History in the Unmaking

Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 11:15 AM


Few events in human history have the scale of World War II. Its spatial breadth and temporal extent make it difficult to comprehend by those of us too young to have lived it. There are history books, movies, and photographs, but they portray isolated places and events more than the connected whole. We’ve addressed this by launching historical imagery in Google Earth in a number of new areas, including London in 1945, in coordination with archivists in these countries.

This newly published data shows clearly the reality of everyday life back then — bombed buildings, deprivations, militarization, and the normal appearance of what where then secret facilities. Here, for example, are the “Then” and “Now” views above and around the Map Room — a favorite of the Google Geo team — from which Winston Churchill and his wartime Cabinet led a great nation to victory through perseverance, and of course, maps:


And here are “Before” and “After” images of Heathrow Airport:


Nearly all of 1945 London awaits your exploration. Enjoying it is easy. Just start Google Earth (install it here if you're not one of the 700 million who already have) and type London as your destination in the upper left. Then, click on the clock icon to enable historic imagery. Scroll back to 1945, and feast your eyes on imagery like the intersection of The Cut and Short Streets near Waterloo station showing the bombed/cleared area that is now the Young Vic theatre:




Turning back 66 years of visual history is also possible in war-time Paris, France. Here, you can see monuments to Napoleonic-era victories during war-time occupation, and study scenes of everyday life in those historic times:

the Seine River


the Eiffel Tower

Both of these countries emerged from these tragedies with renewed vigor and optimism, and also, with openness and respect for mapping. You can see both countries today, not only via aerial viewpoints but also in Street View images in Google Earth and Google Maps. For Earth, just click to enable the Street View layer (one of many) in the lower left; and in Maps, drag the Pegman onto your viewport when you’re looking at most anywhere in France or the United Kingdom.

Historical imagery is also already available for several other cities in Europe. Last year we published photos such as the ones below depicting both pre- and post-war Warsaw. In 1935 we see a vibrant city full of people, but in 1945 we are witness to the destruction of 85% of the buildings, along with palaces and bridges:


Thanks to archivists around the world, photos of past times and places are making their way to Google Earth through the historical imagery feature. Once enabled, you can scroll back and forth through time to make and unmake history with your fingertips. In fact, these images might provide you with the view you’ve needed to share your memories of former places and times with others.

Posted by Michael T. Jones, Chief Technology Advocate