TLCMap in One Hour

This quick introduction was produced for the Australian Centre for Public History digital history workshop, 13/05/2021. A recording can be found on the ACPH Youtube Channel

About TLCMap

Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge where I live and work and where this software is produced is Awabakal and Worimi land and water. I'm in Mulubinba, or Newcastle, which means 'place of ferns'. Where I come from they are called 'Bungwall ferns', the roots are a staple food.

TLCMap was initiated with a 1 year ARC LIEF grant and this year is funded by an ARDC platforms grant.

Time Layered Cultural Map is a platform of digital mapping tools that aim to make digital mapping easier for humanities researchers.

Software Ecosystem

The aim of TLCMap is not to replicate functionality you can get elsewhere, but to provide mapping tools for humanities mapping that are lacking in other GIS systems. This means we try to make components that can work alone, but also can work together as part of a greater whole, or workflow.


This means using open standards so that data can be imported and exported. We focus on CSV (Excel spreadsheets can be saved as CSV) and the mapping file formats: KML and GeoJSON.

No project without a platform. No platform without a project.

Development is driven by the needs of humanities projects to ensure it is useful. We also focus on making sure any development for a project can be used for other similar projects. The projects are undertaken by the academics on the grants as use cases, proof of concepts, demonstrations, but the aim is that others will use TLCMap.

Rapid development

We hope to get critical mass of contributions of humanities information, by making it useful to individuals for individual projects. We have a 5 year institutional commitment to support the platform, and any work you put in can be exported for use in other systems, so your work won't be locked in, lost or wasted. The most important thing is that TLCMap is useful to humanities researchers, so your feedback helps drive our development in the right direction. Development is always ongoing. Don't wait until it is 'finished' to start using it, as it will never be finished. Use it for what you can at the moment, and let us know what you wish it could do. Having said that, we aren't Google or Microsoft. We are a small team with limited resources so all suggestions are heard, they must be prioritised and it may take time to respond.


Humanities researchers are often interested time as well as space - the history of how things came to be, narratives of biography, journeys and so on. Time is conceptualised in ways not limited to scientific methods, and not limited to time series analysis that may be found in GIS systems.

For example: Sometimes we do use scientific methods, such as looking for demographic correlations such as whether crime corresponds with income level. However, we might also be interested in highly contingent historical events, that don't repeat and have countless causes and effects, not just the statistical analysis of consistently measured events in a controlled environment. Digital Humanities is not just about applying IT and scientific techniques to humanities but, perhaps more importantly, adapting IT to some fundamental epistemic and ontological differences in Humanities. This involves exploring and connecting information across datasets or through 'layers', or simply linking dates to other resources such as multimedia.

We might also be interested in other ways of structuring time that can't be fixed to a point on timeline, such as cyclical time. Some of the more experimental TLCMap development is to support these structures beyond a basic timeline.

Also, many IT systems, including GIS systems cannot handle dates prior to some point in modern history, such as years before an arbitrary moment in modern history (such as 1900), without 4 digits (such as 786AD or 10,000BC). Although not relevant to all, it is a crucial hindrance for many projects.

TLCMap aim to support any date in the formats YYYY-MM-DD, DD/MM/YYYY, or YYYY, with any amount of years, and with a minus sign to indicate BC dates, eg: -10000.

For more information on how TLCMap handles time, see the main map course section on Time.


TLCMap is not a map of 'all the culture' in Australia - yet in a way it is.

Sometimes people have the impression that TLCMap is a single map of 'all the culture' in Australia. To make such a thing is, of course, impossible. The amount of information on the map would be impossible to navigate. Nobody could claim to provide a single authoritative version. It could never be completed as culture has endless nuance, is ongoing, and there is always new research.

Also, the needs of humanities researchers are often idiosyncratic, and need customisation for that particular project. This is a big problem for IT platforms, which must find ways to establish methods that can be used in common by many people.

TLCMap creates tools that enable humanities researchers and others to create maps, to link these maps to other information, media and database, specific to their idiosyncratic needs, and to contribute these maps to a spatio-temporal index that can be searched by time and place and other factors. A 'deep map' of a wide range of information, deepening the meaning of places, for those who view this information. Places, people and events become connected and associated with eachother through this information, in a wider web of meaning in context.

This means that the 'map of culture' can continue to grow, without any single dictatorial authority, catering to a wide range of needs for different types of information, and people can search within and across all these spatio-temporal layers. Simply asking 'what is here' with a search, can reveal many events and entities associated with a place leading to datasets perhaps on the biography of an travelling musician, on the demographics of convicts, on the meaning of the placename in Indigenous language, newspaper articles on 19th century bushfires, accounts of missions, and its mention in fiction and so on. These individual points and datasets can also link out to their sources and to other tools that provide functionality relevant to that resource.

Main Tools and Features

This is a workshop, so we will walk through the main features of 2 or 3 of the main TLCMap tools. Other tools are in development or prototype form.

I'll show the main features so you know what these tools can do. You can try using them while I talk, with the same data provided, or your own project. Then after each we'll have 10 minutes or so for you to play with them and/or ask questions.

So that I don't end up with the same content in multiple places, we'll look at sections of the longer workshop.

We'll see how these tools can be used alone, or together.

For anyone looking at these tools last year there have been updates and improvements.

  1. Quick Coordinates
    Recent changes:
    • more intuitive interface
    • special column for links
    • default styling in KML.
  2. Gazetteer and Map Finder
    Recent changes:
    • 'Title' instead of 'Placename'
    • 'Contains' match
    • bug fixes and enhancements to visualisations.

Future Development

In response to feedback here are some of the new developments we are planning.

To learn more try the longer course on Digital Mapping for Humanities.