THE CITY THROUGH SPACE AND TIME
Library Group Announces
Grant to Support
A Revolutionary "GeoHistory" Network
(April 2005)--The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections
Libraries (PACSCL) announced that it has received a $50,000 award
from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to plan the Greater Philadelphia
GeoHistory Network, an online resource that will allow users to
explore Philadelphia through a series of interlinked maps, property
information, photographs, and historical data.
project has enormous and exciting implications for researchers as
well as for area residents, tourists, and the tourism professionals
who serve them," observed PACSCL chairman David Moltke-Hansen,
who is also the president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
"Users will eventually be able to call up a digital map of
Philadelphia for a given year, point a cursor at a particular spot,
and call up related information, such as the history of that building,
photographs of it, the account books of a business that once owned
it, or records identifying residents. Researchers will also be able
to move backward and forward in time to examine land use or follow
shifts in residence or employment patterns. We are deeply grateful
to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their support for this project."
Network will have as its foundation the extraordinary work of two
PACSCL partners, the City of Philadelphia Department of Records
and the Athenæum of Philadelphia. Its goal will be to provide
a publicly accessible historical "map" for the Philadelphia
region. Using an online Geographic Information System, users will
be able to interact with different layers of history - from Civil-War
era atlases to turn-of-the-century photographs to the new city map
developed by the Department of Records. The project will draw on
building information and digital images from the Philadelphia Architects
and Buildings Project, which is already available online at http://www.PhiladelphiaBuildings.org.
The total investment in these two projects to date approaches $10
official record keeper of the city, the Department of Records holds
authoritative land records as well as two million photographs documenting
the city's history and growth," explains Joan T. Decker, Commissioner.
"Our historical land record maps have been scanned and prepared
for use in the city's Geographic Information System. As we migrate
to fully digital land record keeping, this provides an accurate
base for adding multiple layers of geographical information."
To this base will be added the resources of photographs, records,
and building plans collected by the Philadelphia Architect and Buildings
Project, supported by funding from The William Penn Foundation and
housed at The Athenæum of Philadelphia, as well as historical
data from other PACSCL member libraries and archives.
resource will offer an extraordinary research tool for scholars,
urban planners, architects and designers, historic site interpreters,
tourists, and students," says Bruce Laverty, curator at The
Athenæum of Philadelphia and administrator of the planning
grant. In this initial demonstration project, Laverty and his team
will plan how to integrate a wide range of historical data. They
will also gather resources for the Society Hill/Old City neighborhood
across its history, and the era of the Civil War across the city.
A first step will be inventorying the region's documentary "assets"
- determining the collections and resources that will fit into the
Society Hill and the Civil War for their importance to our community
and for the chance to solve particular problems," Laverty explains.
"The Society Hill and Old City neighborhoods encompass our
best-known historical assets and have the oldest records, and they
also show enormous changes over the years -- from rags to riches
more than once, and from home-based businesses to industry to condos.
These data will let us look at sweeping changes both in land use
and in the people who used the buildings."
The years surrounding
the Civil War (roughly 1850-1876) include the city's growing preeminence
as an industrial powerhouse. They also span the years of the city's
consolidation, with its many changes of street names and numberings.
"This will be a real test of our ability to correlate two different
sets of data about the same place," Decker adds. With additional
funding provided by The Phoebe W. Haas Charitable Trust and other
donors, data from Civil War-era city directories will also be digitized
and included in the GeoHistory Network, adding another layer of
historical data. Data arising from a survey of Civil War-related
historic sites, supported by a grant from the Heritage Philadelphia
Program, will also be incorporated in the project.
A set of Civil
War-era city atlases is being scanned and incorporated into the
project. Two additional atlases, from 1895 and 1910, will also be
scanned. "This gives us a good cross-section of maps of Philadelphia
in different stages of its development," says Laverty.
barely scratched the surface of what can be accomplished,"
comments Derick Dreher, director of the Rosenbach Museum & Library.
"The Consortium's 28 member libraries hold a wealth of materials
that can be linked and mined in this manner. Maps and photographs
are the most obvious types, but letters, diaries, business records,
even data about epidemics can be tied in." The project will
include a survey of PACSCL member libraries to prioritize collections
to be included, and the Consortium will convene a symposium this
fall to inform users and get feedback from them. "This is still
a new approach to organizing data," observes Dreher, "and
we want to encourage researchers to begin to think about their research
projects with its capabilities in mind."
the potential future uses are immediately obvious. Says Preservation
Alliance of Greater Philadelphia executive director John Gallery,
"This is an exciting project that will enable people to gain
direct access to a wealth of information electronically while standing
right in front of an historic site."
Network project is one of a set of PACSCL initiatives that contribute
to the formation of a Greater Philadelphia Research Collections
Network. These initiatives will increase access to, and awareness
of, a set of collections that can be thought of as "One Big
Library" - a huge rare book and manuscript library with 28
branches in the greater Philadelphia area to support the region's
"One Big Campus" of more than 80 colleges and universities.
include a program to provide "one-click" access to the
online catalogs of all 28 member libraries; another project to provide
single-point searching of archival finding aids, digital collections,
and online exhibitions; and an assessment of hundreds of thousands
of uncataloged manuscripts in the collections of member libraries.
member libraries and archives collect, care for, and share with
a world-wide audience collections that, in their depth and variety,
comprise an internationally important body of rare and unique materials
for students, scholars, and lifelong learners at any level.
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