Urban Commons Workshop

Mapping Historical Urban Commons: Concept note

To accommodate people from multiple timezones, this Workshop will be offered twice: 

DATE: May 6, 2021

TIME: 2:00pm - 6:00pm Indian Standard Time (UTC +5:30)


DATE: May 7, 2021

TIME: 9:00am - 1:00pm Indian Standard Time (UTC +5:30)



Enakshi Bhar, Hita Unnikrishnan, and Harini Nagendra

Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India


The use of geospatial technology has become an integral part of all walks of life today – for example, day to day navigation around neighborhoods, to its applicability in answering a multitude of research questions about landscapes. This is certainly true of urban social-ecological systems (SES) research where land use and land cover changes form an integral part of data which informs theory and discourse. GIS methods are also a useful tool to address a critical gap in urban commons research – that of the poverty of history on the commons – the paucity of research that investigates historical urban SES transformations. Using historical maps from various time periods and sources, one can visualize landscapes of the past and compare it to those of the present-day to understand the extent to which urban spaces have transformed over time, and further what happens to urban commons in those time intervals.

However, in order to do so, one must develop familiarity with both basic techniques of mapping as well as understand how to work with historical imagery in the form of hand-drawn maps, or old toposheets. In this workshop, we aim to introduce participants to the basics of mapping with historical imagery and Google Earth Maps using the open-source GIS platform called QGIS.

This workshop does not assume that participants possess any prior knowledge and skills with respect to geospatial techniques and is open to all who are interested. This will be a 4 hour workshop.


A reasonably good internet connection, QGIS preinstalled on a laptop or computer.

Note: Links and instructions to installing QGIS will be provided to the participants two weeks prior to the workshop. Participants are advised to install the software and report any technical issues they may encounter to the organizers one week prior to the event. We will also provide the required imagery to participants at the same time. 

Structure of workshop

  1. Introduction to a topographic and Google Earth maps: Presentation (20 minutes)
  2. Introducing georeferencing: Live demonstration of georeferencing a historical map so that participants understand how and why this is done. Note: in the interest of time and potential differences in participant internet connectivities, this is designed as a live demonstration, however notes on the procedure followed will be circulated to participants. (30 minutes)
  3. Mapping exercises (2 hours): Here, participants will
    1. Develop hands-on experience of mapping using historical images
    2. Learn how to map out their environment using vector models such as points, lines, and polygons. They will also learn how to create a basic geospatial database for each vector model and how to label features on the map.
    3. Learn how to create an aesthetically appealing map from these vector models for use in various purposes such as publications, websites, etc
    4. Learn how to compare and contrast between maps of different time periods in order to identify landscape change over time
  4. Illustrative examples from our own case studies (20 minutes)
  5. Questions and Discussion – 20 minutes
    Coffee breaks will be scheduled for 10 minutes after every hour of the workshop.

Coffee breaks will be scheduled for 10 minutes after every hour of the workshop.