Edinburgh Conference: Working Digitally with Historical Maps

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Firstly we'd like to wish all our readers a Happy New Year. Secondly below you will find a summary of the proceedings of the one day conference organised by the Old Maps Online team which was held at the end of 2012.

In December we journeyed north to Edinburgh to hold our second conference on Working Digitally with Historical Maps at the National Library of Scotland. People from a variety of different backgrounds attended, ranging from those already working on innovative ways to use digital historical maps, through those who have digital maps and wanted inspiration on what they could do with them to those just beginning to have an interest who wanted to see what is currently available.

The day was broken in gently at 10am with coffee and an introductory welcome. This was followed by Petr Pridal giving the key note presentation detailing the improved functionality and searching and much extended content of our own Old Maps Online site (we'll let you know when these changes have actually gone live).

Following that Session 1 looked at using technology to map
Detail from Nairn and Elgin, W. Johnson, 1832.
(c) Cartography Associates
history. It started with two staff from the National Library of Scotland, Chris Fleet who detailed the improvements made to their online mapping and catalogue which make it even easier to use and search their collection, whilst Alice Heywood showed us a Moray community project where local people recorded their views on interesting places around Elgin available to visitors through a mobile app. Another mobile app was described by Chris Speed from the Edinburgh College of Art which allows users to download historical maps to compare with their modern day location through the "blue dot" location marker. Peter Munro finished off the first session by describing how the Borders Family History Society have been digitising historical personal records and then mapping addresses from them to show sometimes surprising distribution results of those receiving poor relief. Just before we stopped for lunch there was the presentation of the Bartholomew Globe to Petr Pridal by Bruce Gittings of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, you can read more details about this in our last blog post.

Detail from Scotland SE, E. Stanford , 1901.
 (c) Cartography Associates
Session 2 introduced the concept of visualising spaces, places and routes between them. Richard Rodger of the University of Edinburgh described and demonstrated the function of the tools created as part of the visualising urban geographies project which help those studying history understand the spatial element. Bruce Gittings (also University of Edinburgh) then presented the work of one of his Msc students, Michal Michalski, which combined a range of different data to depict a multi-disciplinary view of historical Perth. Then came two presentations about mapping route ways. David Simpson spoke about his work on digitising the roads drawn on maps of the highlands created by William Roy as a mid eighteenth century Military Survey of Scotland and their accuracy. Neil Ramsay followed with a presentation about mapping paths from old maps onto modern maps online and encouraging people to go out and explore and enjoy these paths.  The final presentation in this session saw Andrew Janes of The National Archives talking about the newly launched BombSight website, another JISC funded project, which maps the locations of bombs dropped in London during part of the Blitz and will feature a mobile app to link this to your location on the ground. Humphrey Southall then demonstrated the website's functionality.

Name detail on the Eye Peninsula of Lewis
in the Outer Hebrides from the OS of
Scotland, Popular Edition, Stornoway, 1925,
 from A Vision of Britain through Time
After a fortifying tea and biscuit break we entered the third and final session focused on using place-names and gazetteers. Ashley Beamer (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) spoke about ScotlandsPlaces, their website which brings together place-based datasets from three different partners and which is currently being expanded. Jake King from Ainmean Aite na h-Alba (also known as 'Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland' if, like me, you don't speak Gaelic) spoke about work to extract changing historical place-names from old maps and ways of using a modern map to facilitate access to those historical maps. Another dual presentation by Kirsty Stewart from the University of Edinburgh Library and Neil Mayo from Edina followed as they spoke about a project to digitise the Alexander Carmichael archive and collection and the current phrase to link items within them to places. Paul Ell presented the final paper of the day on the plans of the Digital Exposure of English Place-Names project (also JISC funded) to produce a digital gazetteer using data on variant place names collected by the Survey of English Place Names over the past 80 years.  We then ended the day with a quick thank-you to everyone, especially the speakers. Although we didn't get chance to have a wrap-up discussion as intended, there were many interesting points raised in the questions and comments following each presentation which left us all with plenty to think about.

We'd like to say a big thank-you to everyone for taking the time to come to the conference, as despite being held in the run up to Christmas it was well attended.  Everyone I spoke to during and after the day seemed to enjoy it. We have created a webpage about the conference, it gives the names of the speakers, titles, abstracts and website addresses for all papers plus downloadable PDF copies of both the programme and abstracts.

There is now also a similar page giving information about the previous Working Digitally with Historical Maps conference held in February 2012 at the New York Public Library which launched the initial Old Maps Online website, see here.

Tags: digital mapping, open access, presentation