This blog is a place to publish news and ideas about oldinsurancemaps.net, the platform at the heart of my masters thesis at LSU, "Creating a Public Space for Georeferencing Sanborn Maps". I have long been a superfan of Sanborn maps, so the project is as much a love letter to them as anything else.
A little bit of context
There were two original motivations for this endeavor:
- Create a platform for collaborative map georeferencing
- Provide greater access to existing online map archives
Neither of these ideas is new, but I was especially inspired by the idea of the archival commons and wanted to build something with elements of that model in mind—open access, public curation, and extensibility1 2. The wealth of available open source geospatial software offers so much to work with, and I wanted to try some of it out on this idea.
I decided to build around the Library of Congress Sanborn map collection because
- It is huge (35k volumes, 500,000 sheets)
- The scans are color and generally high quality
- All the maps are in the public domain (I triple-checked this)
- It has a good JSON API
Really, there is nothing not to love. Most importantly, focusing on the collection as a whole meant I was making a replicable template for any edition. So while it was exciting to see people georeference New Orleans, it was more compelling to me to see people work on places like New Iberia or Plaquemine. Small towns likely lack the resources for digital initiatives like this, so, in a way, this whole platform is built just for them. You can now explore 138 different towns across Louisiana as they looked around the turn of the 20th century.
Looking ahead from here
Turns out, this is a really hard project to put down—I keep acting like I have free time to spend on it. At the moment, I'm in the midst of a significant redesign of the platform (more on that later), and hope to have it fully functional (i.e. better than ever) by early December. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, here are a few presentations I have given over the course of working on the project:
- very early technical ideas: GeoNode Virtual Summit - Dec. 2020 (slides)
- midway through the design: NACIS - Oklahoma City - Oct. 2021 (video, slides)
- begining of pilot project: Geo4Lib Camp - Feb. 2022 (video)
- details on workflow design and pilot project results: NACIS - Minneapolis - Oct. 2022 (video, slides)
- Eveleigh, Alexandra. 2014. “Crowding out the Archivist? Locating Crowdsourcing within the Broader Landscape of Participatory Archives.” In Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage, 211–29. Ashgate Publishing Farnham.
- Anderson, Scott, and Robert Allen. 2009. “Envisioning the Archival Commons.” The American Archivist 72 (2): 383–400. https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.72.2.g54085061q586416.