Jim Clifford, Josh MacFadyen, and Daniel Macfarlane

Google My Maps and Google Earth provide an easy way to start creating digital maps. With a Google Account you can create and edit personal maps by clicking on My Places.

edited by

  • Adam Crymble

reviewed by

  • Finn Arne Jørgensen
  • Sarah Simpkin

published

2013-12-13

modified

2013-12-13

difficulty

Low

Contents

Google Maps

Google My Maps and Google Earth provide an easy way to start creating digital maps. With a Google Account you can create and edit personal maps by clicking on My Places.

In My Maps you can choose between several different base maps (including the standard satellite, terrain, or standard maps) and add points, lines and polygons. It is also possible to import data from a spreadsheet, if you have columns with geographical information (i.e. longitudes and latitudes or place names). This automates a formerly complex task known as geocoding. Not only is this one of the easiest ways to begin plotting your historical data on a map, but it also has the power of Google’s search engine. As you read about unfamiliar places in historical documents, journal articles or books, you can search for them using Google Maps. It is then possible to mark numerous locations and explore how they relate to each other geographically. Your personal maps are saved by Google (in their cloud), meaning you can access them from any computer with an internet connection. You can keep them private or embed them in your website or blog. Finally, you can export your points, lines, and polygons as KML files and open them in Google Earth or Quantum GIS.

Getting Started

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Creating Vector Layers

You can also create new map layers (known more formally as vector layers). Vector layers are one of the main components of digital mapping (including GIS). They are simply points, lines, or polygons used to represent geographic features. Points can be used to identify and label key locations, lines are often used for streets or railroads, and polygons allow you to represent area (fields, buildings, city wards, etc). They work the same in Google Maps as they do in GIS. The big limitation is that you can only add limited information into the database tables associated with the points, lines, or polygons. This is a problem as you scale up your digital mapping research, but it is not a problem when you are starting out. In Google Maps you can add a label, a text description, and links to a website or photo. More information about creating historical vectors in a full GIS is available in Creating New Vector Layers in QGIS 2.0.

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Share your custom map

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Google Earth

Google Earth works in much the same way as Google Maps Engine Lite, but has additional features. For example, it provides 3-D maps and access to data from numerous third party sources, including collections of historical maps. Google Maps doesn’t require you to install software and your maps are saved in the cloud. Google Earth requires software installation and is not cloud-based, though maps you create can be exported.

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KML: Keyhole Markup Language files

Bringing your KML file into Google Earth

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Adding Scanned Historical Maps

Within Google Earth, you can upload a digital copy of a historical map. This could be a map that has been scanned, or an image obtained that is already in a digital format (for tips on finding historical maps online see: Mobile Mapping and Historical GIS in the Field). The main purpose for uploading a digital map, from a historical perspective, is to place it over top of a Google Earth image in the browser. This is known as an overlay. Performing an overlay allows for useful comparisons of change over time.

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Figure 39: Click to see full-size image

Figure 39: Click to see full-size image

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You have learned how to use Google Maps and Earth. Make sure you save your work!

This lesson is part of the Geospatial Historian.

Great! Now you're ready to move on to the next lesson .
About the authors

Jim Clifford is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan.   Josh MacFadyen is a Project Coordinator at the Network in Canadian History & Environment.   Daniel Macfarlane is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University.