Socio-hydrology is the science of human influence on hydrology and the influence of the water cycle on human social systems. This newly emerging discipline inherently involves a historic perspective, often focusing on timescales of several centuries. While data on human history is typically available for this time frame, gathering information on the hydrological situation during such a period can prove difficult: measured hydrological data for such long periods are rare, while models and secondary data sets from geomorphology, pedology or archaeology are typically not accurate enough over such a short time. In the first part of this study, the use of historic maps in hydrology is reviewed. Major breakthroughs were the acceptance of historic map content as valid data, the use of preserved features for investigating situations earlier than the map, and the onset of digital georeferencing and data integration. Historic maps can be primary quantitative sources of hydro-geomorphological information, they can provide a context for point-based measurements over larger areas, and they can deliver time series for a better understanding of change scenarios.
In the second part, a case study is presented: water level fluctuations of Lake Balaton were reconstructed from maps, levelling logs and other documents. An 18th century map system of the whole 5700 km2 catchment was georeferenced, integrated with two 19th century map systems, and wetlands, forests and open water digitized. Changes in wetland area were compared with lake water level changes in a 220 yr time series. Historic maps show that the water level of the lake was closer to present-day levels than expected, and that wetland loss pre-dates drainage of the lake.
The present and future role of historic maps is discussed. Historic hydrological data has to be treated with caution: while it is possible to learn form the past, the assumption that future changes will be like past changes does not always hold. Nevertheless, old maps are relatively accessible data sets and the knowledge base for using them is rapidly growing, and it can be expected that long-term time series will be established by integrating georeferenced map systems over large areas.
In the Appendix, a step-by-step guide to using historic maps in hydrology is given, starting from finding a map, through georeferencing and processing the map to publication of the results.