(University of Sheffield, United Kingdom)


Outline: The paper comprises observations on best practice resulting from the ‘Locating London’s Past’ project. The project sought to create a web interface for conducting quantitative spatial analysis on several discreet eighteenth century data sets. Consequently the paper addresses issues such as complex web interface design, querying multiple sources of data via web APIs, and presenting historical maps using the Google Maps API.

Abstract: The past two years have seen an explosion in the popularity and sophistication of web mapping. The stabilisation of client-side web development techniques, particularly AJAX, has allowed mapping applications within the browser to become increasingly mature and elaborate.

Funded by JISC in the UK, the ‘Locating London’s Past’ project has developed an extensible approach to historical web mapping. The aim was to develop a browser interface to query and display multiple, disparate eighteenth century data sets on the same map. The finished system features RESTful APIs which supply data to an independent client-side interface based around the Google Maps API. Modern maps are augmented with John Rocque’s 1746 Map of London, as well as the first accurate modern OS map from the nineteenth century. In addition, queries can be formulated to return and display complex quantitative data, and basic data visualisations are available.

Experiences from this project have prompted the team to propose several novel ideas about best practice in web mapping. In particular, an evaluation of the RESTful approach to data delivery and the problems encountered while designing flexible interfaces for requesting it. Indeed, as web mapping has become more refined and fully-featured, web sites which use it have begun to resemble desktop applications. This creates new and difficult sustainability and usability challenges which we seek to address.

In tackling these issues, we hope to inspire others to approach their Humanities data spatially, and develop their tools for the web. The benefit of web mapping is that it makes such analysis not just possible, but also readily accessible.

Keywords: Maps London AJAX REST Web