A Vision of Britain through Time, a digital project based at the University of Portsmouth, aims to illustrate social and geographic changes in Britain’s counties over time by utilizing records and maps. To quote their official mission statement, the project “brings together historical surveys of Britain to create a record of how the country and its localities have changed.” A Vision of Britain was created by Humphrey Southall and the Great Britain Historical Geographical Information System.
A major aspect of A Vision of Britain is to demonstrate trends in the British populace through charts and tables. This information can be utilized in a number of ways by researchers, for instance in looking to make predictions about a certain facet of society based on its history.
Once a location is selected from the Main Page, such as Oxford in the example to the left, a range of topics are presented. Categories such as housing statistics and local industries, drawing their data from census records and local databases, all contain information as far back as 1801.
From there, a researcher can select a category to dive further into. Following the Oxford example, if one were to click on the “Population” section, a number of statistics and census records would show up. The main feature of these categories are the charts generated automatically based on the information, with data as far back as the 19th century. For example, this graph on the right shows the age and sex structure to age 85 and up for Oxford in 1911.
These charts on A Vision of Britain were generated using JFreeChart, an open access charting software.
Another feature of this project is their historical maps section. Researchers are able to interact with a map of Great Britain, composed of dozens of different maps, for an interactive experience spanning centuries.
Since this project is digital the researcher can utilize the information on hundreds of maps placed together to gain a better understanding of a specific area instantly. For example, a researcher can analyze the differences between 19th and 20th century London simply by selecting another map configuration, as seen below.
The combination of maps is made possible by the Great Britain Historical Geographical Information System and their unique Historical GIS software. In addition, MapServer was used in conjunction with GIS.
How This Advances the Humanities:
A Vision of Britain is doing traditional humanities work as usual, but with the added element of being digital. Southall and his team are pulling data from primary sources, such as maps and census records, to provide the information on their site. Researchers are thus able to interpret this primary source data to further explore the relationships between people and their environment; in this instance, British citizens and the various localities across the island.
Being a digital project, as opposed to more traditional routes, allows for more interaction on the part of the user. Charts are generated to give them seemingly endless statistics on a range of topics across British society. Not only is the raw data given, but also the sources are listed and instantly accessible, something not possible in articles or books. Additionally, researchers can quickly move between maps across centuries and from different sources to find exactly what they need. When they are done, they have the option to download the maps for future use. In fact, the user can download most of the website’s open access software and content for use on their own personal projects.