UCL Centre for Digital Humanities


[ONLINE] Finding Alternatives to Web Mercator in the Geography of Hans Sloane’s Collection

11 June 2024, 3:30 pm–4:45 pm

sloane lab 2024 series

Sloane Lab and HDSM Darmstadt are pleased to welcome Gethin Rees, Lead Curator in Digital Mapping at the British Library.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Marco Humbel, UCLDH Associate Director (ECR)

This presentation offers a critical evaluation of the Web Mercator projection and its use to visualise and present humanities and heritage data. How can the historical processes that formed collections inform the design of web maps? Ongoing research as a Sloane Lab community fellow links and visualises digital collections from the British Museum and British Library using web maps. This presentation will:  

  • Explain why the use of Web Mercator in this context is problematic from visualisation and historical perspectives.   
  • Introduce alternative projections and provide technical guidance for their application.  

The Web Mercator projection predominates in web mapping yet is unsuitable for the aims of Sloane Lab, first, due to well-documented visual compromises —the inflation of landmasses at high latitudes like Europe at the expense of others like Africa and the Caribbean— that hamper visual analysis and recreate global inequities. Second, the projection has a history, entangled with processes like colonialism, empire and slavery that also shaped Sloane’s collection. Web map components including Open Layers and MapBoxGL offer different projections and issues in implementation will be discussed including open-source and technical requirements. These alternatives can foster thought-provoking reinvention of web maps and responsible engagement with public communities. 

Register for the Zoom event and view the full seminar series programme: https://critical-creative.eventbrite.co.uk

The Sloane Lab Seminar Series is convened by Marco Humbel (Sloane Lab & UCLDH), Nadezhda Povroznik (TU Darmstadt), Julianne Nyhan (TU Darmstadt & UCL) and Andrew Flinn (UCL). Administrative support is provided by Lucy Stagg (UCLDH & UCL IAS).

This joint virtual seminar is co-hosted by University College London, TU Darmstadt, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.

The symposium is funded by the Towards a National Collection programme (Arts and Humanities Research Council) as an activity of the Sloane Lab Discovery Project.

About the Speaker

Gethin Rees

Lead Curator, Digital Mapping at The British Library

Gethin Rees’ role at the British Library includes helping to manage the non-print legal deposit of digital maps and coordinating the Georeferencer crowd-sourcing project (https://www.bl.uk/projects/georeferencer). He is interested in helping research projects to get the most out of geospatial data and tools and was principal investigator of the AHRC-funded Locating a National Collection project (https://britishlibrary.github.io/locating-a-national-collection). Before taking up his current position in 2018 he worked on two collaborative history projects funded by the ERC and as a software developer. His PhD in archaeology from University of Cambridge made use of Geographical Information Systems for spatial analysis and data management.