Land area categories in large-scale historical topographic maps in relation to analysing land use and land cover changes

Stig Roar Svenningsen, Mads Linnet Perner, Gregor Levin, Geoffrey Brian Groom

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review


Spatial information about the landscape of the past is a key data source for a range of analyses within landscape ecology, such as identifying persistent habitats or monitoring of landscapes and land use and land cover change (LULCC). Yet, such analysis of historical LULCC of pre-1950s landscapes primarily relies on cartographic documents as the source of spatially explicit information. Methodologically, most historical LULCC studies utilizing historical cartographic documents report on the geometrical precision and correctness of georeferencing and vectorization. However, often less attention is devoted to careful interpretation of land area categories. Thus, information in historical maps is taken for granted or seen as self-explanatory. This paper presents an analysis of land area categories in Danish historical large-scale topographic maps from the second half of the 19th century in relation to a recent research project focused on the development of automated methods for vectorization of historical maps (Levin et al, 2020). Results reveal that the classification of land area categories is complex and that categories in the legend cannot necessarily stand direct comparison to modern LULC categories. Despite a similar appearance (i.e. sharing the same name as categories in current official geo-data), the categorization of land in the maps discussed here originally rested on a military oriented assessment of landscape trafficability. This result implies that thorough analysis of categories in historical maps is needed if data are to be used for LULCC studies. Thorough historical analysis of the development of the mapping and representational practices of land area categories in historical maps can reveal both a more consistent understanding of the relationship between map categories and the historical LULC, but it can also assist the development of automated methods for extracting vector data.

Levin, G., Groom, G. B., Svenningsen, S. R., & Perner, M. L. (2020). Automated production of spatial datasets for land categories from historical maps—Method devel-opment and results for a pilot study of Danish late-1800s topographical maps. (No. 389; Scientific Report from DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy). Aarhus University, DCE - Danish Centre for Environment and Energy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date12 Jul 2022
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2022
EventIALE 2022 European Landscape Ecology Congress - Online
Duration: 11 Jul 202215 Jul 2022


ConferenceIALE 2022 European Landscape Ecology Congress

Cite this