Using historical maps and archives for present-day solutions

(Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amersfoort, The Netherlands)

Keywords: Climate adaptation strategies, GIS, historical maps and archives, water safety

Since the Netherlands are low lying and prone to flooding, for centuries dikes and polders were constructed in order to manage the water. From the medieval period onwards, an elaborate organisational system was set up for their maintenance: the water boards. Next to these administrative bodies, the cities of Holland often had their own political needs, strategies, and ideas for water quality and safety.
The cities of Holland not only had water-related problems, during the Dutch Golden Age their incredible growth led to a huge increase in energy needs. For industrial purposes this energy mainly came from wind mills, but in urbanized context peat was the main source of fuel. Peat extraction, however, causes land erosion and subsidence, and consequently to higher risk of flooding. A lot of cities and water boards knew strict rules and regulations for peat extraction, but not all, and they were not always observed.
Modern research into historical maps and archives on water management show how an integrated policy connecting urban and water board administrations led to a safe environment. In contrast, places where this integrated policy was traditionally lacking often are still characterized by very persistent problems with flooding and subsidence. This underlines the importance of old policies, and visions, since they clearly still influence the present-day landscape. Understanding these systems could even provide solutions to future problems we face regarding climate change, soil erosion, and subsidence.
In this paper we will present the research into (historical) water systems we have conducted at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. The focus will be on the methodology of integrating maps, archives, and historical solutions by means of GIS modelling into recommendations on climate-adaptation strategies. Not only guaranteeing the preservation of cultural heritage in present-day environments, but also demonstrating its importance for facing modern challenges.

Relevance conference:
Research into cultural heritage can add serious solutions to present-day environmental problems.

Relevance session:
This presented research shows the integration of historical maps with landscape archaeology in a GIS environment that can, and will, be used in present-day planning.

Combining multi-period maps and research into a tool for present-day strategists working on not-necessary cultural heritage related environmental problems.


  1. Manual Heritage and Environment, Water: and
  2. Manual Energy, Heritage and Environment: