The Imag(in)ing London Historical GIS Project

Since 2004, the HEAL lab has been at the forefront of research that utilizes a geographic information system for the study of urban change over time. The primary objective of the Imag(in)ing London HGIS Project is to build a multi-dimensional historical GIS for exploring the social, economic, and morphological dimensions of urban environments from different eras.

Through the harmonization of archival cartographic sources such as fire insurance plans and geodetic surveys with nominal records such as city directories and decennial censuses we have created an HGIS with the finest spatial resolution possible, the individual. Within the over 500,000 records in the HGIS are the residential location and built environment characteristics for each resident as well as their place of work or school. Rich socio-demographic details from the census, city directories and a range of other sources provide the important social contexts needed to ask questions about the patterns observed in our past cities.

Past projects have included:

  • Morphological changes due to natural disasters such as fire and flood
  • Intensity of residential segregation over time
  • The changing journey to work and school of individuals through the life course
  • Evolution of retail landscapes
  • Temporal and spatial patterns of crime

Our current projects are pushing the methodological possibilities of using qualitative sources in a GIS. The Imag(in)ing London HGIS was built to be immensely flexible. It allows any qualitative archival source, such as photographs, newspapers or diaries to be seamlessly spatialised and juxtaposed alongside the expansive demographic and environment data. At present we are working on:

  • The spatial and temporal pattern of social interaction in the daily lives of 19th century individuals through the use of diaries and personal narratives
  • Role of post offices and free home mail delivery to the creation of community
  • Relationship of church and school to the creation of sense of place and neighbourhood

In addition to research, the Imag(in)ing London HGIS is used extensively for teaching and community engagement. The HEAL hosts annual introductory Historical GIS workshops to the UWO community as well as other groups across Canada. Several undergraduate courses utilize the HGIS for lab assignments and course projects. The Masters in Public History Program in the Department of History at Western utilizes the HGIS for an annual heritage designation project. The HEAL lab also uses the HGIS to support initiatives of the London Advisory Council on Heritage, the Archives and Research Collections Centre of Western Libraries, and the London Public Library.

Initial seed funding for the Imag(in)ing London HGIS Project was generously funded by the University of Western Ontario Academic Development Fund. Recent projects have been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council as well as the Vanier Canada Scholars Program.

For further information please contact:

Don Lafreniere
Research Associate
HGIS Project Manager

Dr. Jason Gilliland
Director, HEALab