Thursday, October 27, 2005

Having Historical Overlays for Google Maps

I've been reading Betrand Russell's "History of Western Philsophy". It's full of names of places that no longer exist. In one sense, my mind does think of these places as simply something that does not exist anymore, as if they were something totally of the past, that can only be read about.

I only vauguely see them as having existed in actual geographical places that are, of course, still around today. But thinking about that makes me curious about where they were in terms of modern day localities.

Maps usually depict a geographical landscape in terms of two or three (with the addition of elevation) spatial dimensions. And they often contain other dimensions of information overlaid over that: political boundaries, the names of countries, roads etc. Sometimes they show population densities and other statistics. I was thinking it would be nice if something like Google Maps had a capability to overlay information relating to the historical dimension. (I don't whether capabilities like this are available in any software, though I imagine it's not there in anything readibly available like Google Maps).

I can imagine, for example, the map user-interface having a date slider allowing you to control the time, from the present back to a few thousand BC, say. Moving the slider would change the political boundaries, place names etc overlaid over the map in order to reflect their status at that point in time.

(Going further out on a limb, it would also be interesting if you could, for a particular point in time, not just show a fairly objective view of the globe, but how it was seen by different cultures, in terms of which parts of it they knew, how it was divided up. Of course, there would be lots of difficulties in trying to do this. For example: different people within a culture would have thought different things; we probably don’t really know exactly how much of the world different cultures knew about; and what they did know may have been fuzzy and hard to render in a map, to name some issues).


  1. Imagine seeing Paris develop through successive historical overlays, or Athens, or the colonization of the United States. Fascinating idea

  2. this is actually quite doable - to create historic landscape, maps and overlay them onto google maps or satellite images. The question is, is there a way to make money doing so?

  3. Has anyone implemented this? I'm interested in a local history project, with on-line access to what stores and houses looked like at various points over the past hundred years or so.

  4. Hi,
    I'm not aware of anything like this being implemented, though I haven't been actively looking.

  5. Dear anonymous

    So "this is actually quite doable". Can you suggest how to get started? Are there tutorials somewhere in Google complex?