History, nature and land use changes, it all comes together in ‘Verborgen wildernis’ (Hidden Wildernes) by Kester Freriks. It is a book describes about twenty five former ‘wildernesses’ in the Netherlands, in their current and historical context and based on and illustrated by historical maps. These include maps from the ‘De Atlas der Neederlanden‘ (atlas of the Netherlands), part of the special collections of the University of Amsterdam). It gives a good idea of what [wilderness] has been lost, but also what can still be found, if only one wants to find it. See this website for an interview with the author (in Dutch).
Reading the book I became curious about what historical maps of the Netherlands would be available online. A quick search yielded amongst others http://watwaswaar.nl/ (what is where). This is “a national platform for disclosing historical-geographical information on the Netherlands to a wider audience”. The website allows you to search through time and place to find maps, images and family history, with links to the sources of these materials. It has a very nice setup, but is in Dutch only. This site gives the atlas of the Netherlands of 1968 and is also in Dutch. Sites with a wider scope, but including links to historical maps for the Netherlands can be found on this site and this site.
Very different historical land use maps can be found on the website of Alterra of the Wageningen university. It has a raster database with 50x50m resolution raster layers with general land cover and use classes for 1900, 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1990 (i.e., depicting relative recent land use and land use changes). You’ll need to pay and prices are per km2 coverage!
In summary, there are a few nice sites. Historical maps are mostly available as images (again, I only did a quick search and there might be more out there). But if you only want to do a visual comparison of historical and current patterns in e.g., land use, you can juxtapose the images. For a more detailed comparison you probably want to overlay the images. If they come in the same map projection and the same boundaries or landmarks, you can simply do this in any program that work with layers and can import image files. For example in GIMP and Inkscape you can import the images in separate layers, align them easily and set different transparency levels per layer.
The best approach, especially if images come in different map projections, is to use a dedicated GIS application with the option to geo-reference your map(s). A very good tool to do so is the georeferencer plugin in QGIS. I’ll post an example in one of my next posts.