Historical GIS

Breathing new life into historical maps and spatial images with GIS

Background and Summary

FCUAC Heritage Project

The Historical GIS project started with an interest in providing historical maps to residents in one of the Four Creeks UAC subareas, specfically May Valley. The area had suffered for half a century from a seasonal flooding issue that had increased in intensity and duration. Although the initial grant application was not approved, the UAC did not lose its interest in using historical analysis as a catalyst to stimulate residents' interest in the future for their communities.

Renton History Museum

The Four Creeks Heritage Project grant application required the availabilty of experience in histical analysis and reporting. The Renton History Museum was one of the organizations approached to engage this experience.

It became apparant relatively quickly that there was an Atlas opportunity to GIS-Enable the museum. A relatively small project was created that was intended to do some GIS work to show capabilities and practice GIS methods. That project completed with a RHM Board presentation, and a good start on defining the approach and content for another Heritage Project grant, this time originating in RHM.

Enabling Historical Efforts

The Atlas Program has a "repeatable" design intent. This simply means that it can be valuable if work done is designed in such a way as to be repeatable in other areas or with other customers.

As the budget plan for the grant application began to emerge, a key decision would be make vs. buy for scanning hardware. It was feasible, given the reliability and portability, that purchased hardware could be used by other historical efforts in the area. Since maintenance should be low (there are no consumables, other than electricity, and the only moving part is the transport of the object being scanned, it's feasible that borrowing the equipment could include a very small cost to cover maintenance, at least until the "buy" business case was justified.


The FCUAC will resubmit its Hertigage Project grant during the next cycle. The Renton History Museum will be publishing a request for proposal to companies that design and install interactive displays.

The decision to expand to GIS-enable other historical efforts will probably start being addressed as the scanner make/buy decision gets clearer.


GIS-Enabled History

Renton History Museum project documents

  • Renton History Museum project document (complete) (PDF)
  • Renton History Museum project document plan (Word) (PDF)
  • Renton History Museum project document interactive outputs (Word) (PDF)
  • Renton History Museum project document appendices (Word) (PDF)
  • Renton History Museum BoD Presentation (PPT) (PPS)

  • The Montlake Cut Story (Word)

  • GeoPDF example (PDF)

GIS-enabling historical societies


Historical Maps in GIS

David Rumsey and Meredith Williams

˜Most historical GIS would be impossible without historical maps, as the chapters in this book testify. Maps record the geographical information that is fundamental to reconstructing past places, whether town, region, or nation. Historical maps often hold information retained by no other written source, such as place-names, boundaries, and physical features that have been modified or erased by modern development. Historical maps capture the attitudes of those who made them and represent worldviews of their time. A map's degree of accuracy tells us much about the state of technology and scientific understanding at the time of its creation. By incorporating information from historical maps, scholars doing historical GIS are stimulating new interest in these rich sources that have much to offer historical scholarship and teaching. At the same time, the maps themselves challenge GIS users to understand the geographic principles of cartography, particularly scale and projection. We have addressed these challenges in order to examine the value of including nineteenth- and early twentieth century paper maps in GIS.˜

Historical Maps in GIS (PDF)