Pixels or parcels? : parcel-based historical gis and digital thematic deconstruction as tools for studying urban development
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Very often, scholars aiming at mapping spatial arrangements and developments of the urban past choose nineteenth-century cadastral maps as the starting point for their analysis. These maps were for instance the main sources for the so-called regressive town plan analysis, a research method developed by the geographer Michael R.G. Conzen in his seminal study on the growth of Alnwick, Northumberland (Conzen 1960). The method has its origins in the structuralist approach that affected the historical and geographical sciences in the 1960s and 1970s, was refined afterwards by scholars of the Urban Morphology Research Group at the University of Birmingham, and influenced the still ongoing European Historical Towns Atlases project (Simms 2015). From the 1990s onwards, town plan analysis got a digital afterlife with the emerging of geographical information systems and their implementation in historical geography, urban morphology, landscape studies, building history, and archaeology. Today, various urban historical GIS projects still start from the parcel-based approach, as they also use the nineteenth-century cadastral maps as base layers. The French Alpage project is built up from the digitisation, geo-referencing, and vectorisation of the so-called plans d’îlots Vasserot, drawn in the period 1810-1836 (Noizet 2008-2009; Chareille et al. 2013; Raveaux et al. 2013). In the Low Countries, the Dutch Hisgis.nl website is built upon the cadastral maps from 1832, while the Bruges Kaartenhuisbrugge project uses the initial cadastral maps (primitieve plans) made in 1811, 1831, and 1835 as base layers (D’Hondt 2009)
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