Geography - The National Archives

Geography: the missing
link for archives?
A case study from the London Blitz
Catherine Emma (Kate) Jones
and Andrew Janes
4 September 2013
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
• Time-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 2011-13
Project team
Andrew Janes
Jasia Warren
Dr Patrick Weber
Project Advisor
Graphic Designer Tech Lead / Web Developer
Dr Catherine
Dr Catherine
Dan Karran
Janes Project
Mobile Developer
and student
researchers Ali Nabbi and Felix Fennel
Advisor Director
Data sources
• Aggregate night-time Bomb Census maps, 7 Oct 1940 - 6 June
1941 – 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
• Anti-invasion defence locations – Council for British Archaeology:
Defence of Britain Dataset
• Photographs – Imperial War Museum Images
• WW2 Memories – BBC History “People’s War”
• Present day street map and aerial imagery – Cloudmade
For full details and copyright information, see:
Weekly Bomb Census map for 7-14 October 1940
HO 193/1
sheet 15/18 NW
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
• Geography: a missing link for archives?
• Maturity and popularity of digital mapping
• Academic ‘buzz’ around spatial data
• Using geography to link different sources together
• Archives: 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
• User-focused development: Scenarios and user-testing
• 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 @BombSightUK is one of the most impressive online archive
resources I've ever seen. Brings alive the sheer scale of the Blitz.”
“The @BombSightUK 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
@BombSightUK... this looks brilliant...”
“Always suspected my housing block was built on a WW2 bomb site, and
thanks to I can see I was right!”
Al-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
• Many WWII-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
• Mis-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-locating
• Inevitable errors in the Open Street Map layer
Challenges (3) – digital sustainability
• Long-term preservation
• Sustainable formats, e.g. GeoTiff
• To be deposited with EDINA Digimap and ShareGeo
• Short-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
Some ideas for the future
• 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?
Watch this space …
Website –
Blog –
Twitter – @BombSightUK
Kate – @SpatialK8
Andrew – @cartivist
A podcast about the development of Bomb Sight is
available via

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