Blog Post

Citizen Cartography at the New York Public Library

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.


For groups at institutions that offer limited access to learning about technology useful for humanistic inquiry, the public library can be a welcome and welcoming alternative resource:

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. The library offers this free workshop to any interested group.

On a grey February afternoon, 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, including 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.

The Fordham Graduate Student Digital Humanities Group, which includes HASTAC Scholars Patrick Burns and Jon Stanfill, sponsored the workshop. (This post is also posted on the FGSDH blog.)

Citizen Cartographers are a happy bunch!

Citizen Cartographers are a happy bunch!


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