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Peter D. A. Boyd

Heritage UK plc – a portal to space and time through web GIS

Peter D. A. Boyd, Collections Manager and IT Project Coordinator,

Shrewsbury Museums Service

Web version of

BOYD, P.D.A. 2000(c). Heritage UK plc - a portal to space and time through web GIS. In Geographic Information supporting UK plc. Association for Geographic Information Conference Proceedings 2000. Published on CD.

the agi conference at GIS 2000

Shrewsbury Museums Service has been a pioneer in the use of GIS in museums with limited budgets. It has now initiated a website project that will explore the potential of web-based GIS in heritage education websites.

Shrewsbury Museums Service is the lead museum in a partnership with the Wedgwood Museum and Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust that has succeeded in attracting nearly 40,000 towards a 45,000 website project through the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)/Museums & Galleries Commission (MGC) IT Challenge Fund (33,750) and West Midlands Regional Museums Council (5,625). The fund is specifically intended to support IT projects for life-long learning.

The project (called ‘Darwin Country - Cradle of Science, Technology and the Better Life!’) is developing a multi-disciplinary website (including images with associated interpretation) that will provide an introduction to scientific, technological and social developments in part of the West Midlands during the 18th and 19th centuries and their affect on the wider world.

The site will be illustrated through the archives, paintings, decorative arts, archaeology and scientific collections of the partner museums. The partners have set an initial target of 3000 web pages with images.

GIS will be used in innovative ways to provide access to information within the site. The paper explores some of the concepts, alternative technologies, copyright and other matters to be considered when developing such an enterprise.


1 Introduction

‘Heritage UK plc’ echoes the theme of the AGI 2000 Conference ‘Geographic Information supporting UK plc’. The natural and man-made heritage of the United Kingdom is important to its economy as well as providing a significant part of its unique identity. The UK’s museums and art galleries, historic buildings and gardens, archaeological sites and monuments, nature reserves and wild places contribute enormously not only to its character and quality of life but also to the local economy of the places in which they are sited and the national economy as a whole. They are the reason behind most tourist visits to Britain.


2 Heritage, GIS and the Web

‘Heritage’ is concerned with places (‘natural’ or man-made), natural and man-made objects associated with places and social customs associated with them (e.g. well-dressings in Derbyshire). Written heritage in the form of literature and music is also linked with the places with which their authors were linked or with which they associated their creations. Where there is a link with a place, there can be a link with GIS!

Therefore Geographical Information Systems may have a valuable role in the audit, documentation and interpretation of ‘heritage’ in all its forms. Where museums and art galleries are concerned, the imaginative use of desk-based and web-based GIS may help to improve access to their collections or information about them (BOYD, 1999).

Websites have become an important element in the marketing strategy of heritage organisations and the use of websites in educational outreach has increased tremendously in the last year. However, while desk-based GIS is used more widely in heritage organisations than it was, the use of web-based GIS is used by relatively few museums or other heritage bodies.

This is probably due to:-

        uncertainty regarding how to start using it, even by those who already use desk-top GIS systems;

        the perceived high cost of web-based GIS software - particularly if it is assumed that dynamically generated maps are required;

        the perceived high cost of licences to use map data on the web and ongoing annual costs;

        restrictions on the use of map data (e.g. Ordnance Survey data) which you may wish to use on the web because it is what you are familiar with on your desktop

Some of these are real problems but they can be surmounted or worked round. However, web-based GIS is a tool that heritage organisations should consider using to enhance their educational role and this paper attempts to address some of the issues to be considered. Web-base GIS does not have to cost a fortune!


3 The proliferation of heritage websites

Some archaeological and nature conservation bodies have used the web to great effect in their work. Some have used web-based GIS imaginatively such as the Argyll Kilmartin House monuments website (http://www.kilmartin.org/) and the websites of Friends of the Earth UK ‘Wild Places’ (http://www.foe.co.uk/ ) and English Nature (http://www.english-nature.org.uk). English Nature even provides downloadable GIS tab files of data such as ‘National Nature Reserves’ and ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest’ that you may view as a map layer in your own desk-top GIS.

There has been a rapid increase in the number of museums and other heritage organisations that have developed a web-presence during the last year (see the Museum Documentation Association’s Virtual Museum website listings at http://www.mda.org.uk/vlmp/index.htm ). Many of these are used for marketing rather than education but a number of museums have embraced the web as a new means of providing improved access to their museum collections and improved interpretation. The British Museum’s Compass website at http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/compass/ and the National Maritime Museum’s ‘Search Station’ at http://www.nmm.ac.uk/searchstation/index.html are good examples. The latter includes an ‘Atlas’ element. Only a few museums have used any form of web-based GIS.


4 Who are educational heritage websites aimed at?

While some educational websites are aimed at school-age students with particular attention being paid to the needs of the National Curriculum, others are aimed at fairly specialist adult users with the information conveyed in a rather inflexible academic way. However, several new funding initiatives are concerned with assisting ‘Lifelong Learning’ with a greater emphasis on adult continuing education. The UK Government has introduced several grant schemes during 1999 and 2000 to encourage heritage organisations to develop their role in Lifelong Learning through new technology. To assist synergy between what it sees as similar ‘information providers’, the Government has sought to encourage museums, libraries and Record Offices (archives) to work together. A new body was created in April 2000 incorporating the former Museums & Galleries Commission. This new Museum, Library and Archive Council was launched under the name ‘Resource’ (http://www.resource.gov.uk/ ).

Grant-aid has offered the opportunity for organisations to develop innovative IT solutions to improve access to their museum, library and archive collections. The DCMS/MGC IT Challenge Fund, launched in 1999, was one of these aimed specifically to encourage partnerships between museums. This fund has enabled 11 partnerships of museums and like-minded partner bodies to initiate and develop imaginative projects between February 2000 and March 2001.


5 The ‘Darwin Country’ Website Project

The author is responsible for coordinating a website project called ‘Darwin Country - Cradle of Science, Technology and the Better Life!’ that has been made possible through the IT Challenge Fund. It has enabled the partnership of Shrewsbury Museums Service, the Wedgwood Museum and Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust to work together to provide something that would not have been possible in a single museum’s exhibition and make use of the nature of the web to do things that would not be feasible within the physical constraints of a real space.

We could not have contemplated a 45,000 website project if we had been required to find 50-60% of the cost which is the norm for grant-aided projects. The higher percentage level of funding provided with the IT Challenge Fund (87.5% including the West Midlands Regional Museum Council contribution) has been a very important factor in enabling the project to ‘get off the ground’.

Shropshire and Staffordshire have strong links with the Darwin family. The name ‘Darwin Country’ was chosen because of these geographical links. Charles Darwin was born and educated in Shrewsbury. His grandfather Erasmus Darwin lived in Lichfield, Staffordshire and both his son Robert (father of Charles) and Charles himself married their cousins (Wedgwoods of Maer, near Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire). ‘Darwin Country’ will provide an introduction to scientific, technological and social developments in the area during the 18th and 19th centuries and their affect on the wider world.

The site will be illustrated through the archives, paintings, decorative arts, archaeology and scientific collections of the partner museums. We have set an initial target of 3000 web pages with images. Maps will figure prominently on the site, both as museum items in their own right and as a means of complementing or accessing other information.

The technical structure of the website (developed with Orangeleaf Systems Ltd) and content are examined in more detail elsewhere (BOYD forthcoming) but the following is an examination of the principles of web-based GIS that have been explored in developing the project so far and which may be of value to others considering use of the technology.


6 What sort of maps do you want to use?

There are several different types of map that you might wish to use on your educational website:-

               Historic maps that may be museum objects in their own right and more interesting than accurate – back to the 17th century or even earlier

               Historic maps that may be used in a time sequence with other maps (including modern ones) to document changes in townscapes or landscapes

               Historic maps upon which you may wish to have your own data superimposed to complement the other content of a web page (e.g. 19th century trade routes on a 19th century world map)

               Historic maps upon which you may wish to superimpose hotspots or hyperlinks to open new web pages of information or illustrations about the places pin-pointed on the map (e.g. ‘Country Mansions’ or ceramic factories)

               Modern maps upon which to superimpose hotspots or hyperlinks to open new web pages of information or illustrations about the places pin-pointed on the map

All but the last two may be just digitised images of the maps concerned and might be termed cartography rather than GIS if one assumes that GIS implies some interactivity with the map.

Any of these maps may be straightforward topographical maps or maps made for a particular purpose such as geological maps, canal systems or the layouts of large gardens, estates or factories.

The maps may be static ‘snapshots’ of all or part of the original map or held on the website server as large digital datasets that are dynamically generated on the web page by querying the database (Active Server Pages and their equivalents).


7 If you want interactive maps - how are you going to do it?

Maps can be made interactive in several ways including:-

        hot spots applied ‘by hand’ to static maps with hyperlinks opening a new web page with or without images

        desk-top GIS workspaces converted to interactive html pages using software such as web.PublisherTM

        MS MapPoint maps with points created from MS Access database converted into web page and then the points made interactive by adding hot-spot hyperlinks ‘by-hand’

        Active Server Pages with maps and data dynamically generated by the database on server

The author uses data held on an MS AccessTM database and MapInfo ProfessionalTM to create points on the maps (BOYD 1999). Although MapInfo 6 allows a MapInfo workspace to be converted into a web page, it does not work with some data and an add-on to MapInfo called web.PublisherTM (Dataview Solutions) provides a cheap way to create interactive web pages from your data.

However, remember that for fast download times you may need to optimise the image created by web.Publisher. You treat the map image as you would do any other image for the web.

You can use web.PublisherTM in several different ways but it allows you to set it so that clicking on the points (originally created in MapInfo) on the web page will activate a url that you ascribed to that point in your original MS Access database and open a new web page. Similarly, if your website is database-driven (using ASP or equivalent technology) you can ascribe a ‘string’ in your original MS Access table that will activate the query that opens the new web page.

However, the point is that the map does not have to be generated dynamically – it is a static image with hyperlinks. This has various advantages.


8 Advantages of interactive static maps versus dynamically generated maps

With interactive static pages:-

               you have strict control over the map data made available and way it is displayed (historic or modern maps)

               you may be able to use higher quality map data as limited ‘extracts’ than you could otherwise (e.g. Ordnance Survey Landline)

               there may be shorter download times

               you don’t need expensive specialist web GIS software costing thousands of pounds and software engineers to code it for you

               much lower cost to purchase or license the data that you use

               much lower web hosting fees (you don’t have to have tens or hundreds of megabytes of map data on the server)

Therefore both the initial cost of the map data and the ongoing annual cost is much lower compared with dynamically generated maps which may mean:-

               less control over what the user of the educational site is viewing on a particular page with possibly less control over the educational ‘message’

               map data more expensive to purchase and more expensive annual licence

               more expensive web GIS software to purchase and customise

               more expensive on server space compared with static html pages

               longer download times

               lower quality map data designed for faster downloads on the web and designed to be not as detailed as other data such as OS Landline

Whichever approach you use, your data can be held on a database to create the points on maps of different scales. This is an advantage over hand-applied hotspots which are OK if you have only a few points to apply but not if you have dozens or hundreds!


9 The copyright problem!

You probably have no problem with copyright of maps that you want to use on the web if:-

               the maps that you want to use are ‘out of copyright’ (e.g. over 50 years old in the case of UK Ordnance Survey maps)

               you created the maps yourself (not traced from the Ordnance Survey!)

               the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of the map data makes it absolutely clear that you may use it

Remember that if someone has reprinted or digitised an old map to create a new product, they probably now have a copyright interest in the new product. However, if you own an original copy of the out-of-copyright map, you can probably use it freely. If in doubt check it out! In the UK, some of the most valuable mapping for heritage education purposes is that of the Ordnance Survey. They need to be treated as a special case!


10 Ordnance Survey maps and copyright

Ordnance Survey mapping is an invaluable resource for anyone involved with heritage research or heritage interpretation in Britain whether they are concerned with natural or man-made heritage. The Ordnance Survey itself is part of our heritage with their earliest maps dating to the 18th century. Their maps allow one to trace natural and man-made changes in rural landscapes, townscapes and cityscapes over a period of over 200 years.

Ordnance Survey maps which are over 50 years old from the end of the year in which they were published are out of copyright and may be photographed, digitised and reproduced in print or on the web without charge. However, Ordnance Survey ask that they are credited in the form ‘Reproduced from Ordnance Survey map … published in ….’. Therefore if you have an original copy of an Ordnance Survey map over 50 years old you may digitise it and use it without restriction.

However, it is possible to purchase historic OS maps from Landmark Information Group Ltd. in digital form (http://www.landmark-information.co.uk ). Because Landmark has produced a new product based on the historic maps there is a new copyright on those products. Therefore, the use of extracts of their map products on the web is a matter for negotiation with the company - not Ordnance Survey.

The position regarding the use of Ordnance Survey’s modern map products (less than 50 years old) is complicated. It seems that for the use of static images it is as follows (as of August 2000):-

        most of the OS digitised maps may be used on the web without charge except OS Landline vector mapping and OS 1:10,000 raster mapping (e.g. Boundary Line vector and 1:50,000 raster - the latter is the equivalent of OS Landranger printed maps - can be used without charge or limit on the land area that may be displayed on the screen at one time).

        Ordnance Survey places strict restrictions on the use of OS Landline and 1:10,000 mapping.

        one may obtain a licence to use static extracts of these Landline and 1:10,000 maps on the web (i.e. static bits of map ‘extracted’ from larger areas of mapping).

        these static extracts of map may be displayed on ‘hand-crafted’ website pages or dynamically generated pages on a database-driven website but the map extracts themselves may not be generated dynamically from a database of digital mapping on the web server.

        Ordnance Survey will issue a licence for the owner of a website to deploy up to 1000 extracts of OS Landline or 1:10,000 scale maps according to the rule that each extract must not exceed about 200 square centimetres at the original source scale (i.e. 14cm x 14cm).

        the cost of each extract is 4.50 per year with a minimum charge of 45 per year (i.e. equivalent of 10 extracts). Local Authorities may use such extracts at no charge but they have to apply for a special licence. It is not part of the standard agreement.

        to assess what the size restriction means in real terms you can open your Landline map within your GIS as normally and adjust the settings to show the scale at which it displays. For example, alter the settings to display at 1mm=1250mm or 1cm=1250cm (because the native scale of urban Landline is 1:1250). If you use a ruler showing centimetres and place it on the screen to show a length of 14cm this will give you an idea of the area of 14cm x 14cm that your extract can measure

        if the area of map allowed is too small to show what you want on the web you have the option of appealing to Ordnance Survey Copyright Department for a decision on your particular needs.

        their decision whether or not to allow the suggested use will depend in part on the particular use to which you wish to put their data, in part on how much outside their ‘rule of thumb’ you wish to digress and in part on the ‘qualitative content’ of the data you wish to use.

        assessment of the latter, like the other aspects, is down to them but will depend, for example, on how up-to-date the data is in the version of Landline you wish to use or how many layers of data you may wish to include – if you only wished to display ‘roads’ and ‘water’ layers or other less than complete combinations of layers of Landline they might agree to you using a larger area than otherwise. If you were superimposing your own data on the Landline extract to an extent that limited the use to which anyone else might put the resultant map, this would also affect their decision.

These notes refer to static map extracts. Ordnance Survey’s other products for use on the web are classed under Business-Geographics and are not considered here.

Ordnance Survey do try to be helpful - ask them about your particular case - if in doubt - ask! However, don’t forget that whatever you want to do with copyrighted OS maps less than 50 years old you will need a licence.

The good news is that Ordnance Survey is actively looking at ways in which to make the use of their data on the web less restrictive – at least for Local Government users. An announcement on this is expected in Autumn 2000.


11 Pressures on the use of web-based GIS –buyers beware!

If you are exploring the use of GIS on your website – be wary. Those nice software resellers may suggest that you need something that you don’t. If you are a commercial organisation and can weigh investment against profit – they may be right. However, if you are a museum or other heritage organisation ‘strapped for cash’, there may be a cheaper option. It may not be quite so ‘elegant’ or ‘sexy’ as dynamically generated maps but it might do you job you require at a fraction of the cost.


12 Conclusion

        the natural and man-made heritage of the United Kingdom is important to its economy as well as providing a significant part of its unique identity

        heritage sites and natural or man-made objects in museums have a geographical association

        access to museum collections, heritage sites and heritage objects ‘in the field’ may be enhanced through the use of educational websites utilising web-based GIS

        web-based GIS has become something that heritage organisations should consider as a means to enhance their educational role as well as attract use of their other services

        a partnership headed by Shrewsbury Museums Service is developing a large heritage-related educational website that will include web-based GIS as one means of accessing information

        the ‘Darwin Country’ website will employ GIS to provide spatially related access to information on the site about scientific, technological and social developments within part of the West Midlands during the 18th and 19th centuries - and their influence on the wider world

        The first stages of the database-driven website ‘went public’ at http://www.darwincountry.org in August 2000 and the main ‘content development’ of the project will take place between August 2000 and March 2001

        There are alternative technologies, copyright and other matters to be considered when developing such an enterprise

        Do you really need active server pages or their equivalent? If you do for your database-driven site - you don’t have to have the maps dynamically generated as well – you may be able to do what you want with static interactive or non-interactive pages for far lower cost!

        You don’t need an expensive solution to enter into web-based GIS – you can have interactive maps on your website for a few pounds!


Further Reading

BOYD, P.D.A. forthcoming ‘Cradle of Science, Technology and the Better Life!’ – a case study In Clicks and Mortar Proceedings of Museum Documentation Association Conference September 2000

BOYD, P.D.A. 1999. GIS in Museums - a case study. In Access to Better Information. Association for Geographic Information Conference Proceedings 1999, 8.9.1-8.9.7 [web version available at http://www.peterboyd.com ]

British Museum’s Compass website at http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/compass/

Campaign for Museums and the Museum Documentation Association 24-Hour Museum website at http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk (funded by Department for Culture Media and Sport)

Darwin Country website at http://www.darwincountry.org

Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) website at http://www.culture.gov.uk

English Nature’s website at http://www.english-nature.org.uk

Europa Technologies website at http://www.europa-tech.com/

Friends of the Earth UK ‘Wild Places’ website at http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/biodiversity_and_habitats/wildplaces/

Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust’s website at http://www.ironbridge.org.uk/

Kilmartin House Argyll Monuments website at http://www.kilmartin.org/

Landmark Information Group’s website at http://www.landmark-information.co.uk and downloadable historic maps at http://www.old-maps.co.uk/

MapInfo Professional and MapInfo Proviewer web site at http://www.mapinfo.com

Microsoft Access and MapPoint 2001 web site at http://www.microsoft.com and http://www.microsoft.com/uk/office/mappoint/

Museum Cornucopia website at http://www.cornucopia.org.uk

Museum Documentation Association’s Virtual Museum website at http://www.mda.org.uk/vlmp/

National Grid for Learning’s website at http://www.ngfl.gov.uk/ngfl

National Maritime Museum’s Search Station website at http://www.nmm.ac.uk/searchstation/index.html

New Opportunities Fund’s website at http://www.nof.org.uk

Orangeleaf Systems Ltd’s website at http://www.orangeleaf.com

Ordnance Survey’s website at http://www.ordsvy.gov.uk/

Resource’s website (includes what was formerly the Museums & Galleries Commission) at http://www.resource.gov.uk/

Scottish Museums’ SCRAN website at http://www.scran.ac.uk/

Shrewsbury Museums Service’s website at http://www.shrewsburymuseums.com

Wedgwood’s website at http://www.wedgwood.co.uk


Figures below from original paper not available at present:-

Figure 1

Home Page of the Darwin Country website – an educational heritage website

Figure 2

An example of a simple interactive map created with web.PublisherTM showing points originally created from grid references in a MS AccessTM database and MapInfo ProfessionalTM using GridSquareTM. The new web page is opened when you click on a point.



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Peter D. A. Boyd.
Copyright 2001 Peter D. A. Boyd. All rights reserved.
Revised: December 30th, 2001