School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Edinburgh mapping project launches

Ahead of the project launch on Thursday 4 December, the Mapping Edinburgh's Social History project team provide a detailed account of the project so far. (Published 2 December 2014)

The Mapping Edinburgh's Social History (MESH) project has considerably enhanced Edinburgh's OpenStreetMap (OSM) - the equivalent of Wikipedia for maps - to such an extent that some public organisations are beginning to use it for their own purposes.

The MESH team are made up of Richard Rodger (Director), Eric Grosso, Sophie McCallum, Eisa Esfanjari, Leila Zakeramely Renany and Marc di Tommasi.

MESH in the public sector

The team are pleased the quality of their work is attracting endorsement from the public sector.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland are using MESH’s work to refine the accuracy of its Canmore database with reference to the location of ancient and historic monuments in Edinburgh.

The City of Edinburgh Council have also adopted the mapping technique.

Mapping the city

The team have been surveying the city and will soon complete, with the assistance of OSM community members, the house numbering of all properties within the area bounded by the 1920 city.

In addition using historical maps, satellite imagery and fieldwork the boundaries of properties have been accurately redrawn.

A typical approach

Historical mapping will superimpose address and area based data on historical digital maps created from OSM.

Michael Lynch, previously Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History, has identified, and the team has mapped, the locations of markets in the city between 1477 and 1825. This is typical of the approach being developed by MESH.

Advantages of the system

The major advantages are that the OSM database, and all the maps derived from it, are free to use under an open license without the commercial restrictions associated with Google Maps and the Ordnance Survey.

Graduate students and local historians have already benefitted from the innovative approach to mapping their historical research.

Digital and print tools

The mapping team, together with Charles Withers, Bob Morris, Pat Dennison, and Michael Lynch, will eventually produce a digital atlas of Edinburgh, free online tools to allow anyone to produce historical maps as well as digital data collections and a printed atlas.

Using the data in the city today

The MESH project has a little under two years to run, and the focus will turn now to using the mapping framework to represent historical data of a variety of types and periods as a means to understand the spatial dynamics of the city.

With the footprint of buildings accurately mapped there are some interesting policy perspectives, for example the feasibility of redesigning the basis of local taxation using the surveyed property footprint.

The methodological developments demonstrate the utility of OSM based approaches for other cities, towns and even villages.

What is next for MESH?

The next step for the project, Director Professor Richard Rodger explains, is for the National Records of Scotland, Historic Scotland, local councils and the Scottish Government to adopt this OSM based approach.

More standardisation using OSM would enable institutional collections and data to be exchanged putting the interests of users ahead of those of data providers.

This would be a step towards open access, shared data and freedom of information and would contribute materially to open initiatives around communities and places.

Project launch

The Mapping Edinburgh's Social History project launch takes place on Thursday 4 December, all are welcome.