Georeferencing History

December 22, 2009 by

I have always been fascinated by maps, photos and old documents depicted in history books. These primary source materials can bring historical research alive for students. I always wished I could easily view and share them at the original full size (or larger) rather than the tiny or incomplete reproductions often available. Digital technology now makes that possible. I have spent many years digitizing resources and experimenting with methods of sharing them online in high resolution. Recently I have begun georeferencing these resources so they can be viewed in geographic and historical context. The new smart phones with web and gps will be another interesting way to share digital history in the field. I look forward to sharing what I have learned, and finding out more about what others have done. We need to find better ways to coordinate digital projects so they are easier to find, use, preserve and collaborate on.

To view some of the high resolution maps and other resources I have scanned in cooporation with many libraries and historical societies,  check out You will need to install the free DjVu browser plug-in and the Google Earth application. These will allow you to quickly view and navigate these resources full screen at high resolution. I have recently begun georeferencing historic maps of Ohio in high resolution for Google Earth.

4 Responses to Georeferencing History

  1. Erin Bell on December 28, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Stephen, sounds like an interesting session. We have a handful of GIS/GeoReferencing/Mapping people coming to THATCamp (as well as others who will be interested to learn more), so I’m sure you’ll find some folks to share ideas and maybe work together on a session.

    I recently read somewhere about the DjVu plug-in and it’s marketing/branding strategy. The message was that they do not really have one, which ultimately hurts sites that use DjVu. Unlike, say, Adobe Acrobat or Flash, you cannot count on users having it installed (this is also true for Adobe plug-ins, though to a lesser extent I imagine). Have you had this problem at all with Rails & Trails? Or do you see any barriers to using Google Earth as a vehicle for GeoReferenced maps? Are you aware of any web/browser standards (current or in development) that apply to this kind of work? Does have any use here or is Google/Yahoo/MS really that much more developed? I tend to embrace open source alternatives whenever I can, but with mapping, I’m not that knowledgeable, so I’m not sure what’s out there. In any case, I find your site to be extremely useful and know that faculty/staff here at CSU often recommend it to students for research, so I’ll be curious to hear more.

  2. stitcheanl on December 28, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Eric, I am always looking at other options for sharing of high resolution materials. So far I have not been happy with the speed of refresh of adobe acrobat for large images — even on a fast computer. DjVu is so fast at redrawing the screen even on older computers, that I have felt it was worth the extra hastle of having to install it. It also allows you to very easily select and copy a section of an image at any resolution for reuse in presentations. It does mean that the files are not accessible to people on public computers that do not allow djvu to be installed. (It also better than MrSID viewers in my experience) I have found IT departments in schools are willing to install it, if you explain why you need it. I provide pdf or jpg files of some images for those that can’t get it installed.

    I have been experimenting with the tiling of large georeferenced images so that only the sections being viewed need to be downloaded. Again Google Earth allows the most options for display of layers, but it is not often installed on public computers. I have not taken the time to learn a lot about the mashup options for Google Maps and Bing, but my initial experience has been that they are more complicated and not as full featured. I look forward to hearing others experiences.

    My philosphy is to always maintain the original tiff scans, so that I can always reformat any images for newer technology.

  3. Lewis Ulman on January 1, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Looking forward to hearing more, Stephen. I regularly teach courses in electronic textual editing, using previously unpublished nineteenth-century American manuscripts in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at The Ohio State University. The last two projects involve journals of extended ocean voyages, and I am exploring ways to georeference and visually present these voyages.

  4. Rich Wisneski on January 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Similar to Lewis, I, too, am doing text encoding to manuscript and typeface material concerning Cleveland and Western Reserve history. I would like to learn more about georeferencing to link place names from these texts to historical maps

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