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Washington, D.C., History Resources

A guide to the local history resources available on the District of Columbia.

Geography and Maps -- Introduction

Maps are powerful illustrations of spatial relationships. Researchers can use them to learn about the natural environment; transportation systems including streets, railroads, and canals; residential patterns; the location of landmarks and communal institutions; political boundaries; and living conditions. The sheer number of maps drawn of the District of Columbia and surrounding counties demonstrates that maps can be reconfigured to help anyone illustrate any aspect of urban development. 

This guide is designed for anyone interested in maps. Most researchers are simply interested in finding maps that can help them identify the location of an address or visualize the geography of the city. Others are interested in creating maps of their own to illustrate environmental features, demographic and residential patterns, voting patterns, and changes in infrastructure. This guide also suggests sources and methods that can help map makers, particularly those using digital tools such as arcGIS, Tableau, or Story Maps.

The vast majority of available maps and other illustrative views are centered upon the architectural development of the District, but this guide encourages researchers to create other types of visualizations, particularly of the places that have meaning for the marginalized groups who rented from developers and other property owners. Use the census and other genealogical sources, cultural resource surveys and archaeological reports, and other resources to explore the impact of racial segregation and the relationship of marginalized residents to the environment, transportation and sanitary systems, local businesses, and the institutions within their neighborhoods.

Map makers should consult with other areas of this guide, particularly the photographs and images, digital projects, and genealogy and personal history.

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