University Digitizes Large Collection of Historical Maps

Last week, I wrote a post about ways to make learning history more engaging.  One of the podcasts I suggested was BackStory with the American History Guys.  Ed Ayers, a.k.a “19th Century Guy” of the trio of hosts, is also the president of the nearby University of Richmond.

Under the leadership of Ayers, U of R’s Digital Scholarship Lab has digitized a huge collection of historical maps.  Most have been geo-rectified and overlaid upon current digital maps.  Many are animated, so you can view changes and patterns of movement over time.

An example of a map contained in the digital collection of maps offered by the Digital History Lab.

An example of a map contained in the digital collection of maps offered by the Digital History Lab.

This digital atlas of American history showcases some pretty amazing things like advances in cartography, population migration patterns in the U.S., and original plans for cities.  There are also maps with military, social, and political events and outcomes and locations of church denominations during founding of our country.  Some show demographic information such as saturation of specific locations by various ethnic groups, slaves, and “free negroes” and others document sources of emigration to the United States.  It is amazing how much information has been synthesized here and the digitization of these maps is a huge and belated step forward in bringing together the humanities and technology.

Of course, these maps are a great boon to the genealogy researcher.  Genealogists can use the maps to learn more about the circumstances of the people of the past and to help place their individual lives into the greater context of a developing United States.

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