Visual exploration of historical maps

Martin Reckziegel, David Joseph Wrisley, Taylor Wright Hixson, Stefan Jänicke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Historical maps tell rich stories, and they are also valuable data objects. They vary greatly in size, type, and context, as well as the kinds and density of information they contain. Historical maps are indeed objects that invite close reading, interpretation, and debate. Whereas a variety of environments exist for the annotation, manipulation, and representation of digital maps, or map-derived data, workflows in the spatial digital humanities can be complex and those environments are not often well integrated. In this article, we describe a prototype named 'MapFolder' for studying maps, its algorithms for calculating the areal distortion, its visual design for communicating that distortion, along with a scholarly workflow. We blend annotation practices common in the spatial humanities with the workflows of georeferencing in order to be able to visualize how historic cartographic documents compare with the geospatial representations we are familiar with today. The case studies we use to demonstrate 'MapFolder' are maps of the medieval period, a body of maps that are less often studied algorithmically and that are usually avoided in typical workflows of georeferencing. MapFolder is by no means a prototype designed to work exclusively with medieval maps, but since maps of this period are only partially geographic in their design, they offer a particularly fruitful opportunity to rethink the algorithmic manipulation of historical depictions of the world. Working with this complex data from the humanities allows us, as well, to propose the use of visualization for critical, comparative spatial analysis in pre-modern studies and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)II251-II272
JournalDigital Scholarship in the Humanities
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Computer Science Applications


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