Urban Scrawl: Reconstructing Urban Landscapes Using Documentary Sources

  • Eleanor RamseyEmail author
Part of the Springer Series on Cultural Computing book series (SSCC)


Whilst many heritage projects utilise new technologies for the creation and analysis of novel digital datasets, these projects require the object or landscape under study to currently exist. For urban landscapes that are no longer extant, however, there is a large amount of data in a non-digital format that can potentially be mined to reconstruct in detail those areas which are now physically beyond the reach of archaeologists. This chapter aims to show that by including documentary sources such as census returns and trade directories in a suitable digital format, technologies such as GIS can be used to facilitate access to this data, and also provide a way of analysing, understanding and visualising the information held within them in many novel ways. The period studied here, nineteenth century Britain, was a time of intense change, especially in terms of the booming population and industrial output and, as a consequence of the continued development of urban areas, the archaeology and built environment of this period is under considerable threat. Trade directories, census returns and GIS have all been used in historic and archaeological research period before, however, previous research tends to focus on specific industries or aggregate the data at a large scale. This chapter demonstrates that aggregation of data at street or suburb level provides a much finer level of detail and enables novel insights regarding the spatial distribution of buildings, population and trades, and furthermore enables new maps to be created that allow changes to these attributes to be mapped and analysed.


GIS Urban landscapes Nineteenth century Trade directories Census 


  1. Armstrong, W. A. (1972). The use of information about occupations. In E. A. Wrigley (Ed.), Nineteenth-century society: Essays in the use of quantitative methods for the study of social data (pp. 191–310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Crompton, C. A. (1998). An exploration of the craft and trade structure of two Hertfordshire villages 1851–1891: An application of nominal record linkage to directories and census enumerators books. The Local Historian, 28(3), 145–158Google Scholar
  3. Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) (2004). Conservation Area Character Appraisal for Dudley Town Centre.Google Scholar
  4. English Heritage (2011). Saving the Age of Industry, Conservation Bulletin 67.Google Scholar
  5. Knowles, A. K., Healey, R. G. (2006). Geography, timing and technology: A GIS-based analysis of Pennysylvania’s iron industry, 1825–1875. Journal of Economic History, 66(3), 608–634Google Scholar
  6. Page, D. (1974). Sources for Urban History: 8. commercial directories and market towns. Local Historian, 11(2). Cromford: British Association for Local History.Google Scholar
  7. Quigley, P. (2009). The black country: An historic landscape characterisation first report. English Heritage Project Number 3638 Main. Available via ADS. Retrieved 13 Mar 2013 from
  8. Quigley, P. (2010). Recycled landscape the legacy of 250 years in the black country: An analysis of the black country historic landscape characterisation. English Heritage Project Number 3638 Main Second Report. Available via ADS. Retrieved 13 Mar 2013 from
  9. Ramsey, E. (2012). The use of GIS and documentary sources to map, analyse and understand urban and industrial change in nineteenth century Dudley. Unpublished M.Phil thesis, Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, College of Arts and Law, The University of Birmingham UK.Google Scholar
  10. Raven, N. (1997). The Trade Directory: A source for the study of early nineteenth century urban economics. Business Archives: Sources and History, London 17.Google Scholar
  11. Raven, N., Hooley, T. (2005). Industrial and urban change in the midlands: a regional survey. In J. Stobart, N. Raven (Eds.), Towns, regions and industries: urban and industrial change in the midlands c. (pp. 1700–1840). Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Reader, J. (2004). Cities. London: William Heinemann.Google Scholar
  13. Shaw, G. (1982). British directories as sources in historical geography (Historical Geography Research Series, Vol. 8). Norwich: Geo Books.Google Scholar
  14. University of Portsmouth and others (2009). The history of the census. Retrieved 13 Mar 2013 from
  15. West Midlands Regional Research Framework (2003). Seminar 7: Post-Medieval (industrial and after). Retrieved 13 Mar 2013 from

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IBM Visual and Spatial Technologies CentreThe University of BirminghamEdgbastonUK

Personalised recommendations