Digital Humanities & Historic Estate Records: Project Update


In a previous post to this blog a practical work module forming part of this students MA in Digital Humanities was introduced which seeks to integrate Digital Humanities methods with Historic Estate Records. This module is now entering its final stages which aim to incorporate what has been researched in the way of digital tools and methodologies with the data held in the Historic Estate Records.

In the process of undertaking this research a range of digital tools and methods along with several challenges have been encountered while seeking a strategy for bringing together the digital and historical record elements. In this follow up post, some of the digital tools and methods will be discussed, along with the challenges encountered in seeking to integrate the digital and historical data relating to this project.


As the first post relating to this practical module discussed, one of the primary goals of the project was the integration of data from an identified collection of Historic Estate Records (The Borrowes Collection) into a geo-referenced digital environment. For the supervising institution, Maynooth University Library, a selection of 17th, 18th and 19th century leases that included some hand drawn maps were of particular interest. In these maps the potential for digitally geo-referencing landholdings within the Historic Estate was considered; and the goal of identifying the land areas in a modern digital map using information from the leases became a focal point for the project.

In order to proceed with developing a strategy for the geo-referencing of these records, three phases of research began. The first phase involved analysis of any existing digital projects which were similar to the project at hand by which potential approaches could be identified. The second phase involved researching the tools and methodologies for the process of geo-referencing historical maps, records or data in a digital environment. The third and final phase would involve closer examination of the historical records in order to identify, compile and organise the historical and geographical data which could be integrated within the digital project.


The first phase began by looking at similar projects which had geo-referenced historical data. Perhaps the most significant of those analysed was the Landed Estates Database, a digital project hosted by the Moore Institute at NUI Galway. This project is perhaps the most comprehensive digital resource relating to information on Historic Estate Records in Ireland, although its scope is limited to Connacht and Munster. In regards to geo-referencing, the Landed Estates Database project has identified the buildings associated with these estates as its focus. As such the project has identified and geo-referenced these buildings using location markers in a Google Map window, and in some instances included recent images of the buildings. This project does not use geo-referencing to identify the extent of the estates landholdings, but identifies those buildings historically significant to the running of the estates. The project adds to the historical understanding of these buildings and the landed estate by linking their historical function with their current state by including the more recent pictures in which many are in full or partial ruin, or performing very different functions in modern Ireland.

The examination of projects such as the Landed Estates Database allowed an understanding of what could be achieved by identifying a focus and set of data for geo-referencing and presenting it in a digital environment.


The next phase involved researching the tools and methods for digitally manipulating, integrating and presenting the maps and data of the Borrowes Collection in a digital environment. With this in mind research began to identify tools and methods which would fulfil three important requirements.

  1. A method for aligning and overlaying a historical map with a modern digital mapping system.
  2. A method by which data beyond the historical map could be integrated in the digital version.
  3. A method by which further manipulation or customisation of the map could be implemented if deemed necessary for the final presentation of the digital resource.

To date several tools and methods have been identified which are capable of performing the above requirements, QGIS and MapWarper for integrating historical and digital mapping, GeoJSON for the integration of further data and Mapbox for further customisation of the digital map.


The first two phases opened up the potential for what could be achieved by identifying a focus for the project and implementing a professional digital presentation of historical data using the appropriate tools and methods. The third and final phase involved the identification and compilation of data within the Borrowes Collection in order to facilitate this goal.

In the case of this project the nature of Historic Estate Records posed a significant challenge in that these materials can be very fragmented. The data and number of maps in the leases that allowed the landholdings to be adequately identified on a modern map has proved challenging. There is also the absence of an overall estate map or records such as rent books for the entire estate. As such this particular collection of records may not yield a sufficient data set to facilitate the complete geo-referencing of this particular landed estate; yet through this challenge the project has entailed a greater degree of research into further methods of understanding and identifying historical lease maps and land areas that a more complete collection of records would necessitate. This project has therefore made extensive use of digitally presented, historical mapping projects such as The Down Survey of Ireland and Griffiths Valuation in order to identify the lands referred to and illustrated in the records relating to this project.


As this Digital Humanities project enters its final stages it remains on course to integrate digital tools and methods with historical data in order to present a strategy for enhancing Historic Estate Records. An interesting note however is the value which existing Digital Humanities projects such the Landed Estates Database, The Down Survey of Ireland and Griffiths Valuation have served in facilitating the understanding of the analogue source material in research for this Digital Humanities project, perhaps a sign in itself to the value of Digital Humanities projects.


Groome, Noel. “Digital Humanities & Historic Estate Records.” Noel Groome Blog, 20 March 2015. Web. Accessed 09 April 2015

Prunty, Jacinta. Maps and map-making in local history (Dublin, 2004)

The Down Survey of Ireland. Web. Accessed 10 April 2015

Griffiths Valuation. Web. Accessed 10 April 2015

Landed Estates Database. Web. Accessed 09 April 2015

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