Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Mapping History

by Derry Nairn

Tools such as Google's My Maps and Yahoo's Pipes allow users to a take information from one source (a normal website, for example) and then apply it onto a map so it is represented visually. It can be done either manually, or, for larger amounts of information, by using code to automatically update the map. Both are relatively simple, and fun.

How about this Spot Crime map as an interesting and practical example? The creator has taken official Police crime figures, wizarded an icon to represent each type of crime, and then mapped the data onto a Google Map so that the best and worst locations for crime can be visualised, according to date.

On the face of it, history would appear to be a discipline extremely conducive to these trends in online mapping. After all, many historical events are defined and later referred to by their location: the Normandy landings; Pearl Harbour; Gallipoli; the Marco Polo bridge incident; and so on. However, the distinct lack of interactive maps which use history as a theme is somewhat odd. So it was interesting this week, to unearth some historical types making the most of these tools.

The first was a new project called Forth's Timeline (www.forthstimeline.net). A quirkily attractive map allows the visitor to zoom up and down the many and various historical sites of the Forth region in Scotland. This was the result of a collaboration between the sites featured on the map itself, and a grant from Museum Galleries Scotland.

While sorting out links at History Today this week, I also came across two interesting historical maps. The first was a Cambridge University project of several years ago, aiming to portray Ferrol, an old naval port in Spain (find the site here). The site is unconventional in that it doesn't use maps, but isometric-style aerial period paintings of the port. Although the iconography and information portrayed is basic, the idea of using this type of layout is intriguing - and due an update!

Another good link is to History World, an American online education portal who are very up to speed on utilising interactivity to enliven what would otherwise be static (and boring) textual data. Their maps page takes several regions and maps History World timelines onto them, displaying the major dates and battles.

Which brings me neatly onto History Today. We have been ferreting away on a few mapping projects of our own of late. The most complete can be found in our new and improved military history section where we have mapped over fifty of history's most famous battlefields onto a world map. Each one is linked back to a HT article, and to make things more interesting, there are several free articles hidden on each continent!

This is only the first such History Today map - there are big plans afoot. Soon we'll have dedicated maps for each sub-section of our site. In the longer term, we plan to geo-tag each of our archived articles (thats over 10,000 in total!) and map them dynamically. So watch this space!

1 comment:

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