Locating London’s Past is a compressive mapping project seemingly aimed at scholars. This web map has gathered information from John Rocque’s 1746 map, the 1863-80 Ordinance Survey of London, and other archival documents to create a massive repository for the spatial history of London.
Locating London’s Past uses GIS software to map the city of London, its institutions, and its inhabitants in the 17th and 18th centuries. The project is supported by several institutions including the University of Hertfordshire, the Institute of Historical Research, the University of London, and the University of Sheffield. Many people have worked on the project across the island of Great Britain since the mid-2000s. Locating London’s past is open-source and free to use. Most aspects of the site can be used easily on Chrome, but without speedy internet, the site is clunky and frustrating. Population data is available for download. Project staff developed a geocoder to match place names to each other and to the map which they had already developed. This process has allowed them to embed greater amounts of data into the map. This software is not perfect due to variations in spelling and place name among other issues. According to the geocoder page on the website, they hope to make this tool available to similar projects as an open source download, but it is not yet available.
This project not only includes maps, but also massive sets of digitized data. They have made this data searchable. I have found this data search to be relatively easy to use. However, there are no pop-up windows to explain what the data does. The group has published three tutorial videos to Vimeo. While these are helpful, but I’d prefer to not have to open a new tab. Immense amounts of data range from coroner’s records to parish registers to archeological finds. While the volume is impressive, the structure of information gears the site toward scholarly use rather than general readers. The most exciting thing about the searchable dataset is the ability to customize maps. With this tool, I was able to map every glass bird-feeder found across London or just focus it on a given area. The methodology of this project is quite well documented. Peter Rauxloh documented the process of project development through a blog during development. Now, these blog posts have been adapted and condensed into a single, easily-accessible page on the mapping methodology. This methodology seeks to clarify for all site visitors and explains all terms in clear language. I really like this aspect of the project as it makes a highly sophisticated tool accessible to those who are less familiar with digital humanities.
Overall, I think that Locating London’s Past is a fantastic use of GIS technology. While at first, I was turned off by the appearance of the site and its lack of directed flow, upon further exploration I am quite impressed. Massive amounts of data have become available to those who are interested in historic London. Furthermore, viewers can customize their own visualization of this data. I hope to see the geocoder become available for download in the future.