Is there a source for historical shapefiles and tiles? Like the ancient Greece/Rome, medieval Europe and Japan? Ideally with multiple snapshots during different periods in their development, since they've gone through quite a bit of restructuring over their lifespans.

  • 9
    sorry they didn't have shape files back then. :)
    – Brad Nesom
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 14:27
  • 3
    but we do now, and we have maps from back then... I was actually very surprised that my google search revealed nothing useful in this regard.
    – Alex K
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 14:40
  • My guess would be that most of the effort (=money) being spent is in the research area, which has traditionally utilized raster analysis (probably grass). And so not much effort spent converting the data to vector.
    – Brad Nesom
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 15:29
  • is the tiles in your title referring to raster tiles or are you just interested in historic data as shape file and/or raster images?
    – Brad Nesom
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 18:30
  • 1
    @BradNesom both, the rasters would be nice for visual, but shapefiles are technically all I need.
    – Alex K
    Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 5:12

5 Answers 5


Here's a couple ideas:

Japan: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~chgis/japan/

Ancient World: http://pleiades.stoa.org/

  • You tagged a five year old answer for this? lol
    – neuhausr
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 13:08

take a look at: http://nils.weidmann.ws/projects/cshapes

Quote from the website: "CShapes is a new dataset that provides historical maps of state boundaries and capitals in the post-World War II period. The dataset is coded according to both the Correlates of War and the Gleditsch and Ward (1999) state lists, and is therefore compatible with a great number of existing databases in the discipline. Provided in a geographic data format, CShapes can be used directly with standard GIS software, allowing a wide range of spatial computations. In addition, we supply a CShapes package for the R statistical toolkit. This package enables researchers without GIS skills to perform various useful operations on the GIS maps"

Update: Version2 of Cshapes can be found here: https://icr.ethz.ch/data/cshapes/

  • This link is dead, thus not working nowadays.
    – Trikelians
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 6:23
  • 1
    @Trikelians added new link for new version2 of cshapes
    – Kurt
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 15:53

Here’s something for the US.

The National Historical Geographic Information System (NHGIS) provides, free of charge, aggregate census data and GIS-compatible boundary files for the United States between 1790 and 2010.



Great Britain has http://visionofbritain.org.uk/

Using Scanned Maps that have been georeferenced and combined with historical elements, census, election results and more.

Example - Ordnance Survey Unions 1803


more info on the project: http://visionofbritain.org.uk/index.jsp


I don't have a link for data but this use case is extremely interesting.

coincidental post on another site.
Q: Just for the sake of curiosity Tom, what type of projects are you doing with such a powerful machine?

A: "Glad you asked. The primary use is in attempting to locate the precise camera location of a set of exposures taken somewhere on the Gettysburg battlefield one day after the battle. The ArcObject program I wrote attempts to do this by matching the 2 dimensional horizon visible in one of the exposures with that visible from every 10' x 10' location on the historical battlefield. Rays are projected toward the horizon at every 4 degree increment. Using a sort algorithm the inclination and distance to the horizon is determined. From this a 2-D horizon is calculated and match attempted... The result is 90 10'x10' rasters with a value that reflects the likelyhood of matching. A total run takes just 30 days using all the processors. There is also a spatial model that uses 1863 Shapefile to reflect other elements visible in the exposures (water, slope, ground cover, etc.). This model produces 90 additional raster that are combined with the first set... Ultimately producing suggested camera locations and viewing directions; which require field trips to evaluate and update the models... "

Linkedin Group
Re-post from a linkedin group. Now that is digging into history!

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