Digitizing New England Church Records


Here is Jeff Cooper at the blog of the American Antiquarian Society:

For the past fifteen years, New England’s Hidden Histories (NEHH), a project of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston, has sought to locate, digitize, transcribe, and publish online New England’s earliest manuscript church records. The project, which was featured on the front page of the New York Times, has already made available documents from nearly one hundred local churches.

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the American Antiquarian Society has partnered with Hidden Histories to digitize some of the most exciting and illuminating documents in the AAS’s vast manuscript collections. The current pandemic, which has forced virtually all research institutions in New England to close, underscores the importance of digital initiatives, and the online accessibility provided by these kinds of projects. Already the two institutions have collaboratively digitized and published online an early manuscript draft of Congregationalism’s foundational document, the 1649 Cambridge Platform, along with the church elders’ responses to lay objections to the document. Early New Englanders referred to the Platform as their “constitution” of church government…

Other significant documents slated for digitization include the papers of the Reverend Thomas Shepard, one of the key members of the founding generation, and the one thousand-page diary of Increase Mather. Collections of local church records scheduled for online publication include those of Worcester, Holden, Shrewsbury, and several others. Hidden Histories has transcribed many of the documents in its collections and is always looking for volunteers to assist.

The thousands of pages of historically significant documents to be published online by the AAS and New England’s Hidden Histories will provide scholars and the general public with an unprecedented opportunity to study seventeenth and eighteenth-century church and community life in the region.

Read the entire post here.

Library of Congress Places 25,000 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online


This is huge.  We uses these maps for our Digital Harrisburg Project at Messiah College.

Here is a taste of the press release:

The Library of Congress has placed online nearly 25,000 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which depict the structure and use of buildings in U.S. cities and towns. Maps will be added monthly until 2020, for a total of approximately 500,000.

The online collection now features maps published prior to 1900.  The states available include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Alaska is also online, with maps published through the early 1960s.  By 2020, all the states will be online, showing maps from the late 1880s through the early 1960s.

In collaboration with the Library’s Geography and Map Division, Historical Information Gatherers digitized the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps during a 16-month period at the Library of Congress.  The Library is in the process of adding metadata and placing the digitized, public-domain maps on its website. 

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, urban planners, teachers or anyone with a personal connection to a community, street or building.  The maps depict more than 12,000 American towns and cities.  They show the size, shape and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories and other structures.  They indicate both the names and width of streets, and show property boundaries and how individual buildings were used.  House and block numbers are identified.  They also show the location of water mains, fire alarm boxes and fire hydrants.

In the 19th century, specialized maps were originally prepared for the exclusive use of fire insurance companies and underwriters.  Those companies needed accurate, current and detailed information about the properties they were insuring. The Sanborn Map Company was created around 1866 in the United States in response to this need and began publishing and registering maps for copyright. The Library of Congress acquired the maps through copyright deposit, and the collection grew to 700,000 individual sheets. The insurance industry eventually phased out use of the maps and Sanborn stopped producing updates in the late 1970s.

I have spent far too much time looking at these maps this weekend.  You can view them here.

Anti-Suffrage Records Digitized


As the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment approaches (2020) more and more students of history are going to want to learn about the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

“The Beehive,” the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, reports on the Society’s online collection of documents from the The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women (1894-1920).  Yes, there were organizations opposed to women’s suffrage.

Here is a taste of Nancy Heywood’s post:

The records of this organization are now fully digitized and available on the web, thanks to a grant provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

All pages of this manuscript collection have been digitized and they are presented as sequences of pages linked to the folders listed on the collection guide.  Website users may explore any or all administrative records, committee meeting minutes, typescripts of lectures and reports, and various printed items including by-laws,  and printed lists of standing committee members from all over the state.

The records date from 1894 to1920.  The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women was formally founded in 1895, but stemmed from a committee formed in 1882.  The Association actively recruited members, opposed legislation that would have granted voting rights to women in Massachusetts, and also held events and lectures promoting their cause. 

Women working so actively against voting rights for women seems curious and perhaps even incongruous.  Some of the reasoning and context for their motivation is found within the organization’s own records. Within the Loose papers, Legislative history section, there is a typescript document of a speech given at a hearing before committee on constitutional amendments in Feb. 1905 which states four reasons for opposing woman suffrage:  many women in Massachusetts don’t petition for it, Massachusetts wouldn’t benefit from it; it is a “most inopportune” time to change the Constitution, and suffrage hasn’t proven to be beneficial elsewhere.

Digital Humanities is Not Primarily About Data

At Messiah College we have started a “digital humanities working group.”  The group includes teacher-scholars with expertise in history, English, film studies, computer science, digital media, foreign languages, religion, and politics. We spent much of last semester reading some introductory material on the digital humanities.  Two of our members went to a THATCamp in Philadelphia, a few of us will be attending a session on the digitization of local records, some of us had the chance to pick the brain of former AHA president Anthony Grafton, and later this month we will be consulting with experts in the field via Skype.  We have also begun to think seriously about a potential digital humanities project.  (Stay tuned).

As we have tried to define what a digital humanities project might look like at a place like Messiah College we have begun to see the difference between mere digitization of data and a true “digital humanities” project.  The difference became clear to me recently when I was serving on a selection committee for a travel grant designed to encourage scholars to use the collections of a large historical organization.  While many of the grant applications were rather traditional, there were a few that wanted to come to this repository and digitize records for the purpose of placing them online so that they would be more easily accessible to researchers.  While most of us on the selection committee were supportive of the idea behind these digital projects, we also came to the conclusion, after some discussion, that they really had nothing to do with history.  They lacked any kind of interpretive focus or narrative.  They were mere digitization.

As part of our discussions in the Messiah digital humanities group we have come to the conclusion that the digitization of records is a necessary starting point for any such project, but without some kind of interpretation or storytelling or contribution to the overarching question of how the data we collect help us to better understand what it means to be human,  we can not truly label such a project “digital HUMANITIES.”

My thoughts above were triggered by Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s essay in yesterday’s Inside Higher Ed.  There is a lot that I do not understand in Wardrip-Fruin’s piece, but parts of it were helpful in distinguishing the difference between digitization and digital humanities.

Preparing for Grafton

Needless to say, we in the Messiah College History Department and those associated with the NEH-funded Messiah College Center for Public Humanities are very exciting to be spending a few days in February with Anthony Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton and outgoing president of the American Historical Association. Grafton will be the keynote speaker at our annual “Humanities Symposium,” but he will also be spending some time with our history faculty and students.

While we at Messiah await Grafton’s arrival, let me recommend this “conversation” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here is a taste:

“The most Luddite person you can imagine” is how Anthony T. Grafton describes himself. But it’s in part thanks to Mr. Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton University, that the American Historical Association has finally put digital-humanities scholarship on its agenda.

Mr. Grafton just stepped down as president of the association, after a year of energetic public campaigning to get both the group and the discipline to broaden their horizons.

At the association’s annual meeting, held this past Thursday through Sunday in Chicago, Mr. Grafton appeared to be everywhere, moderating panels and plenaries, delivering a typically engaging and erudite lecture on Francis Daniel Pastorius and “The Republic of Letters in the American Colonies,” and praising colleagues’ scholarship and professional contributions as “extraordinary” at every turn.
The Chronicle sat down with Mr. Grafton in Chicago to talk about his presidential year, scholarly directions in the field, the push to rethink graduate education and history careers, and the work that remains to be done.

Read the rest here.

Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

Back in 1994, Roy Rosenzweig founded the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  The goal was to “use digital media and computer technology to democratize history.”  Rosenzweig died after a battle with cancer in 2007.

Last week the Center for History and New Media at GMU was officially named the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media.

Here is a blurb from the Center’s website:

On April 15, 2011 at 3:00 pm, donors, friends and staff gathered at the Research 1 building on George Mason University (GMU)campus to rename the Center for History and New Media in memory of its founder, Roy Rosenzweig.  Through the generous support of donors, more than a million dollars was raised to rename the Center.  Daniel Cohen, Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media, welcomed guests to the dedication ceremony.  Acknowledgments were given by: Jack Censer, Dean of the GMU College of Humanities and Social Sciences; Alan Merten, President of GMU; Gary Kornblith, Professor of History from Oberlin College; Stephen Brier, Senior Academic Technology Officer Professor, CUNY; Brian Platt, Chair of the History Dept., GMU.


The Lazy Scholar Takes a Digitial Tour of Pennsylvania History

The Lazy Scholar has started a series called “The Divided States of America” in which he virtually travels throughout the country calling our attention to various digital history collections.

Here’s how the Lazy Scholar describes the series:

But how did, and how does, the American state exist in popular imagination? In an effort to answer this question, I’d like to introduce a new ongoing feature of these dispatches: The Divided States of America. Many digital archives are, in fact, limited to individual states (as are many historical works), so it seems to make sense to identify some archives particularly useful to a scholar of, say, Wyoming. Plus I’m curious to see whether Missouri ultimately has a different vibe than Utah. Consider it a road trip, without traffic or smelly rest stops.

He begins with my adopted home state of Pennsylvania. (HT: AHA Today)

Digital History

My friend Phil, the Bald Blogger, has a nice post on “digital history.” He quotes from a recent Journal of American History essay by William Thomas and the work of historian Steven Mintz, one of the leaders in this field.

Phil mentions Mintz’s Digital History website–a wonderful resource for teachers. After spending some time exploring this site I immediately sent the link to a few of my former students who are teaching high school history. If you are a history or social studies teacher, this website is indispensable–a one stop shop for all your lesson plan needs. Check it out.

P.S. I have not heard from Phil in a few weeks, but he is in our thoughts and prayers as hurricane Ike bears down tonight on his hometown of Houston. Phil: when you get a chance, let us know how you are doing.