Digital Maps and Archives – Activating Cartographic Collections in a Digital World
FED-tWIN project funded by BELSPO – Belgian Science Policy Office
For a long time cartographic collections have been cherished as objects of great value and beauty, illustrating the evolving representation of the world, the city or the landscape. Over the past decade, the massive high-resolution digitization of historical maps, for instance in Belgium through the Cartesius-project, enabled the general public to explore map collections using easily accessible geographic search engines. Over the next years however, it’s time to move one step further: careful georeferencing and vectorization of maps, as well as the (semi-)automatic recognition of their content will allow us to link maps to other types of digital content (other maps but also textual sources and iconography). Nowadays, efforts of geo-spatialization, digitization and data-integration are still costly, time-consuming and fragmented. Several technologies – such as automatic transcription of old handwriting or automatic extraction of graphical forms from historical maps – are still in an experimental stage. However, initiatives like the European Time Machine bid, in which both the Belgian State Archives and the University of Antwerp participate, are aiming for a technological breakthrough creating the ‘Big Data of the Past’. With this project, we aim to explore how historical maps can play a crucial role in this process. Building on existing efforts of digitization and geolocalization at the State Archives of Belgium and UAntwerp, DIGHIMAPS unleashes the full potential of digital cartographic collections as key to unlock a new digital universe in which space enables an entirely novel way to organize, search, analyze and visualize archival data and collections. DIGHIMAPS turns the unique cartographic heritage of the Belgian State Archives into the centerpiece of a spatial digital infrastructure, which once fully operational will provide A) a significantly improved knowledge of historical maps; B) Improved geographic search engines, fueled by an ‘open’ and map-based geohistorical gazetteer; C) a wealth of possible applications in the rapidly emerging fields of spatial history and spatial humanities; D) A ‘virtual map room’ allowing a highly diversified community of users to perform the searches and map analyses adapted to their individual requirements.