Mapping the legal past

How often did you look this summer on a map? You no doubt checked an interactive map for the weather forecasts, and you might have used an app to guide you on the roads you took during your vacation. In this post I would like to look at interactive online maps, more specifically HISGIS systems, historical-geographical maps, which have a clear connection with legal history. The choice of maps is rather great, and I am sure you will pick the one most close to your own interests and curiosity.

Several overviews have helped me to bring together the maps I mention here, first of all the overview at Anterosis, a project of John Levin. The Historical GIS Research Network, is one of the oldest websites with an overview of HISGIS projects. Lately I noticed the Electronical Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), but the best current international overview of HISGIS websites has been created by the HGIS Lab, University of Saskatchewan. I dealt with a number of Dutch and Belgian project in an earlier post concerning the bicentenary of the Dutch Cadastral Service, and thus I thought I could hardly bring you my typical Dutch slant. However, I noticed last week a veritable portal with a number of interactive maps concerning Dutch culture and history which seems perfectly fit for inclusion here.

The British isles

Modern drawing of medieval Swansea

Let’s start the tour with the United Kingdom to honor the work of the team of the Historical GIS Research Network. I could mention a lot of projects concerning London, but Locating London’s Past can stand as a fine representative of other projects. A more general map project deals with Ordnance Survey Maps (National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh). Tithes are the subject of a project of the West Yorkshire Archives Service, Tracks in Time: The Leeds Tithe Map Project. Another project with tithes, Cynefin Project: Welsh Tithe Maps, brings us to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. The project City Witness: Medieval Swansea contains some materials which I found particularly fascinating. Maps are only one aspect of this project with as one of its cores the story of nine men around 1300 about the hanging and miraculous survival of William Cragh. Among the textual witnesses used at City Witness is the manuscript Città del Vaticano, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, ms. Vat. lat. 4015, for which you can access online in DigiVatLib a digitzed version of a black-and-white microfilm. For Ireland one has to single out the project The Down Survey of Ireland: Mapping a change( Trinity College Library, Dublin) with information about this very early land survey made between 1656 and 1658, Ordnance Survey maps and three historical GIS maps.

Around the world

Cover Digital Gazetteer of the Song DynastySurely HISGIS projects are not confined to the United Kingdom or Europe. The best example to show this is perhaps The Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty (University of California, Merced). A book about the rulers and administration of this Chinese dynasty (960-1276) was the starting point for Ruth Mostern and Elijah Meeks to create a much larger project to visualize the locations and extent of the power exercised by this dynasty. Ruth Mostern’s 2011 book provided the spur to start building this HISGIS.

It did cross my mind to look for projects dealing with Classical Antiquity, but I had a firm impression that interactive maps and the use of digital tools are far more common among classicists than among legal historians. The choice of online projects as shown at The Digital Classicist Wiki is stunning. I do not know where to start best with the plethora of projects. Elsewhere I came luckily across a pilot version of a modern representation of the Tabula Peutingerana created by Jean-Baptiste Piggin not yet mentioned in this wiki. Piggin tries to use his knowledge about diagrams to go beyond the Peutinger map website by Richard Talbert. You might want to follow the relevant posts about his project at Piggin’s blog. For an idea of what has been done for HISGIS and Classical Antiquity you can get a distinct idea at the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and the Antiquity À la Carte application. It is possible to commission new features to be added to this set of interactive maps.

I propose to turn now to North America. Among the sites I would like to signal here are first of all projects with the closest affinity to normal maps. The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries (Newberry Library, Chicago) should in my opinion be viewed in tandem with Lincoln Mullen’s project Historical Boundaries of the United States, 1783-1912. Quite different are projects such as Jack Dougherty’s On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs, and Redlining Richmond, a project around the House Owners’ Loan Corporation and the New Deal in this town. Social and economic history comes into view at IWW History Project: Industrial Workers of the World 1905-1935 (University of Washington). I could not resist adding here a digital collecion without HISGIS maps, but I am sure the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps digitized at the Library of Congress is a wonderful resource for American history.

Inevitably some projects seems less easy to fit under one heading with similar projects. Close to geography are projects such as LandMark: Global Platform of Indigenous and Community Lands and Danske Herregaarde (Danish manors) of the Dansk Center for Herregårdsforskning. The Colonial Despatches: The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871 (University of Victoria) is based on the actions of the colonial government in these Canadian regions.

Traces of slavery

One theme is clearly seen as most suitable for the use of HISGIS systems. It is striking how many sites for the study of the history of slavery use it to present sources or the results of research. Instead of going straight for matters connected in the first place with the United States of America or the United Kingdom it can be instructive to start elsewhere.

Header HGIS de las Indias

The HGIS de la Indias (Universität Graz) is a portal with a Spanish interface to interactive maps for the period 1701-1808. The Caribbean is the setting of Slave Revolts in Jamaica, 1760/1761. A Cartographic NarrativeTransatlantic Slave Trade is one of the most studied elements in the history of slavery. MCC Slave Voyage The Unity 1761-1763 is a website of the Zeeuws Archief, Middelburg about one particular ship of a Dutch slave trading company. At Mapping Slavery NL you can trace Dutch slave owners in several towns. There are books and websites for city walks along traces of slavery, foe example in Amsterdam and Utrecht, but I could not readily find these links at Mapping Slavery NL.

For the United States we meet again Lincoln Mullen, this time for his project Mapping the Spread of American Slavery. The Texas Slavery Project focuses on a single state. For a long time it belong to the so-called Territories, the states joining the United States at a later point in time. Visualizing Emancipation (University of Richmond) is concerned with a later phase. The aftermath and long repercussions of slavery are a stake at Collective Violence: Mapping Mob Violence, Riots and Pogroms against African American Communities, 1824 to 1974. The United Kingdom comes into view with Legacies of British Slave-Ownership (University College, London). The University of Edinburgh has created the portal Cartographie des Mémoires de l’Esclavage.

Looking at this overview I am sure I have probably missed a number of projects, but it is my objective to make the visual impact of maps for literally mapping slavery and other subjects more clear. When you read descriptions as the topography of terror we are inclined to think only of the Second World War, but creating maps of other events and phenomena is every bit as helpful and important.

A cultural atlas

Logo Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed

The last website I want to introduce here is a portal created by the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE, Dutch National Cultural Heritage Service) in Amersfoort. The new WebGIS: Themakaart Portaal offers 22 different maps and atlases covering Dutch cultural heritage. As for now the riches of this portal can only be viewed in Dutch, and I cannot imagine why a version in English has not yet been created or at least announced for the near future. The landscape maps are also accessible at Landschap in Nederland, the archaeological maps can be found at a sister site, Archeologie in Nederland. A possible starting point is the Kaart van de verstedelijking (Map of urbanization) where you can among other things view Dutch urbanization between 1200 and 2010 and look at city plans taken from the major cartographical project executed by Jacob van Deventer during the second half of the sixteenth century. It is a pity that this cartographical portal does not contain all supporting information present at the landscape and archaeology portals. You can benefit from information about Van Deventer’s maps and the growth of 35 cities. On the other hand, can you really expect to find everything at a single portal? At least one of the maps has a very substantial connections with legal history, the map concerning the medieval and later development of fen regions (Agrarische veenontginningen). Newly developed regions often came under a specific jurisdiction. In the north west of the province Utrecht a region is known for a peculiar tax, the dertiende penning (thirteenth penny) which had to be paid until recently at the sale of landed property. These jurisdictions have yet to be added to this RCE map.

While looking at the map concerning flooding risks and cultural heritage I realize how much good maps are needed in regions of India, Nepal and Bangladesh suffering flooding right now, in late August 2017. Creating road maps for Nepal is one of the challenges the Red Cross – for example Missing Maps, American Red Cross – brought to the attention of the world. Volunteers are invited to use recent satellite photographs to make reliable maps for those striving to help people. Historical GIS systems can be as interesting as their modern forerunners, and there is space for legal historians to add to them anything they judge to be important.


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