The Historical Town Maps and Digital Cartography

Elisabeth GRUBER
(University of Salzburg | Krems an der Donau, Austria)

Keywords: Urban History, Historical Town Atlas, Topography, Middle Ages

In my paper, I want to take a critical look from a historian’s perspective on the role of Historic Town Maps basing on 19th-century-cadastral maps as a source for a comparative topographical research of urban space.
After the rather recent ‘spatial-turn’ in historical research during the 1990s, the attention of urban historians also turned (back) to topographical and spatial issues. General approaches such as social topography, the everyday and ceremonial usage of urban space(s), the interaction of the different social spheres, the role of geographical conditions determining urban development are nowadays in focus. This approach has already been taken up within the framework of the European Town Atlas project that was established by the International Commission for the History of Towns during the 1960ies. Since then, eighteen countries have published more than five hundred town atlases with the aim to provide a basis for the comparative topographical research whereas only some countries – including the Austria – provide a digital and web-based version of the town maps. Being based on cadastral maps dating from the 19th century, the town maps provide an ideal source for exploring the morphogenesis of any given town communicating complex material on the fabric of a town at a particular point in time in the period. Along this lines, the paper discusses the possibilities, difficulties and limits of using the digital historic town maps as ‘sources’ for approaching diverse aspects of urban topography, spaces and communities in medieval and early modern Austria by connecting the historic town atlases to wider debates and developments in digital cartography and spatial technology.

Relevance conference / Relevance session:
Using the digital historic town maps as ‘sources’ for approaching diverse aspects of urban topography sheds light on the need of a close collaboration between historical and archeological research.

Analysing production and use of urban space in the Middle Ages by using digitised Historic Town Maps as source offers a perfect base for both, archeological and historical approaches.


  1. Lords and Towns in Medieval Europe. The European Historic Towns Atlas Project, ed. by Anngret Simms and Howard B. Clarke, Farnham 2015.
  2. Städteatlanten. Vier Jahrzehnte Atlasarbeit in Europa, hg. von Wilhelm Ehbrecht, Köln 2013.