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I've been looking for a while for Historical GIS datasets. In a lot of places (also in answers here at StackExchange), people are referring to a great dataset at ThinkQuest, which contains detailed shapefiles for many years inbetween 2000 BC and 1994 for the whole world (I am interested in Europe, in particular).

But since ThinkQuest has been discontinued, the archive is only accessible through the ThinkQuest Library. Unfortunately, this archive does not contain the actual downloads of the datasets...

Does anybody know where I can find these datasets, or is there maybe someone who downloaded these in the past willing to share them here?

Note: Earlier I have asked this question at gis.stackexchange.com, but I was informed that the question would be better suited at this stackexchange.

  • 1
    As you're looking for a specific dataset, without knowing what license it was released under might mean that this isn't necessarily the best place to ask the question. (but I guess other sites are pushing all of the 'looking for (something vaguely like data)' questions to us.). In the case of trying to find people who have copies of it, I'd think GIS.SE would be a better fit (as there are more GIS folks there). – Joe Dec 9 '15 at 17:46
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For US data, the NHGIS project is by far the best source. From their home page:

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 2014.

I also found that the Association of American Geographers runs this Historical GIS Clearinghouse and Forum which seems like a good route to pursue.

Finally, generally speaking, you may want to add "digital humanities" to your search criteria, as it's a good general umbrella for work that would make use of historical GIS. Here is a long list of Digital Humanities (DH) GIS projects

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You can now download certain historical datasets for the US directly within R, using the USABoundaries package. The code to do so is straightforward. For example, to download a shapefile containing the boundaries of US counties in 1910:

library(sf)
library(USAboundaries)
map <- us_counties(map_date = "1910-01-01", resolution = "high") 
st_write(obj = map, dsn = "us-counties-1910.shp")

This writes the four files necessary for an ESRI shapefile in your working directory.

us-counties-1910.dbf
us-counties-1910.shp
us-counties-1910.prj
us-counties-1910.shx

To install the USABoundaries package, run the following code from within R:

install.packages("USAboundariesData", repos = "http://packages.ropensci.org", dependencies = TRUE)
install.packages("USABoundaries", repos = "http://cran.us.r-project.org", dependencies = TRUE)

You can also plot the shapefile within R, e.g. to verify that it's correct, with plot(st_geometry(map)):

1910 shapefile of US counties

The shapefile is stored in R as a simple data frame, with a geometry column that specifies the polygons. This means that you can work with it using standard R techniques, e.g. tidyverse. If you want only the contiguous United States:

library(sf)
library(USAboundaries)
library(tidyverse)

map <- us_counties(map_date = "1910-01-01", resolution = "high") %>%
  filter(state_name != "Alaska" & state_name != "Hawaii")
plot(st_geometry(map))

This produces a map like this:

1910 contiguous United States

As an aside, the USABoundaries package contains boundaries for US states (with the us_states function) and locations of US cities (with the us_cities) function. It also includes historical shapefiles for as back as you want. Change the map_date parameter in the us_counties function to call to 1750, for example, and you'll get:

1750 United States

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