Watch Dr. Anne Kelly Knowles’s Bilson Lecture, delivered during her 2014 visit to the HGIS Lab.

The Historical GIS Lab unites history and geography to explore change through time and variation across space.  Merging historical methods with Geographic Information Systems technology opens up innovative analytical possibilities for historical research. Affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of History, the HGIS Lab supports faculty researchers from a variety of disciplines, graduate students in master’s and Ph.D. programs, and a variety of government agencies and community groups.


Historical GIS begins with archival maps.

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, is a computer-based mapping and spatial analysis technology.  GIS is a specialized database software that makes it possible to link map features—points, lines, areas—to information about those places, such as the population of cities, the speed limit along highways, or the land use of property parcels.  The kinds of information that a GIS can contain are unlimited.  Another variety of GIS represents space as a raster grid, especially well suited to remote sensing analysis using satellite images or air photos.  Once a set of map features are assembled in a GIS and populated with attribute information, many powerful analytical tools become available.  Researchers can overlay multiple map layers on top of one another to explore spatial relationships, for example the connection between land use and soil type. They can test for clustering or dispersion of spatial phenomena or plot the relative resistance of various paths across a landscape.

GIS has been employed in many academic disciplines and industries for a diverse variety of applications.  The Historical GIS Lab focuses on the use of GIS technology for historical research.  Most GIS is confined to exploring spatial relationships; we add a time dimension.  At its most basic, HGIS recovers historical maps from archives and digitizes them for graphic enhancement and publication.  Thematic mapping of historical data—such as census, vital statistics, or econometric data—can reveal patterns never before seen.  Powerful tools analyze digitized historical maps in order to understand the past more fully.


Printing banners on the HGIS Lab’s wide format printer.

The Historical GIS Lab provides a variety of services to both on-campus and distant clients.  We digitize historical maps, process attribute data, custom-design publication-ready maps for use in journal articles or books, provide consulting, and develop full-blown HGIS projects for clients.  For on-campus users we provide wide-format and custom printing and a variety of custom scanning services, including wide-format scanning, microform scanning, and bulk scanning to pdf.  See our Services & Data pages for full details.

Funding for the Historical GIS Lab comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Saskatchewan Innovation and Science Fund, the College of Arts and Science, the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, and the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan.

Please contact us with any inquiries you may have.


HGIS Lab Staff

Mail and Courier

Jane Westhouse
Historical GIS Laboratory
211 Kirk Hall
117 Science Place
University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, SK S7N 5C8

Phone, fax, and email:

(306) 966-1333 (phone)
(306) 966-5852 (fax)



The Historical GIS Lab is located at 211 Kirk Hall on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan.