Fordham’s Citizen Cartographers

What do you do with a growing collection of international maps that contains over 433,000 sheet maps and 20,000 book atlases, some of which date back to the 15th century? As twelve graduate students and one post-doc from Fordham University recently learned, you digitize it, of course. At the New York Public Library’s Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, that effort has begun with some of its New York City and antiquarian maps. But more than just make high-resolution images of these maps, the library also developed “Map Warper,” a tool which allows anyone with a computer and an internet connection to digitally align (also known as “rectify”) these maps to match today’s precise maps, such as OpenStreetMap and GoogleEarth. The project joins “What’s On the Menu,” another fabulous crowdsourcing project at the library.

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Mishka Vance, a library technical assistant, shows Fordham University graduate students Tara Foley, Christy Potroff, and Melissa Whalen some maps in the NYPL’s collection at the Map Division.

On a grey February day, this group from Fordham assembled at the library to learn how to use MapWarper and become what the library calls “Citizen Cartographers.” The patient and delightful Mishka Vance, a technical assistant at the library, used a digitized, early twentieth-century Bronx fire map to demonstrate how to trace buildings, add information (brick, wood, or stone? residence or business?) about them to the database, and rectify the old map with a contemporary one.

Participants then proceeded to trace and rectify maps of their own choosing from the library’s digitized collection. Among the maps rectified that day were an early postal map from the Midwest, an ancient map of Cyprus, and a 1916 survey of Morningside Heights.

The people who attended this workshop hailed from several departments, including English, Classics, Theology, and Medieval Studies. They came for reasons that ranged from using Map Warper in their research, to using it in their teaching, to simply adding to their knowledge base of digital tools.

This spring, the Fordham Graduate Student Digital Humanities Group continues its efforts to make more opportunities like the Map Warper workshop available. Our next event will be a roundtable organized by Sarah Cornish and Jane Van Slembrouck called “Digital Traces.” It takes place on March 2 at the Graduate Student English Association’s Conference, “Remembering, Forgetting, Imagining: The Practices of Memory.” On March 6, HASTAC Scholar Patrick Burns leads a  discussion of Stephen Ramsay’s Reading Machines. See the Events page for more details on these and other spring programs.

The events sponsored by the FGSDH Group are open to all members of the Fordham community, no matter their level of technological expertise. With limited formal opportunities on campus for humanities students to learn how to incorporate technology with their coursework, research, and teaching, this group aims to at least partially fill that gap by teaching each other and learning together.

Citizen Cartographers are a happy bunch!
Citizen Cartographers are a happy bunch!
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