Czech cartographers and historians launch unique online atlas of Czech history

Czech Historical Atlas

Locations of Hussite battles, parliamentary election results, but also maps of lookout towers or Word War I prisons – all this and much more can be found in a unique online atlas launched by the Czech Academy of Sciences earlier this month. The website, called Czech Historical Atlas, was put together by history and cartography experts.

The Czech Historical Atlas is intended for anyone interested in Czech and Czechoslovak history. It offers dozens of historical and thematic maps from the Middle Ages to the present day. The website, which is also available in English, uses the latest GIS technologies and is accessible free of charge.

The online atlas is the result of a five-year project funded by the Ministry of Culture. It was put together by experts from the Historical Institute of the Academy of Sciences and the Faculty of Civil Engineering of the Czech Technical University.

Czech Historical Atlas | Photo: Czech Historical Atlas

Jiří Cajthaml, Associate Professor at the Department of Geomatics at the Faculty of Civil Engineering of the Czech Technical University, explains what it was like for him to cooperate with a team of historians.

“The historians wanted to publish as much information as they could. We as cartographers had to keep things in check. The interactivity and different measuring scales of the maps enabled us to add a lot of details, but you still cannot include everything in the map, you have to select the really important things. So this was sometimes a source of conflict between the historians and the cartographers.”

Czech Historical Atlas | Photo: Czech Historical Atlas

The online atlas is based on a printed Czech Historical Atlas, which came out several years ago, and on its more recent online version. All the maps available in the online atlas are interactive - using a slider, you can switch between different maps to get a detailed picture of a certain moment in the country’s history.

Users can trace the student protest march from Albertov to Národní třída in November 1989, for instance, or follow the routes taken by Soviet, Polish and other soldiers during the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Rather than chronologically, the maps in the Czech Historical Atlas  are arranged in thematic chapters, explains professor Eva Semotánová from the Historic Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences:

Eva Semotanová | Photo: Hynek Bulíř,  Czech Radio

“We tried to highlight the most interesting areas that illustrate what happened on our country’s territory in the past. That is for instance Borders and Territories, Religion and Faith, Populations, Landscape and Humans. Within these broad groups you can find more detailed information, which is presented in chronological order.”

Besides providing maps and historical details on crucial moments in the country’s history, the Czech Historical Atlas is also full of interesting details.

Among many things, it offers information about various ethnic minorities in different regions and periods, but also about Czech expat communities in the world.

Some of the data provided, such as the maps of lookout towers or pilgrimage sites, have never been processed by cartographers before.