For the blog this week I thought I was share a few examples of some recent mapping projects I have found. Both of them integrate historic images and modern mapping technologies.

One of them was highlighted just last week on the Curio blog  from the Brown library (which is a great blog anyways). They added a few images of College Street from the late 1800s to the WhatWasThere project. This software allows registered users to superimpose old images onto Google Street View allowing viewers to see how locations have changed over the years.

Another similar project has been underway for some time now by the New York Public Library Labs. The tool is called the Map Warper and is similar to the WhatWasThere project but superimposes images of historic maps on top of current maps. According to their site:

“The NYPL Map Division is working to build an unparalleled resource for researching New York City history. TheMap Warper is a tool suite, used by library staff but also open to the public, to align (or “rectify”) historical maps to the digital maps of today. Tile by tile, we’re stitching old atlas sheets into historical layers, that researchers can explore with pan-and-zoom functionality, comparing yesterday’s cityscape with today’s.”

What I particularly like about this project is that it allows you to adjust the transparency of the superimposed map allowing the user to easily transition from the current map to the historic map.

Map Warper


What I found most interesting about these projects is that they differ from most other mapping projects we have read about in that they are only possible with a large amount of human labor. It takes so much time to align one image precisely to a map which seems to go against the grain of other digital humanities projects where more and more is automated. I began to wonder if the process of putting these projects together which involves hours of human labor makes them fundamentally different than projects where a lot of the work is done automatically by computers.