city, and which Visit Scotland have also deployed. What has MESH produced that has made this such a valuable contribution? 1 a mapping methodology that is robust, systematic, consistent, and thus transferable to other places; 2 a set of protocols that others can identify and follow to develop OSM elsewhere; 3 a combination of fieldwork observation, use of historical maps and aerial imagery that develops individual plot boundaries (polygons) throughout the the City and which offers potential for government tax reform; 4 polygons that can be used to identify sets/families of data e.g. listed buildings; sites under construction; 5 potential updateable database of property useful to the City Council; 6 points of interest identified include historical sites, green spaces, playgrounds bicycle racks, etc useful to and used by Community Councils and neighbourhood groups; 7 pedestrian ways through the city; 8 essential data for emergency services eg placement of doors All of these elements are useful to the partners and the wider public interest. The key MESH contributions, however, are (i) that historical data can be mapped on the framework of roads, properties and addresses identified and mapped by MESH; (ii) the underpinning OpenSource/OpenData commitment by the project team makes this available to all users; (iii) the NLS Map Library has some improvements made to their geocoder and other tools by the MESH team; (iv) RCAHMS/HES have had some programming assistance to improve their database of historical sites; (v) MESH has made many presentations to all partners regarding how their interests could be enhanced; (vi) MESH has supported Edinburgh World Heritage's efforts to redevelop a historic church building (Tron) as a visitor site with a searchable database derived from MESH activities.; (vii) a large number of presentations have been made to assist organisations; (viii) MESH has produced maps, historical and contamporary, for organisations such as the Cockburn Association (Civic Society), Old Edinburgh Club etc.
Collaborator Contribution The contributions by the partners to the development of the project has been fairly modest. Most important has been the provision of digitised and geo-referenced out of copyright historical mapping by the NLS. This is very valuable to MESH, and correspondingly has improved th utility of the map collection which is the most used item in the NLS. RCAHMS/HES probably recognise the utility of the MESH mapping more than anyone else. In return for asistance with their CANMORE database in which MESH demonstrated some improvements could be made using OSM, RCAHMS/HES provided labour for the development of the property polygons which amounted to about 2 days of labour per month for a year.
Impact 1. OpenStreetMap is itself a major output - a spatial database of unique quality; 2. development of code, also OpenSource - which can be use by other organisations; 3. several academic publications and contributions to the publications of non-MESH researchers; 4. public engagement: extensive outreach and knowledge exchange; 5. development of unexpected outcomes - the wider commercial interrests; 5. development of unexpected academic potential - the brlliant programming and development of data models have brought about the possibility of searchable Post Office and other Historical Directories. MESH is in disucssions with the NLS over this but the prototypes have been developed and provide rich insights into economic and social aspects og 18th and 19th C urban society. The outputs and outcomes are multidisciplinary.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Knowledge transfer; Improving mapping accuracy; linking databases 
Organisation Historic Environment Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Underlying every partnership and collaboration has been the construction of a robust and accurate mapping of the city. This substantial infrastructural development is something of lasting value to all potential users - whether official partners or simply users in the city. The principal bus company uses it; departments of the City Council use the OSM developed by MESH. Many organisations come of their own volition to use the OSM developed by MESH. The emergency services know about it, and have begun to use. The business community and heritage sector know about it and use. MESH mapping underpins the maps.me API widely used by visitors to the city, and which Visit Scotland have also deployed. What has MESH produced that has made this such a valuable contribution? 1 a mapping methodology that is robust, systematic, consistent, and thus transferable to other places; 2 a set of protocols that others can identify and follow to develop OSM elsewhere; 3 a combination of fieldwork observation, use of historical maps and aerial imagery that develops individual plot boundaries (polygons) throughout the the City and which offers potential for government tax reform; 4 polygons that can be used to identify sets/families of data e.g. listed buildings; sites under construction; 5 potential updateable database of property useful to the City Council; 6 points of interest identified include historical sites, green spaces, playgrounds bicycle racks, etc useful to and used by Community Councils and neighbourhood groups; 7 pedestrian ways through the city; 8 essential data for emergency services eg placement of doors All of these elements are useful to the partners and the wider public interest. The key MESH contributions, however, are (i) that historical data can be mapped on the framework of roads, properties and addresses identified and mapped by MESH; (ii) the underpinning OpenSource/OpenData commitment by the project team makes this available to all users; (iii) the NLS Map Library has some improvements made to their geocoder and other tools by the MESH team; (iv) RCAHMS/HES have had some programming assistance to improve their database of historical sites; (v) MESH has made many presentations to all partners regarding how their interests could be enhanced; (vi) MESH has supported Edinburgh World Heritage's efforts to redevelop a historic church building (Tron) as a visitor site with a searchable database derived from MESH activities.; (vii) a large number of presentations have been made to assist organisations; (viii) MESH has produced maps, historical and contamporary, for organisations such as the Cockburn Association (Civic Society), Old Edinburgh Club etc.
Collaborator Contribution The contributions by the partners to the development of the project has been fairly modest. Most important has been the provision of digitised and geo-referenced out of copyright historical mapping by the NLS. This is very valuable to MESH, and correspondingly has improved th utility of the map collection which is the most used item in the NLS. RCAHMS/HES probably recognise the utility of the MESH mapping more than anyone else. In return for asistance with their CANMORE database in which MESH demonstrated some improvements could be made using OSM, RCAHMS/HES provided labour for the development of the property polygons which amounted to about 2 days of labour per month for a year.
Impact 1. OpenStreetMap is itself a major output - a spatial database of unique quality; 2. development of code, also OpenSource - which can be use by other organisations; 3. several academic publications and contributions to the publications of non-MESH researchers; 4. public engagement: extensive outreach and knowledge exchange; 5. development of unexpected outcomes - the wider commercial interrests; 5. development of unexpected academic potential - the brlliant programming and development of data models have brought about the possibility of searchable Post Office and other Historical Directories. MESH is in disucssions with the NLS over this but the prototypes have been developed and provide rich insights into economic and social aspects og 18th and 19th C urban society. The outputs and outcomes are multidisciplinary.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Knowledge transfer; Improving mapping accuracy; linking databases 
Organisation National Library of Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Underlying every partnership and collaboration has been the construction of a robust and accurate mapping of the city. This substantial infrastructural development is something of lasting value to all potential users - whether official partners or simply users in the city. The principal bus company uses it; departments of the City Council use the OSM developed by MESH. Many organisations come of their own volition to use the OSM developed by MESH. The emergency services know about it, and have begun to use. The business community and heritage sector know about it and use. MESH mapping underpins the maps.me API widely used by visitors to the city, and which Visit Scotland have also deployed. What has MESH produced that has made this such a valuable contribution? 1 a mapping methodology that is robust, systematic, consistent, and thus transferable to other places; 2 a set of protocols that others can identify and follow to develop OSM elsewhere; 3 a combination of fieldwork observation, use of historical maps and aerial imagery that develops individual plot boundaries (polygons) throughout the the City and which offers potential for government tax reform; 4 polygons that can be used to identify sets/families of data e.g. listed buildings; sites under construction; 5 potential updateable database of property useful to the City Council; 6 points of interest identified include historical sites, green spaces, playgrounds bicycle racks, etc useful to and used by Community Councils and neighbourhood groups; 7 pedestrian ways through the city; 8 essential data for emergency services eg placement of doors All of these elements are useful to the partners and the wider public interest. The key MESH contributions, however, are (i) that historical data can be mapped on the framework of roads, properties and addresses identified and mapped by MESH; (ii) the underpinning OpenSource/OpenData commitment by the project team makes this available to all users; (iii) the NLS Map Library has some improvements made to their geocoder and other tools by the MESH team; (iv) RCAHMS/HES have had some programming assistance to improve their database of historical sites; (v) MESH has made many presentations to all partners regarding how their interests could be enhanced; (vi) MESH has supported Edinburgh World Heritage's efforts to redevelop a historic church building (Tron) as a visitor site with a searchable database derived from MESH activities.; (vii) a large number of presentations have been made to assist organisations; (viii) MESH has produced maps, historical and contamporary, for organisations such as the Cockburn Association (Civic Society), Old Edinburgh Club etc.
Collaborator Contribution The contributions by the partners to the development of the project has been fairly modest. Most important has been the provision of digitised and geo-referenced out of copyright historical mapping by the NLS. This is very valuable to MESH, and correspondingly has improved th utility of the map collection which is the most used item in the NLS. RCAHMS/HES probably recognise the utility of the MESH mapping more than anyone else. In return for asistance with their CANMORE database in which MESH demonstrated some improvements could be made using OSM, RCAHMS/HES provided labour for the development of the property polygons which amounted to about 2 days of labour per month for a year.
Impact 1. OpenStreetMap is itself a major output - a spatial database of unique quality; 2. development of code, also OpenSource - which can be use by other organisations; 3. several academic publications and contributions to the publications of non-MESH researchers; 4. public engagement: extensive outreach and knowledge exchange; 5. development of unexpected outcomes - the wider commercial interrests; 5. development of unexpected academic potential - the brlliant programming and development of data models have brought about the possibility of searchable Post Office and other Historical Directories. MESH is in disucssions with the NLS over this but the prototypes have been developed and provide rich insights into economic and social aspects og 18th and 19th C urban society. The outputs and outcomes are multidisciplinary.
Start Year 2013