A Review of Pastmapper.com

Welcome to my spatiotemporal GIS blog! Here I intend to publish reviews, questions and links to interesting studies, presentations and products dealing with old maps, GIS, GIS and genealogy and anything else tangentially related or interesting.

We’re going to start it off with a short review of Pastmapper.com which describes itself as “a new platform for describing the world of the past“.

Pastmapper presents San Francisco in 1853, 1914 and 2012 and San Mateo in 1853 and 2012. It overlays the old city directory information as points of interest on the map. They have several city directories available for different cities, but it doesn’t look like the other cities have been mapped yet.

One thing I really like about Pastmapper is that they provide a separate base map for 1853 and the present, allowing you to see how far San Francisco has extended into the sea. The points of interest don’t move between the two maps, and there’s no indication of which points are still around and which have disappeared. This is beneficial if you’re trying to find the present-day location of an old establishment, but could be confusing if points of interest were shown from more than one time period, or if more than one time period were available.

Animated Past Mapper screenshot, switching between 1853 and 1812

Animated Past Mapper screenshot, switching between 1853 and 1812

In one of their blog posts Pastmapper says “Online maps today simply add layers of information onto today’s map. Pastmapper is a first step towards answering ‘What was here?’ or ‘Whatever happened to..?’, by delivering a map, not just a data layer, that takes a fourth-dimensional view.“. On this count Pastmapper does a nice job.

Their main page says that they are a “new platform for describing the world of the past” but it’s unclear when Pastmapper will be available for others to use, if at all. What’s on the website is an Alpha release, so it’s possible that we’ll all get to play with it some day with our own data and locations.

Lastly, for anyone who is concerned about the state of the project a tweet from just a few days ago indicates that the project is still alive:


My brain is exploding thanks to @andrewxhill‘s talk on @cartoDB at @sotmus. Pastmapper will be getting cooler soon.


Hopefully we’ll see some updates we can play with soon!