Historical maps and plans are held in many archives and record offices. They may appear within many different kinds of archival collection, including landed family and estate collections, business and company archives, papers of associations and societies, political and diplomatic papers, and so on.
They are also held in the National Archives, within the records of particular government departments.
Because they are such a specialist medium, maps and plans can sometimes be a challenge to use, and it is not always immediately obvious just what can be learned from them. The information provided within this skills unit, then, aims to assist researchers in their understanding and interpretation of historical maps and plans.
This may seem to be an incredibly simple question, but in fact, the answer is much more difficult than it may at first appear. In essence, all maps and plans are historical documents - however modern they may be - because they are representations of a particular place at a particular point in time.
They are one of the oldest forms of human communication, and in some early societies they pre-dated literacy. Fundamentally, maps and plans are graphic symbols, with a set of governing conventions, which communicate a sense of 'place'. As a result, they allow the user to gain varied insights about that particular place and aspects of its history.
Throughout the unit, illustrative images are taken from the collections held by Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham.
This unit was written in August 2006.