Mapping History

HyperCities Screenshot

HyperCities historical view of Manhattan

You know when you see an old picture of a city or town you grew up in and you can’t believe how different it looks? You realize, of course, that places constantly change, and that a photograph from 1934 is not going to show a Starbucks on the street corner. But it’s so easy to get caught up in the present and forget we are a product of the past. HyperCities is here to remind us of the layers and layers of history that constitute a place.

HyperCities is an interactive, research-based website that depicts the rich and ever-evolving history of cities using maps. When you launch HyperCities, you see a birds-eye view, satellite image of a city as it is today. But look to the right of the screen and there’s a timeline with a corresponding map to each year. Click on a year and its map overlaps the present day satellite view. Click another year and that map overlaps the previous. The more layers amassed, the more fascinating it becomes.

Take a look at New York City—in 1609 the island of Manhattan was nothing more than grasslands, forest, and marsh. HyperCities allows us to witness its steady evolution into the bustling, center-of-the-universe city we know today. This project beautifully depicts the human relationship with landscape and geography. Every place has a history. Every place was once a blank canvas—humankind couldn’t resist transforming the landscape…and then mapping it.

– Allison Nonko


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