Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Visualising Urban Geography Launch Event

Last Thursday (23 February) I attended the launch event of the 'Visualising Urban Geography' project at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. About 80 other people attended. There was an introduction to the project at the Addressing History launch event in November, and I reported on the December Visualising Urban Geography workshop that provided a chance to try out one of the tools, ExtMap (now Map Builder), that the project had developed using sample data produced by the project.

In last week’s event, Professor Richard Rodger discussed the objectives of the project:
  • to create geo-referenced maps of Edinburgh
  • to develop software that could be used for free
  • to reach a broader public
  • to develop dynamic maps so as to further knowledge in the 19th and 20th centuries

He gave interesting examples in the ways, the tools developed have been used; we saw the development of Edinburgh over time, easy ways to calculate the area size and the length of the perimeter of irregularly shaped plots of land. He suggested other sets of data that might be used with these tools:
  • landowners and property holdings
  • shareholders
  • store and credit card holders
  • utility bills
  • census information

The new tools, ExtMap and MapBuilder, use a Google interface for viewing maps and the open source Thematic Mapping Engine.

Chris Fleet discussed the mapping results of the project including a demonstration of geo-referencing and suggested this would be a good tool to use for mapping burial grounds.

Professor Bob Morris talked about the massive impact this project will have on historical analysis. He said that images, graphs and maps are more important in
writing about history than ever before. He used examples to compare the ration of women to men in Edinburgh's 19th century population.

Lastly, Dr Gittings, a geographer at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out how this project has brought history and geography closer than ever before.

Borders Family History Society has been closely involved with the project since the December workshop, and our goal of representing poor relief recipients in Melrose and Jedburgh representation on dynamic maps was mentioned as one of the case studies. For me, there’s been a steep learning curve in using the new tools, ExtMap and MapBuilder, to produce these maps, however, we’re very grateful for the support we’ve had from Stuart Nicol in using these tools and from Professor Rodger in analysing the results.

In our research into poor relief, we transcribed the core information exactly as it’s written, but that was not the end of the process for creating these maps. In the case of Jedburgh, the Poor Law Inspector did not record the town name of Jedburgh, so I had to add that for Jedburgh addresses. For Melrose, the inspector abbreviated many road names (often in different ways) and they needed to be manually expanded. Any addresses that are unrecognised get assigned to 0 degrees latitude and longitude, which is in the ocean to the west of southern Africa, so such addresses need to be removed or substituted with the modern address and that has been a lot more work. We have so much data that the tool is quite slow at creating the map co-ordinates, and I found that for each set of data there’s a re-iterative process – run the tool, check the results, resolve the problems and repeat until there are no more errors. The tool uses a vast database created by Google of addresses, and that imposes limitations, as their database is not completely accurate.

Residential Addresses of Poor Law Recipients in Jedburgh and Melrose

Have a look at our initial attempt at mapping the residential addresses of poor relief recipients. The image is a snapshot, click the link to see the full interactive map. There's still a bit of work to be done on this map.
Each pin represents one or more recipients - we can't yet show the number of recipients represented, however clicking on a pin shows the information about one of the recipients.
Click on the ticks on the layers to the left of the map to select or deselect specific layers corresponding to our different publications.

The main drawbacks are:
  • There are still some recipients positioned off the coast of Africa
  • Only recipients in and around Jedburgh from our Jedburgh publications have been included
  • The pink pins represent Melrose 1871 to 1874, the blue pins representing the other publications
  • Each pin represents one or more recipients - we can't yet show the number of recipients represented

We hope you find this map as interesting as we do.
These are early days in the use of this tool, and we expect to be able to use it more effectively in the future.

We would like to have your feedback (using the comments link below), especially any suggestions you have for further improvements and suggestions of other data sets that you would like to see mapped.

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