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Archive for March, 2011

Map of the City of Brooklyn, 1855, NYPL Collection

Like old maps? Have a little time on your hands? Maybe you want to participate in the New York Public Library’s Map Rectifier project. NYPL put its collection of historic maps online, and is asking the public to help align all the old maps against a more precise contemporary map. The rectification process not only allows everyone to compare then and now, but it also helps resolve inaccuracies in the old maps. The contemporary map NYPL is using for this project is Open Street Map, which is sort of Wikipedia for cartography. By tagging “control points,” specific coordinates that are constant for both maps, the historic one is brought into alignment with Open Street Map. At the NYPL site, in addition to actually doing the rectifying, members of the public can browse all the historic maps and also view the rectified ones in Google Earth. A video tutorial on the NYPL website, using an 1860 map of Central Park as an example, makes the process seem easy enough for anyone with basic computer skills. This project is an interesting example of crowdsourcing, and a great way to get to know a city better.

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Walking the Talk

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of exploring cities at a pedestrian’s pace and scale. You pick up details that could easily be missed in a car or train, and repeated walks over the same ground create layers of experience, a sense of change over time. Walking tours of cities or neighborhoods are nothing new; they’ve been around for years. But I’m starting to collect examples of tours that go beyond the typical expert-walks-you-around-and-points-out-sites-of-interest, or you-walk-yourself-around-and-read-said-expert’s-text.

One I encountered recently is a self-guided, oral history tour of Providence’s Fox Point neighborhood called Speaking of Wickenden. It was created by students in Anne Valk’s Community and Documentary Storytelling course at Brown University’s John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities. At each stop, instead of commentary from the traditional expert guide, you hear oral histories by longtime residents of Fox Point (historically it was a mostly Portuguese, Cape Verdean, and Irish working-class neighborhood) that were recorded and edited by the Brown students. I’m sure Speaking of Wickenden isn’t the first oral history cell phone tour, but it’s a nice example, nonetheless.

The first time I heard this tour I was reminded that no public history project can be successful without great content—you either have it or you don’t. And these oral histories are great content, primary source content. I’ve posted before about online historic photograph projects like Historypin and SepiaTown. I would love it if these sites mapped oral history content as well. There are a few projects doing it in small doses—PhilaPlace and City of Memory are two. But it’s too bad that something as massive as the StoryCorps archive isn’t geo-tagged online. Meanwhile, you can listen to Speaking of Wickenden audio stops on the Internet, even if you’re not in Providence. Here’s hoping the students expand their scope to other neighborhoods.

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