"Faith in the City: Chicago's Religious Diversity in the Era of the World's Fair" is a digital humanities project focused on religious movements and figures in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The project, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Newberry Library, displays hundreds of historical points as well as essays from over a dozen prominent scholars related to the theme. The map technology allows visitors to toggle between a custom-generated modern map layer of
You are here
Historians and genealogists searching for historical records can often be challenged by geographical changes over time. As county and state borders have shifted throughout US history, locating physical records can be tricky. Over ten years ago, The Newberry Library created a digital atlas of every historical county, state, and territorial boundary in US history, dating to the first colonies. The data was served via an Esri ArcGIS viewer application which made it difficult for non-geographers to use effectively and required expensive in-house server resources.
You can create simple online maps using free tools like Google's My Maps, but for serious collections of local landmarks, or historical/cultural resources, you'll need something more powerful, such as the custom platform that we built for Chicago Ancestors. I recently came across the open source platform "Arches," popularized by a digital history project in Los Angeles, that provides powerful geodata management capabilities perfect for digital humanities projects.
Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed a virtual explosion of geospatial software, services, and tools—that is, software and tools that enable us to easily map people, places, things, and data. Libraries are uniquely poised to take advantage of these new tools to improve operations and decision-making and to engage their patron communities. These software tools are frequently referred to as geographic information systems, or “GIS.”
GIS can be (incredibly) oversimplified to the concept of “digital maps.” Humans have been using maps for thousands of years—we’re “location-aware,” to borrow a phrase from the software industry. Maps are a way to visualize data, much like pie charts or bar graphs—but in the case of maps, we’re visualizing the physical world around us. And even as libraries deliver more services virtually, they remain physical centers of the neighborhoods and cities they serve. And spatial data can help us learn more about the neighborhoods and cities where our libraries are anchored.