My long-term interests in map artefacts and mapping practices seem to be stuck in the past these days! I have become, to an increasing degree, a historical geographer in terms of my research activities. Intellectually, I am engaged in thinking about the role and relevance of visual representations such as maps and map-like spatial materials from the past, within contemporary scholarship on cities, infrastructure and techno-social practice.
In broad terms I am mapping out the value of historical cartography, and at the same time working to make more old map and 'technical' plans of infrastructure publicly available through digitisation.
I am trying to think about what we can glean that is distinctive from having free access to many old and original thematic maps, detailed topographic sheets, technical diagrams, engineering plans, historic aerial photographs and paper architectural drawings. Can the ready availability of increasing range and depth historical visual representations reveal unique aspects of the structure of cities not available from other sources?
Some of the key digitisation projects I've instigated in the last five years or so include scanning a set of old maps and original plans relating to the design of the Manchester Ship Canal, encouraging the capture of series of 60 different street directory maps for Manchester city centre from across the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century (the originals are held by Manchester City Library and are available on their Flickr page or browseable via UML Luna service). I also initiated the digitisation of bomb damage maps from the Second World War, and put in a lot of work on the scanning and sharing of key official reports related to ‘fifty years of planning the future of Manchester’. All these digital resources, relating to aspects of Manchester's historical geography, are heavily used by different groups including members of the public and I receive a steady stream of enquiries about them.
In relation to the history of the University of Manchester, I have served as academic lead on the Campus Maps Through Time project, making the selection of which original archival materials and important historical reports should be digitised.