Archive for March, 2013

Digital Brainstorm

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

My final project for Digital History is going to be a mapping project much like the one we critiqued for the “Digital Harlem” assignment. I think it would be awesome to be able to digitize a copy of Father Pierre Jean De Smet’s map that was drawn in the 1845-47 timeframe and modernize it. I could digitally depict actual locations of the Native American missions he created as well as possible routes he took. For this I would need to make overlays of the travels he undertook to the different missions and forts in the area. Not only will you be able to view the map as a whole but just as in Google Maps, you can zoom in and as the maps get closer and closer to the “ground” you could change the map type to include aerial images from Google Earth. Since I have been working on this project the entire semester most of the research is already done, so I would just need to focus on digitizing it, and any other technical issues that arise with it’s construction.

Using digital mapping platforms such as Google Earth, as well as unorthodox ones such as Falcon view, overlays can be created. Their appearance would appear mirror much of the appearance that was specifically created for the “Digitial Harlem” website.

The only real obstacle I see is the ability to digitize the original De Smet map and somehow turn it into the map data needed in order to create it into a digital map itself that can be manipulated. I am hoping that programs such as Mac PRO GPS, will be able to aid me in this endeavor. According to their website, if I can figure out the projection and datum, as well as identify at least two GPS coordinates, the program can take a JPG or TIF and turn it into a map. I am not sure if this will work exactly due to the fact the De Smet map is clearly not perfectly exact due to it’s construction, but if this were possible then this particular obstacle would be removed.

The last and final piece of this project, if possible due to time constraints, would be to add some of the letters Father De Smet wrote and indicate where he wrote them and who they were addressed to. This information may shed some light into why he was writing to these particular recipients at this particular time. This coupled with looking at the routes he took may create a new understanding of the situation in the Rocky Mountains in the 1840’s.


Our assignment for this week was to critique the website Digital Harlem. I particularly enjoy this site because of my interest in not only history, but also maps in general and how they can help understand relationships that would not be readily seen without them.

The first thing I noticed was the ease of use. This website seems very user friendly. By entering in simple information one can bring up a variety of different information such as events or places, and any information that they have on that particular situation. Also, you can bring up multiple points relating to a single person by typing their name into the search box. The use of Google maps I believe was a good choice. Most people today can operate and understand Google map applications, which makes this particular map more inviting. As well, there is a very informative “how to” box on the top of the page for those who might feel a little intimidated or confused by the usage of a map in this fashion.

However, the most important feature in my opinion is the ability to bring up multiple points from different search at once, in overlays. The use of overlays is what makes this website, and maps in general, particularly useful. Maps have the ability to illustrate things that can be missed by other mediums. By using maps relationships can be inferred through visualization, as mentioned earlier, and other questions can be raised as well.

I also rather enjoyed the color scheme and overall look of the page. The black and white aerial view of the city as a top border was a nice touch. The lettering isn’t too bright and doesn’t clash with the rest of the page. The color scheme is one of being warm and inviting instead of a cold feeling I would expect from an archive of information. Also, the way the information is laid out is very important. There isn’t a feeling where too much or too little information is presented right at once.

The only negative I have about this site would have to be in the people search itself. I do not really know any individual names from anyone in this time period from this particular area. So this feature is a little lost to me, but at the same time I could just chalk that up to my ignorance of a particular piece of history.

Overall I believe this site could be a very helpful resource, because an interactive database with the ability to compare information and place it on a map that can be visualized enhances our understanding of this particular area.

This weeks assignment was to look at pictures from the earlier part of the 19th century and compare them with pictures from the mid to end part of this century.


I am partial to maps; so the first thing I compared was the maps of New York from 1763 shown above, and an 1817 map shown below. In these two maps you can see the development of some kind of urban planning or possibly the development of survey technology. In the 1763 map the roads were more crooked, and although they appear to be laid out in a somewhat rudimentary grid pattern, it seems like it was more clumsily put together.


But as you see in the 1817 map above, as you move more northward, the layout of the streets becomes a more precise, a straight-line grid layout. This raises a question of why in my mind. Are the original roads more askew due to original survey lines of property, i.e. larger tracts of land that were surveyed out quickly using natural landmarks as way points such as long cut down trees, or removed rocks, etc.?


Above is a more recent map (circa 1838) and you see as time went on and more and more people moved into the area, the lines become straighter as opposed to the 1763 map. Did the use of urban planning play a part in this? Did it make it easier to sell small tracts of land, based on straight lines? Regardless, as time progressed the organization of the city became more patterned, forming the modern city we know today.

Next, I looked at the pictures and the progression of them through time. It seems that in the beginning the city is depicted almost as a sleepy community. Take the picture below. Although there is activity occurring in the picture it seems almost dream like. The background in the picture shows clear, unpolluted air, as well as wide-open spaces.


The same can be said for the picture below. Take notice of a shoreline with no buildings anywhere in the picture. As well, there are large trees and even Native Americans standing on the shore. To me it is hard to believe this picture depicts anything even remotely close to New York City.


However this picture below comes from the same city. This picture depicts Broadway in 1834, and it seems worlds away from the earlier pictures. Notice the open space has disappeared and even the air seems to be more polluted. Also, the seems to be a lot more transportation technology. Look at the amount of horse drawn carriages in the streets moving people and goods to and fro. With an increase in population, there will also be an increased need for transportation technology. 


Lastly, this bottom picture is from 1852. One can see how the pristine environment of the earlier pictures is completely lost. The air looks so polluted that it could possibly be poisonous. Not only has the open spaces disappeared; it looks as though the buildings themselves are melting back into the ground due to the filth emanating from every crevice. If the earlier pictures were dreamlike, this is no doubt a nightmare.