Polynesian stick chart from the Marshall Islands, with the shells representing islands and the sticks representing ocean swells and currents. Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

Mapping the Past

Tutor: Mark Roodhouse

Module type: MA Skills

Module code: HIS00109M

Credits: 10

This module provides students with an introduction to producing maps for historical purposes. It is both practical, providing technical training in digital map-making, and also theoretical, encouraging students to think about how historians should use these skills in their research. Students will encounter a wide range of different historical maps, produced for the medieval, early modern and modern periods, and will learn how to interpret them. They will gain an appreciation of the different approaches to the reconstruction, representation, and interpretation of spatial information in historical maps. And they will receive practical training in software applications for mapping, including ArcGIS. This will enable students to create their own maps, using pre-existing historical data sources.

The provisional programme is as follows:

Week 1: Briefing (1 hour)
Week 2: Context/theory seminar: The spatial turn and the study of history (2 hours)
Week 3: Practical workshop I: Using maps for history (4 hours)
Week 4: Practical workshop II: Using Geographic Information Systems (4 hours)
Weeks 5-8: Independent project work
Week 8: Project Mini-Conference (3 hours)

Preliminary Reading 

    • Gregory, Ian N and Alistair Geddes (eds). Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.
    • Von Lünen, Alexander and Charles Travis (eds). History and GIS: Epistemologies, Considerations and Reflections. Dordrecht, 2013.
    • Terpstra, Nicholas and Colin Rose (eds). Mapping Space, Sense, and Movement in Florence: Historical GIS and the Early Modern City. London, 2016.

 Students may also explore the following datasets and online resources: 


For more information, please refer to the module catalogue.