On December 9, we were one of ten teams selected to participate in the final round of the FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Competition. A team of students led by myself and including Beth Pruitt, Stefan Woehlke, Clio Grillakis, and Marcella Stranieri put together a proposal for a project to create an innovative historical dataset. The judges selected our project for funding and we’ve been hard at work on it since December.
Our research project uses historic Geographic Information Systems (historical GIS or hGIS) to combine two historic maps of Talbot County, Maryland with United States Census returns from the same period into a historical geographic database in order to generate new geographic and spatial knowledge about the past. Whereas the maps contain spatial data without demographic data and the censuses contain demographic data without spatial data, combining these datasets creates a robust database that situates in space the demographic data from the census. Ultimately, our project will be made available online for researchers and the general public to use.
The motivation for this project comes out of Archaeology in Annapolis’ engagement with heritage and landscape on Maryland’s Eastern Shore at Wye House, Wye Hall, and on the Hill in Easton, Maryland. We have been looking for ways to utilize existing historical documentation to investigate the past in novel ways. We have made a particular commitment to increasing access to information about the past among African American descendants of slavery, as well as among avocational, middle-class members of the public for whom archaeological, historical, and archival research has traditionally been inaccessible.
The two maps of Talbot County that will be joined are the 1858 William H. Dilworth’s Map of Talbot County; with farm limits and the 1877 Lake, Griffing, & Stevenson’s An Illustrated Atlas of Talbot & Dorchester Counties, Maryland. Both maps depict boundaries, roads, railroads, coastlines, rivers, property owners, and the primary structures on each property. These maps represent remarkable datasets for understanding the spatial distribution of settlements across Talbot County; however, they do not contain any other demographic data fundamental to historical or genealogical research. While the 1860 and 1880 US Censuses represent remarkable datasets for understanding historical demographics, they do not contain spatial information that would enable the researcher to map these data.
On the two historic maps, property ownership is recorded with the first initial and last name of the property owner. On the census, each individual in the county is listed by first name and last name (enslaved individuals are not listed by name in the 1860 census; rather, they are listed by owner). Once these maps have been digitized in a GIS program and the censuses transcribed in a database, the names of the property owners listed on a map can be matched to the names of heads of household on a census. Once this link has been accomplished, the names and data from the census will be joined to boundaries and points representing properties and structures on the map through the names on the map. The social landscape as recorded in the U.S. Censuses can be mapped onto the physical landscape of Talbot County as recorded in these two maps.
Through the names of property owners—which are found on both maps and both Censuses, the demographic data from the US Census can be joined to the spatial data in the maps. Essentially, this process embeds the US Census data in a map depicting the same landscape. This combination represents new geographic and historical data. The FIA-Deutsch Seed Grant Competition grant has enabled us to begin work on this important project. Check back for updates as we complete our work!