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The Project: Mapping Business History with LC Collections

This is the second post in an ongoing series addressing digital scholarship in business and economic history related to Library of Congress collections. Read the first post here.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to begin tackling the many questions I posed in my first post. I read blogs (The Signal‘s excellent ”Digital Scholarship Resource Guide“) and Twitter feeds, scoured websites of digital scholarship centers, chatted with scholars who pointed me towards examples of digital business/economic history projects, and I learned a great deal. Most strikingly, though not surprisingly, I learned how much more there is to learn!

Then, only a few days ago I read an article on the Digital Humanities Summer Scholarship program at Lafayette College in College & Undergraduate Libraries (Morris, 2017, doi: 10.1080/10691316.2017.1338978). The article describes one of the many digital scholarship programs that have begun at colleges and universities designed to introduce students to the digital humanities and digital scholarship. Morris observes three main strategies that programs take to introduce people to digital scholarship:

(1) surveying tools and big intellectual questions,
(2) starting with a project or research question and learning as you go; or,
(3) a combination of (1) and (2) (p. 538).

Reading about these strategies sparked my imagination. If I’ve briefly surveyed the field in the past month, and previously in formal study, why not jump in with a project of my own?

I take inspiration from a post written last fall by my colleague Ellen on her undying love for the Sanborn maps. In words, she traces the history of businesses on a block of Pennsylvania Avenue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Inspiration: can the same (or a similar) story be told visually, combining data, text, images, and digitized maps to illustrate even more thoroughly? I know the answer is yes because many scholars are using maps to do just this. The possibilities remain wide open because as many stories exist to be told as there are people in the world.

Therefore, I will begin a digital project that, I hope, will tell the story of business and economic activity in a place over time. I expect to use the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps online collection. I’m exploring the use of the Library’s extensive city directories collections (information and finding aids here, here-click on “Directories”) to reveal historical information. Next steps include identifying a place to focus on, which will be dictated by which Sanborn maps I can match with directories, and researching a mapping platform in which to work. Since the city directories are in print, an exercise in creating digital data from print sources is also likely.

As the project takes shape, I’ll use some of these posts for updates. Please leave a comment with your thoughts and suggestions as we go along!

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In July 2017, I attended the second Collections as Data event hosted by National Digital Initiatives/LC Labs at the Library of Congress. The event featured speakers who are using digital collections and data to work in their communities. Kate Zwaard gave an opening talk that deftly describes “computation applied to library collections when computers were people […]

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This post was written by Michelle Cadoree Bradley, a Science Reference Specialist in the Science, Technology and Business Division. In the collections of the Library of Congress, there are thousands of books in red buckram binding. These fairly innocuous exteriors can sometimes hide unique items. One such item from the stacks is the book Model Aircraft Project from […]

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