Historical geographic information system

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A historical geographic information system (also written as historical GIS or HGIS) is a geographic information system that may display, store and analyze data of past geographies and track changes in time. It can be regarded as a subfield of historical geography and geographic information science.

GIS was originally developed for use in environmental sciences, military and for computer assisted cartography. It is the opinion of some that the tools developed for these uses are ill suited for the features of historical data.

Techniques used in HGIS[edit]

  • Digitization and georeferencing of historical maps. Old maps may contain valuable information about the past. By adding coordinates to such maps, they may be added as a feature layer to modern GIS data. This facilitates comparison of different map layers showing the geography at different times. The maps may be further enhanced by techniques such as rubbersheeting, which spatially warps the data to fit with more accurate modern maps.
  • Reconstruction of past boundaries. By creating polygons of former administrative sub-divisions and borders, aggregate statistics can be compared through time.
  • Georeferencing of historical microdata (such as census or parish records). This enables the use of spatial analysis to historical data.

Notable Historical GIS projects[edit]

Software or web services developed for Historical GIS[edit]

  • TimeMap — A Java open-source applet (or program) for browsing spatial-temporal data and ECAI data sets[4] Developed by the department of archaeology University of Sydney.
  • Version 4+ of Google Earth added a time line feature that enables simple temporal browsing of spatial data[5]

See also[edit]


  • Joachim Laczny: Friedrich III. (1440–1493) auf Reisen. Die Erstellung des Itinerars eines spätmittelalterlichen Herrschers unter Anwendung eines Historical Geographic Information System (Historical GIS) In: Joachim Laczny, Jürgen Sarnowsky eds.: Perzeption und Rezeption. Wahrnehmung und Deutung im Mittelalter und in der Moderne (Nova Mediaevalia Quellen und Studien zum europäischen Mittelalter, 12), Göttingen: V&R unipress 2014, p. 33–65. ISBN 978-3-8471-0248-9
  • Ian N. Gregory, Paul Ell: Historical GIS: Technologies, Methodologies, and Scholarship (Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography) 2008 ISBN 978-0-521-67170-5
  • Anne Kelly Knowles: Past Time, Past Place: GIS for history A collection of twelve case studies on the use of GIS in historical research and education. ESRI press 2002 ISBN 1-58948-032-5
  • Anne Kelly Knowles, Amy Hillier eds.: Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship 2008 ISBN 978-1-58948-013-1
  • Ian N. Gregory: A place in History A short introduction to HGIS by the lead developers of GBHGIS ISSN 1463-5194
  • Ott, T. and Swiaczny, F.: Time-integrative GIS. Management and analysis of spatio-temporal data, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York: Springer 2001 ISBN 3-540-41016-3
  • Feature edition of Historical developement GIS in the journal Social Science History 24 2000, Introduction by Anne Kelly Knowles.


  1. ^ HGIS Germany (in German)
  2. ^ Web site for the HisGIS Netherlands
  3. ^ Web site for the Belgian Historical GIS
  4. ^ Project homepage
  5. ^ Announcement of the feature at the Google Earth blog

External links[edit]