Automatic vectorization of historical maps: A benchmark


Shape vectorization is a key stage of the digitization of large-scale historical maps, especially city maps that exhibit complex and valuable details. Having access to digitized buildings, building blocks, street networks and other geographic content opens numerous new approaches for historical studies such as change tracking, morphological analysis and density estimations. In the context of the digitization of Paris atlases created in the 19th and early 20th centuries, we have designed a supervised pipeline that reliably extract closed shapes from historical maps. This pipeline is based on a supervised edge filtering stage using deep filters, and a closed shape extraction stage using a watershed transform. It relies on probable multiple suboptimal methodological choices that hamper the vectorization performances in terms of accuracy and completeness. Objectively investigating which solutions are the most adequate among the numerous possibilities is comprehensively addressed in this paper. The following contributions are subsequently introduced: (i) we propose an improved training protocol for map digitization; (ii) we introduce a joint optimization of the edge detection and shape extraction stages; (iii) we compare the performance of state-of-the-art deep edge filters with topology-preserving loss functions, including vision transformers; (iv) we evaluate the end-to-end deep learnable watershed against Meyer watershed. We subsequently design the critical path for a fully automatic extraction of key elements of historical maps. All the data, code, benchmark results are freely available at