Geography: the missing link for archives?

tearfuloilMobile - Wireless

Dec 10, 2013 (4 years and 5 months ago)


Catherine Emma (Kate) Jones

and Andrew Janes

4 September 2013

Geography: the missing
link for archives?

A case study from the London Blitz

HO 192/862

Some sources for researching the London Blitz

Log books, incident registers and reporting forms

Maps plotting bombs or bomb damage

Photographs and plans of bomb sites

Investigation reports

Records of institutions that were bombed

Newspaper reports

Local council minutes

Personal accounts: diaries, memories, etc

Challenges of using primary sources

Doing research involves doing research …

Most people aren’t familiar with using archives

Historical data is complex and ‘messy’ to work with

consuming to discover what is relevant

Different archives hold different sources

‘Hidden’ records?

Most archival sources are not digitised

Most records are not catalogued in lavish detail

Bomb Sight

the project

A step towards wider access to historical records

Build an interactive mapping website and Android mobile app

Selected Bomb Census maps from TNA

Other historical data about the Blitz

A resource for academic researchers

A resource for geography teaching and learning

A resource for ‘citizen researchers’ / the public

Project partners

Funded by

Content Programme 2011

Project team



Dr Catherine


Andrew Janes

Project Advisor

Dr Catherine Jones

Project Director

Jasia Warren

Graphic Designer

Dr Patrick Weber

Tech Lead / Web Developer

and student researchers
Ali Nabbi

Felix Fennel

Dan Karran

Mobile Developer

Data sources

Aggregate night
time Bomb Census maps, 7 Oct 1940

6 June

The National Archives (ref: HO 193/13)

Weekly Bomb Census maps, 7
14 Oct 1940

The National
Archives (ref: HO 193/1)

24 hours of the Blitz, 7 Sept 1940

Guardian Data Store

invasion defence locations

Council for British Archaeology:
Defence of Britain Dataset


Imperial War Museum Images

WW2 Memories

BBC History “People’s War”

Present day street map and aerial imagery


For full details and copyright information, see:

HO 193/1

sheet 15/18 NW

Weekly Bomb Census map for 7
14 October 1940

HO 192/341

The impact in numbers

Discussed in 70+ different global print/TV/internet media

184,436 unique visitors on 7 December 2012

378,971 unique visitors in first two months

Almost 450,000 unique visitors
up to
29 August 2013

Over 1,273,058 page views up to 29 August 2013

Site accessed 102,000 times with a tablet or mobile phone

Quiet rollout of native mobile app: 2600+ downloads since made
available via Google Play in mid
December 2012

Compares to 827 original map folder productions in 2012/13

Engaging with technology

Transformed data:

New technology brings old data to life

Enhanced data:
Searchable, browsable and enriched

For access:
From ‘hidden’ records to popular website

For preservation:

Access without handling fragile originals

For learning:

Supports students to develop the knowledge
and skills for working with spatial data

Engaging with geography

a missing link for archives?

Maturity and popularity of

digital mapping

Academic ‘buzz’ around spatial data

Using geography to link different sources together

a missing link for geography?

Maps are for more than just history of cartography

Archives are for more than just ‘straight’ history

Engaging with the public

focused development:
Scenarios and user

Social media:
A powerful tool for raising awareness

Blog post and talk/podcast:
Contributing to TNA’s public
engagement programmes

Academia is relevant:
Academic work responds to and
drives public interest in historical events (and sources)

Archives are relevant:
Sources contain a wealth of data

The Twitter buzz

I have to say

is one of the most impressive online archive
resources I've ever seen. Brings alive the sheer scale of the Blitz.


map tallies well with anecdotal reports of WW2
German bombs from the old timers in my neighbourhood. Fascinating.

What an astonishing use of #augmentedreality & mobile apps by
... this looks brilliant...

Always suspected my housing block was built on a WW2 bomb site, and
thanks to

I can see I was right!


Jazeera English

BBC News


The Daily Telegraph

The Economist

The Guardian

Huffington Post

Mail Online


Le Monde

Sky Australia

Der Spiegel


Challenges (1)

working together

A first time for everything …

Academia meets civil service

Joint working = staking everyone’s reputation

Intellectual property rights

era sources are still in copyright …

… but much is Crown copyright or licensable

Required non
commercial licences utilising open source
and low cost solutions

Challenges (2)

margins of error

Records made under wartime conditions

Bombs missed during the survey

plotted or unclear bombs on map sheets

Transforming the data: paper to digital

Mismatches between historic and modern map layers

Potential for errors in manual geo

Inevitable errors in the Open Street Map layer

term preservation

Sustainable formats, e.g. GeoTiff

To be deposited with EDINA Digimap and ShareGeo

term sustainability

to meet public demand

A small academic project went viral …

Unanticipated level of public and media interest

Worked with CloudFlare to keep the site running

Challenges (3)

digital sustainability


Complete the dataset for London to enable exploration by

Capture richer information from ‘BC4’ reporting forms?

Expand to other parts of the UK?

Crowdsource the capture of information?

Crowdsource additional data, e.g. memories, photos?

Develop a framework to help smaller archives create their
own interactive mapping applications?

Seek more funding?

Some ideas for the future









A p
odcast about the development of Bomb Sight is
available via

Watch this space …