Skip to Main Content

Mapping and GIS Lessons for Poets, Historians, and Scientists: Activity: Playing with Historic Maps

CS-X Module created by Emily Fairey, Brooklyn College OER Developer

Using Historic Maps: Sources


  • Explore the features of two repositories of Historic Maps: HyperCities, and David Rumsey Map Collection.
  • Practice "Georeferencing" in Hypercities and David Rumsey Collection.
  • Download a map as an image and as a kml layer. Later, this can be opened directly in GE.

Discussion Questions 

  • Consider the contrast between your historic map and the modern platform. 
  • What are the benefits or disadvantages of seeing antique and modern maps superimposed ? What does changing the degrees of transparency of the old map show you? 
  • What are some of the difficulties of working with "image overlay" ? 
  • Did your image line up easily on the modern map, or did it have to be warped to fit?
  • What do the two maps tell us about subjectivity or objectivity in the visualizing of real-world information?
  • Contrast Hypercities and Rumsey for their research on maps. What kind of information can you learn from the "map details" of each? Where does each map come from? In what format is it available?

Learning Outcomes

  • Gain facility with overlay of historic maps on modern maps. Investigate process of georeferencing, and learn importance of correct procedures. 
  • Develop sense of appropriate research and documentation of historic maps in ancient and modern digital formats.
  • Practice "Georeferencing" in Hypercities and David Rumsey Collection.
  • Download a historic map as an image, and as a kml layer. Later, we can add these directly to Google Earth.
  • Further explore and analyze other repositories of Historic Maps: including NYPL Map Warper, ArcGIS, and Google Map Geodatabase.

View Image Overlays of Antique maps in Hypercities:

In the left hand search box, search on a city name of your choice. If nothing comes up, choose a different city until you get a hit. Select the historic map, and open in the Hypercities viewer. Play with the transparency slider on the upper right. Examine the "Map details."