EAUH Conference 2018


Session M37. New Technologies and Methods for Historical Cadastral Studies (1500-1950)

Coordinators: Isabella Di Lenardo (, Frederic Kaplan (

The ongoing digitisation of cadastral sources offer new potentials for Urban History. Cadastre (land registries) are the first large scale numeric survey of the city in Europe and Overseas. In addition, these metric maps can be used to realign many other historical information extracted from other documentary sources.
For this reason, the historical cadastral data, extracted from maps and registers, are not only the key source for reconstructing the evolution of a city through the land development but also to understand other social and economic data.

Many cadastral sources are now on line at the disposal of scholars and the general public. Even if they were elaborated in different contexts and historical periods, they were generally produced for similar purposes and can therefore be used to retrace the evolution of properties, taxation, social composition of people, and other spatial-temporal relationships. To fully exploit historical cadastral sources, several technical and methodological challenges remain to be tackled.

From the technical point of view, images of cadastral sources must be first transformed into vectors. This includes several challenging steps that will be discussed in this session : machine vision methods for interpreting cadastral drawings, georeferencing strategies, automatic diachronic alignment, automatic associating of cadastral identifiers with associated information in registers, etc. As existing systems that tackled some of these challenges are usefully adapted to a specific typology of cadastres, it is important to progress towards more generic solutions capable of adapting to larger variety of drawing conventions.

From a methodological point of view, the possibly of exploiting such large amount of historical information invites to formulate new historical questions and consider new kinds of answers. Essentially, full processing of cadastral information allows for the first time to analyse the entire city structure beyond specific cases studies. This permits to cross the gap between qualitative and quantitive studies, replacing it by continuous multiscale approaches.

The sessions will discuss the historical relevance of cadastral digital studies, focusing in particular on cases in which such approaches have led to the requisitioning previous assumption concerning the morphology, the sociology and the economy of the city. Through the comparative studies of different cities, the ambition of this session is to discuss how cadastral studies may shed new light on the processes of change and persistence throughout time and space.
Keywords: urban history; cadastre; digital history; HGIS