A technical reconstruction drawing of Apethorpe Palace

Visualisation showing Apethorpe Palace © Historic England, Allan Adams
Visualisation showing Apethorpe Palace © Historic England, Allan Adams

Visualising Heritage

Story telling case study: Commemorating the First World War

One hundred years ago, the Great War finally came to an end. Unprecedented numbers of young men were sent to fight, never to return. Families across the globe lost fathers and sons, brothers and uncles. For the young men who went to fight, everyday life was put on hold. A lucky few were able to return to the lives they left behind. 

The graphic novel below telling the story of one young man's experience has been carefully researched and illustrated by Judith Dobie, a reconstruction artist at Historic England.


The Great War did not occur only overseas. One of the early acts of aggression against the United Kingdom was the naval bombardment of Scarborough. The following video documents the morning of the bombardment, with illustrations by John Vallender of Historic England.

Mrs Rowntree of Riseborough’s account of the bombardment has been illustrated in a graphic novel, 'An Episode of War', also by Judith Dobie.

You can find more information on how the First World War changed the English landscape in our new publication, ‘Legacies of the First World War'

Reconstruction art

This technique is the attempt by an artist to visualise scenes from the past almost as though the artist themselves were there drawing what they saw before them. Information is drawn from archaeological remains, environmental evidence and ethnographic sources.

Reconstruction drawing of a Cornish prehistoric settlement of round stone huts.
Reconstruction showing life in the Iron Age at the Cornish site of Carn Euny. © Historic England, Judith Dobie

Technical reconstruction

Whilst reconstructive art will visualise scenes from the past , technical reconstruction and illustration will take a more measured approach which lends itself to the illustration of architecture.

Cutaway drawing showing back to back housing, Manningham, Yorkshire
Visualisation showing back to back housing in Manningham, Yorkshire © Historic England, Allan Adams

Archaeological illustration

Records and illustration of archaeological sites and objects are essential for the presentation and understanding of the sites.

Site plan showing the excavated remains of Chester Amphitheatre
Site plan showing the excavated remains of Chester Amphitheatre © Historic England, John Vallender

Analytical site drawing

Using traditional survey techniques to aid understanding by observation and close contact with building fabric, particularly useful for vernacular buildings and architectural details.

Survey section drawings, of building at Low Park, Alston Moor, Cumbria
Survey section drawings, of Low Park, Alston Moor, Cumbria. © Copyright Historic England, Allan Adams

Analytical site survey and illustration

Whilst measured and drawn methods have significant strengths, successful illustration can use theodolites, CAD and 3D modelling.

A 3-D model of stairs from a historic building in london
Stairs illustrated for a Survey of London project using 3D modelling. © Historic England, Andy Crispe

GIS and cartography

Heritage data is in essence spread spatially, using GIS can deliver both on a traditional such as the Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall walking maps as well as providing access through digital platforms to spatial data such as the Stonehenge Landscape Survey.


Using imagery to present information quickly and easily has been vital in understanding the big data sets created by the Historic Environment.

Infographic of the financial worth of heritage.
Infographic of the financial worth of heritage. © Copyright Historic England, Vince Griffin


In collaboration with our Heritage Crime team we have been developing arresting graphics to support an ELearning package for Police Officers about tackling heritage crime on war memorials.

Examples of Visualisation Approaches Image Gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

Our guidance

Our guidance on visualisation techniques is designed to give clarity to complex subjects.

Drawing for Understanding

Published 31 July 2016

This guidance describes a method of recording historic buildings for the purpose of historical understanding using analytical site drawing and measuring by hand.

Learn more

Understanding Historic Buildings

Published 24 May 2016

This guidance sets out the process of investigating and recording historic buildings for the purposes of historical understanding.

Learn more

Digital Image Capture and File Storage

Published 29 July 2015

This publication offers guidance on digital image capture and storage to assist those involved with the making and keeping of images of the historic environment.

Learn more


Paul Backhouse

Paul Backhouse is the Head of Imaging at Historic England and oversees graphics, design, photography, cinematography, digital publication and Geospatial survey.

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