School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Historical digital atlas funded by AHRC

A ground-breaking digital atlas, which provides historical mapping of the social, cultural, political, religious, military, environmental, architectural and economic life of a city, is being developed in a project led by Richard Rodger, Professor of Economic and Social History, University of Edinburgh.

The project, Mapping Edinburgh's Social History (MESH), will use digital technologies, documentary and cartographic resources to provide new visions of historical space.

Although the researchers - who include Professor Robert Morris, Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History and Professor Charles Withers, Ogilvie Chair of Geography - will take Edinburgh as their case study, the analytical and interpretive approach the will use can be applied elsewhere.

Professor Rodger explains:

“The Edinburgh Atlas (E-ATLAS) will provide a new digital atlas of Edinburgh structured around six temporal periods: the early city; medieval city c.1300-1550; the early modern city 1550-1680; Enlightenment Edinburgh, 1680-1820; the 'modern' city, c.1820-1914; the capital city, 1914-2000.

“The project will be structured around the theme of the city's spatial evolution, and guided by cartographic principles - administrative areas, urban plans, plots and jurisdictions.”

The initiative will result in both a published hard copy Edinburgh Atlas, updateable on demand, and an electronic version (the e-atlas).

Professor Rodger believes they will provide a ground-breaking new form of urban atlas, “a spatial frame in which scholars, local history groups and the general public may supplement existing work and provide their own mapped data to interrogate city form over time.

“The changing nature and structure of the city will form the basis of interpretive essays organised around key themes, such as ‘The Dynamics of Negotiated Spaces’.”

The work is being funded by a £633,000 grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and supported by project partners: Edinburgh City Council, Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, National Library of Scotland (Map Library), Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, and Simpson and Brown (Architects).

As such, MESH combines institutional collaboration within Scotland's capital with research-led, intellectual innovation, technical innovation, web-based academic exchange and public involvement.

Like the earlier Visualising Urban Geographies project, also funded by the AHRC, MESH will work closely with its partners to develop new and imaginative resources to represent the changing nature of urban form.

Professor Rodger is confident that the Edinburgh Atlas will form the basis for wider dissemination and project emulation in cities across the world.

Professor Richard Rodger

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