Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Visualising Urban Geography Workshop at National Library of Scotland

Poor Relief Recipients (with identifiable Edinburgh addresses) from Jedburgh and Melrose parishes Poor Law Records volumes 1852-1930
At the AddressingHistory Launch Event, Professor Richard Rodger mentioned a workshop on 6th December at the Maps Reading Room, National Library of Scotland, to explore their new web-based resources, based on the work they've done for Edinburgh; and in spite of the snowy conditions, I attended this. Although they advertised the workshop for a general audience, it contained a lot of discussion about the technologies involved in the website, as well as a hands-on opportunity to show a set of data on a map.

Chris Fleet began by showing us a variety of maps, prospect views, plans, aerial photos, and digital maps of Edinburgh, all part of the 20,000 items digitised over the last 15 years. Key to this is their collection of geo-referenced maps, maps that can be perfectly positioned in relation to another map by using lots of co-ordinates, and it’s these maps that allow data about locations of people and objects to be combined with maps. Chris demonstrated how new geo-referenced maps could be produced using free technology and said he would be delighted to hear from anyone interested in volunteering to produce new maps.

Professor Richard Rodger then demonstrated the Visualising Urban Geography project with some exciting tools bringing together sets of historical geo-referenced maps, social and demographic information to analyse and present data in more detail than at the AddressingHistory launch in November. He showed Edinburgh as a collection of registration districts, the growth of Edinburgh since medieval times, as a comparison of sanitary districts and property rents, as a comparison of advocates and solicitors homes over time, the occupations of Edinburgh’s colony residents and discussed the historical reasons for the changes we saw on the maps.
He showed too, how they could accurately measure distances and areas of land, which could be useful to a lot of professions.

Stuart Nicol discussed the technologies involved which was rather complicated, and I think most of us were glad that this was followed by a coffee break.

After the break we had a go at using one of their tools, ExtMap (now Map Builder), to plot a set of trades-people on a map of Edinburgh, using spreadsheet sets of data that Professor Rodger’s team had extracted from a 1911 post office directory. There were coal merchants, cycle repairers, dairymen, egg-producers, and many other trades. Using their instructions, I managed to plot the egg- producers, who surprisingly were concentrated in northeast Edinburgh and on the road to Leith. Professor Rodger explained that often it’s difficult to guess, when looking at a mass of data, what plotting locations on a map will show, but the resulting map often presents new insights.

Since the workshop I’ve used the data from our publications of Poor Law Records for Melrose and Jedburgh to plot recipients of poor relief (see the yellow circles), who lived in Edinburgh, and that's in the picture. I'd like to be able to show this as an interactive web page, and a future intention is to show recipients in Jedburgh on a map, and those recipients that lived in the bit of Galashiels that was in Melrose parish on a map of Galashiels.

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