Ohio Wesleyan Faculty Receive Grant to Create Enhanced, Historical Maps of Columbus

Work to provide first digital copies of rare, historic maps juxtaposed with modern-day maps

Ohio Wesleyan faculty members David Walker and John Krygier discuss their new project, which will create the first-ever digital versions of historic maps of Columbus neighborhoods. (Photo by Linda O’Horo)

Ohio Wesleyan University professors John Krygier, Ph.D., and David Walker, Ph.D., will lead a collaborative project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Five Colleges of Ohio Next Steps in the Next Generation Library: Integrating Digital Collections into the Liberal Arts Curriculum to create digital versions of rare, historic real estate atlas maps of Columbus neighborhoods. Their grant was written for The Five Colleges of Ohio, which includes OWU, Denison University, Kenyon College, The College of Wooster, and Oberlin College. This is a curricular collaboration project between faculty and the Ohio Wesleyan Library.

Today, only a few, deteriorating copies remain of the maps created and published by the G. William Baist Company of Philadelphia. These atlases from 1899, 1910, and 1920 were designed for real estate and property professionals and contain details including the locations of buildings, utilities, steam and trolley rails—even fire hydrants. Each neighborhood map is about 2 ½ by 3 feet in size, and were designed and painted by hand. Small quantities were produced, few survive, and none of the Columbus Baist atlas maps have been digitized.

“These neat, old maps were created long before modern GPS and surveying technology,” says Krygier, associate professor of geology-geography. “They contain substantial locational errors. We can use modern technology to fix these inaccuracies.”

Baist Map of Clintonville neighborhood in 1910. (Image courtesy of John Krygier)

The maps will be used for classroom-based and field research.

“Students in Urban and Economic Geography courses (GEOG 370, 345) will use the maps to trace the urban morphological changes of neighborhoods across Columbus,” adds Walker, assistant professor of geology-geography. “The maps will function as tools to learn how and why cities change, and speak to class and race issues in relation to city planning.”

The grant for nearly $7,000 will fund scanning costs and pay an OWU graduate to convert them as needed for the project. The maps, currently housed at the Ohio Historic Society and the Columbus Metropolitan Library, are being scanned now.

Will Ruzek, a geography major from the Class of 2010, will mosaic the scanned maps into larger maps representing important Columbus neighborhoods this summer. Then Ruzek will use GIS software to “geo-rectify” (stretch) the neighborhood maps to accurately reflect current road data. The new versions will be exported into files that can be opened and viewed in Google Earth (placed over current images of Columbus). Multiple digital forms of the atlases will be available for viewing in the OWU Digital Resource Commons by fall 2011.

Deborah Peoples, science librarian and geology and geography librarian liaison, will assist in the placement of the digital version on Ohio Wesleyan Library’s Digital Commons.

The Baist atlas materials will be available under a Creative Commons Attribution – ShareAlike License, and they will be stored in the Ohio Wesleyan Library’s Digital Commons and linked to or included in the Ohio Historical Society’s Ohio Memory site and the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Columbus Memory site, or similar appropriate sites.

Krygier and Walker conceived of the idea and applied for the grant while researching the near-east-side area of Columbus once known as Bronzeville. The features of Columbus serve as real-world laboratories for the student of urban evolution and development.

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