Monday 12 December 2011

Playing with Locating London's Past

With colleagues at the Universities of Sheffield and the IHR, we launched a new web resource this morning that allows you to map some seventeen different large scale datasets related to 18th century London on to a GIS compliant version of John Rocque's 1746 map of the capital - all in a Google Maps environment.  See   I think it is very pretty and intuitive, but what I find most interesting about the site is that it allows you to explore a component of these datasets that we have hitherto done very little with - the spatial.  I don't know what is there yet, but I suspect I will have a good time finding out.  

My first thought was to play with a nice dichotomy in the data for the Old Bailey Proceedings - the published trial accounts for London, 1674-1819 (they continue to be printed up till 1913 but only the 18th century elements are currently available for mapping).  

One aspect of the tagging we imposed on the Proceedings was a distinction between 'Crime Location' and 'Defendants' Home'.  This information is pretty consistently given in the text and tagged in the XML, and the 18th century trials include around 34,000 crime locations, and around 12,000 defendants' homes.  
A quick search for all 'Crime Locations' (34,427), when mapped on to 'Street' and displayed on to a blank screen, looks like this:

And an equally quick mapping of 12,031 Defendant's Homes looks like:

When placed over the warped version of John Rocque's 1746 map of London, the result is:

 I don't have an argument about this data, or even much of an observation.  The predominance of 'Defendants' Home' in the eastern part of the city, seems pretty compelling, and could form the basis for an analysis of the relative access to justice in eighteenth-century London, or when mapped against wealth, part of an argument about the nature of crime, and its motivation.  But more importantly, the process of 'playing' with this data strikes me as central to a very different kind of research narrative than I am used to.  I am not formulating questions, and then using the data to answer them - I am throwing together visualisations in search of contrasts that stand out, and look weird.

I am very much looking forward using the interactive elements of the Locating London's Past site to find anomalies and confusions that allow me to reformulate the questions I am asking.


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