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Mapping the Past - HIS00109M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Mark Roodhouse
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

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 the software application ArcGIS Pro. This will enable students to create their own maps, using pre-existing historical data sources.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Introduce students to geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Provide a foundation for analytical mapping in historical studies
  • Build an understanding of some of the theoretical issues in mapping
  • Develop familiarity with GIS software applications
  • Facilitate students’ use of mapping methods in their own research

Module learning outcomes

At the end of this module students will be able to:

  • Evaluate the range of ways in which historians have used maps
  • Recognize the techniques used to produce maps
  • Understand and interpret historical maps
  • Use basic mapping techniques to analyse data
  • Produce their own digital maps from pre-existing data

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend a 2-hour seminar, two 4-hour workshops and a mini-conference in the Spring Term.

The provisional programme is as follows

Week 1: Briefing (1 hour)

Week 2: Seminar: Spatial History and Historical GIS (2 hours)

Week 3: Workshop I: Working with Maps in ArcGIS Pro (4 hours)

Week 4: Workshop II: Working with GIS in ArcGIS Pro (4 hours)

Weeks 5-8: Independent project work

Week 8: Project Symposium (3 hours)


Task Length % of module mark
University - project
Project portfolio
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will submit a project portfolio in week 10 of the spring term for summative assessment comprising of a printed map and a 1000-word reflective essay.

Students will produce a map from existing historical data. In format, appearance, and intelligibility, they will be aiming for the standards demanded by maps produced for academic journals. Students will also write a reflective essay explaining briefly how they produced the map and the conceptual considerations that went into its production.

Prior to that in week 8, students will make a short presentation to the group at the mini-conference about their chosen project, the research they have undertaken, and their likely direction for the reflective essay.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
University - project
Project portfolio
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive constructive verbal feedback from the module convenor and their peers during the mini-conference, which they can then take forward into the completion of their final project portfolio.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Cairo, Alberto. The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication, 263-97. [Berkeley]: New Riders, 2016.

Gregory, Ian N., and Alistair Geddes, eds. Toward Spatial Humanities: Historical GIS and Spatial History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Knowles, Anne Kelly. “Historical Geographic Information Systems and Social Science History.” Social Science History 40, no. 4 (2016): 741–50.

Students may also explore the following datasets and online resources:

The World Historical GIS research guide at WU Libraries:

The Historical GIS Research Network

The Geospatial Historian

The Mapping History Project

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.