Introducing the Mapping Brisbane History Project for the 2016 Professional Historians Australia Conference, Melbourne, Australia

Google Maps and Google Earth in 2005 revived a sub-discipline that had been badly neglected in the previous couple of decades, historical geography.

Online historical mapping was generated on a number of different platforms and spurred a plethora of webpages devoted to promoting historical sites.

Unfortunately the methodologies utilized often fail to capture the historical character, the sense of place and the sense of change in society and individual lives, as it appeared on the landscape.

The basic problem is that the local history mapping sites are not aimed at historical themes and narratives.

The well-funded Queensland Historical Atlas is a wonderful collection of images and essays, but there is no actual online mapping program. We are still not getting the comprehensive view that we once recognised as historical geography.

The Mapping Brisbane History Project is a long-term scheme which currently resides in The Mapping Brisbane Southside History (MBSH) Project, under the auspices of the Brisbane Southside History Network (BSHN) and managed by four professional historians. The idea is that we map the Brisbane Southside first and, at any time, other teams can form to map the Brisbane Northside using our methods. The history of Brisbane has traditionally been this divide of the Brisbane River.

There are different elements to the project. These elements coordinate to produce the history.

As is common with Google mapping and History Pin, we are marking sites. The difference is that we include extensive and well-structured descriptions as data fields. This is particularly true for the site’s significance where a description is summarize within 200 words.

The main element of the project is the five stages of research, covering 41 study areas. The approach of the project is not to consider historical sites singularly but as integrated parts of the changing landscape. The idea of boundaries is unpopular and yet the truth is that boundaries are always popularly generated, both as a matter of formation and breaking them down. Boundaries are fluid and people do continually crossover them, but these factors means boundaries exist historically.

Understanding what is occurring over time within distinctive suburban areas means we can understand historical themes much better – the relationship with the indigenous population and the land, culture, education, industry and commerce, transportation, and government.

The last, and the most ambitious, element of the project is to reproduce different sections of the landscape at various points in time, to be able to map its changing features. While the focus here is urbanisation, we are also looking at the way the shifting environment reflects the mutable ways of life.