Emerging Scholars Research Project

Though field school is over, archaeological discovery continues.

I previously worked on the James Holliday house in Annapolis, the Wye House Plantation, and the Buffalo Soldier’s house in Easton. On those sites, we dug, sweated, found great artifacts, and pieced together forgotten stories from the past. Now, in the air-conditioned lab, our goal is slightly different.

My project this semester is to use ArcGIS, which is software that allows manipulation of maps on a computer, to correlate a historical map with today’s landscape. I am using William Dilworth’s 1858 map of Talbot County to do this research. The map, seen below, is made available by the Library of Congress.

This map has several features that are still present today in Talbot County, such as certain roads and houses. It also displays some features that do not exist anymore. I can match the available historical landmarks on Dilworth’s map with those that are still standing today on a current satellite view of the County. This will make the 1858 map match up with today’s exact map; all or most of the roads and coastlines will line up, and we can assign a scale to the historic image. Once Dilworth’s map has the correct scale and orientation, we can locate the places where landmarks that no longer exist would be on the current landscape.

In the image to the right, the house is marked right next to Anthony’s name. However, there is another structure marked on his property, which is near the coastline. This structure no longer exists today, but, with ArcGIS and accurate measurements, we could potentially locate this unlabeled building. It is suspected that Frederick Douglass was born in this structure on the Anthony plantation, and our work in the lab will bring us closer to discovering if this is true. Once we figure out exactly where he was born, we can do an archaeological dig there to study the area.

These answers, however, will come in due time. The first step in this entire process is digitizing the map, which is what I am doing right now. This means labeling all of the parts of the map, such as structures, roads, railroads, property lines, and coastlines, in terms that the computer can recognize. This way, the drawings on the map are no longer just an image, but a pattern of landmarks and pathways that the computer can read.

The image to the left shows the digitization in progress. The double lines indicate roads, which I trace with pink lines. Black squares or polygons indicate structures, which I mark with blue pentagons. Once these are finished, I will trace the property lines and coastlines to create shapes. These shapes will have areas, which will show all of the structures present on a person’s property. I will also be digitizing the railroads and waterways.

The map shows many rivers, creeks, streams, and springs. In the image to the right, Dilworth has marked the route a ferry takes to transport people from one end of the road to another. Also present in the image above is a tear in the paper the map was originally created on. This tear runs along the entire map, and in some instances, prevents us from seeing parts of the landscape. However, I will try to estimate where some of the missing parts are, such as roads or property lines, in order to form a nearly-complete idea of what the map is trying to tell us.

Thus, I am in the beginning steps of a larger plan to better understand the historical landscape and how it has changed over time. I am working to discover new places for Archaeology in Annapolis to do archaeological excavations and discover more about the historical past. The ultimate goal is to find the birthplace of Frederick Douglass using ArcGIS and the written historical record, which will allow us to do archaeology and learn more about this historical figure. Additionally, once I digitize the map, I will make it available to the public so that other researchers may use my work for their future projects.

  1. Interesting project. My people didn’t own nothing back then so are they not going to be on your map? Would where they lived be a landmark?

  2. This is a great question! Instead of answering it here, I’m going to write up another blog post because you have brought up some very important ideas. So look out for a new blog post that answers your question! I’ll post soon.

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