Mapping the Russian Empire

By The GPDH Editors | January 31, 2013

Project Description


The long-term aim of this project is to build an interactive digital historical atlas of the Russian Empire using ArcGIS software and data harvested from maps and other textual sources in the Harvard library collection and beyond. As anyone who has taught even a survey of Russian history knows, it is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to find a coherent set of maps that visualize and contextualize the expansion of the empire’s borders, let alone maps that represent social and cultural phenomena ranging from the spread of cholera epidemics to the construction of rail lines or the density of churches per capita in each province.

A geographic information system (GIS) is a potent tool for analyzing and representing various kinds of data for scholarly and student audiences. The “Mapping the Russian Empire” project aims to produce a series of maps and related datasets that can be distributed to anyone who researches or teaches the history of the empire (from the middle of the sixteenth century to the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1917) at the secondary school level or higher. In its first iteration it is designed to mine the unique materials held at Harvard and to present them to the broader scholarly community through the Davis Center’s research portal. Because the GIS platform is customizable and expandable, instructors will be able to generate maps tailored to their own syllabi. Alternately, scholars will be able to insert, map, and examine their own data in a productive and collaborative way. In other words, this project will facilitate the collection, analysis, and distribution of a rich array of cultural and social, as well as economic and political data among historians, and across time and space.

Components of the Project

“Mapping the Russian Empire” is a multiphase project involving the following steps:

  1. elaboration of the database structure;
  2. collection, digitization and georeferencing of historical maps;
  3. datamining of historical maps;
  4. compilation of data from archival and published sources at Harvard;
  5.  generation of basemaps in ArcMap;
  6. design of interactive interface for accessing and manipulating the atlas
  7. establishment of open-access collaborative database on the Davis Center website.

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