Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seeing Through Time: Historic Maps, Google Earth, and the Transformation of Durham

"Durham is a fascinating place in post civil war history," Trudi J.Abel, developer of the Digital Durham website, told the Visualization Friday Forum on March 20.

The Digital Durham website is a repository of maps, census data, photographs, personal and public records from post civil war Durham, built with grant support from the Center of Instructional Technology at Duke.

"The attempt for Digital Durham was to bring together special collections and manuscripts that had mainly been a part of the Duke Libraries," Abe said.

As of now the maps of Durham that have been digitized and available through the website are mostly pre-1923. Many of the post-1923 maps and manuscripts are still protected by copyright laws.

However, Abel has been in talks with the Mayor and is hopeful that these maps, including landscape, historic fire insurance, and other sketched maps, could be published on the website soon.

"One of the oldest views of Durham is of 1867-68, which was left by Lewis Blount. The only problem was that he carved out this map in 1923 based on how he remembered Durham at that time," Abel said.

She said these historic maps and census data can help explore the race and occupational diversity in different areas and analyze how segregation occurred in the various regions. Abel's current focus is to broaden the collection of historic maps of Durham, and trying to integrate satellite imagery and other sets of statistical data and tie it together for a detailed analysis.

"We are trying to put historic maps on Google Earth and compare the present infra- structure with the one that existed about a century ago. For example, we overlaid an 1888 map of Sanborn on Google Earth to analyze the changes that have taken place over time."

Abel also plans to make an interactive 3-dimensional map of Durham that can extract people's names, race, occupations and addresses and observe behavior of a particular population set through time.

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