DATA DAY | Yesterday’s data Today: Old Maps Online

 In Data Day


Anyone interested in historical maps would enjoy a visit to Old Maps Online! Here you can find high-res scans of historical maps in different archive collections from around the world.

Users can search for maps in the archives using place names or keywords. Map results are pulled into a list that you can scroll through to find the map you’re looking for. Instead of keywords, one can also make use of the handy interactive map portal where you can pan/zoom to different places in the world and see what old maps are available for those areas. A geographical treasure chest!

Old maps have a special appeal, not just for their elegant design and decoration, but also in how they provide clues to mankind’s evolving relationship with itself and the world. Maps are where art, knowledge and ethos converge; snapshots in time of our journey with world space preserved like ants trapped in the amber.

Old maps are also rich in spatial data. Data which could potentially benefit mapping projects today. Unfortunately, most of these layers are ‘locked away’ in the old maps themselves, unavailable for use in digital mapping platforms. Until now.

A great feature of the site is how the historical map can be stretched-to-fit as an overlay in the map portal. This comes equipped with a handy transparency slider tool to fade between the historical map and the underlying map portal.

This opens up many exciting opportunities to turn old map data into digital layers that can be brought into GIS. These layers could be used for tourism planning, change assessments of settlements and environments, heritage studies etc.

We recently pulled data from historical maps for quick studies on the lesser-known former Boer republic of ‘Stellaland’ and Johannesburg’s old tramway system with interesting results. Being able to draw on historical spatial data improves our ability to plan for the challenges of today. It’s up to us to figure out how.

Where there is data there is hope!

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