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Marietta College professor digitizing local historical records

(WTAP)
Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 3:09 PM EDT
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MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - Marietta College history professor Dr. Matt Young has launched a project in which he is digitizing public, historic records containing a range of data about Marietta.

The project employs geographic information systems and digital mapping to digitize and aggregate historic maps of the city, along with census data, genealogical data, and more. The intention is to create an interactive, searchable database that can be used by researchers, students, and members of the public.

The project is informed by a similar effort called Digital Harrisburg, which maps the historical changes and evolution of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“[Digital Harrisburg] inspired me to think about what we could do with Marietta because we’ve got so many great resources for the city,” Young said. “The idea behind it would be to go all the way back to Marietta’s origin in the 1780s and eventually bring us up as far as we can,” Young added.

In addition, Young worked with author and historian David McCullough to develop maps for his book The Pioneers, which explores the settling of the Northwest Territory. That work, which required early maps of Marietta, encouraged Young to move ahead with Digital Marietta.

Researchers will be able to search for specific pieces of information or to track larger demographic changes in the city over time. Users can also trace changes in local businesses, residences, and urban development. The census data contains information on a wide range of variables, including rates of literacy, education, and more, all of which will be included in the database.

“One of the benefits is we can take a longitudinal look at the development of Marietta over time. I think that would be interesting to historians, to be able to look at the demographic structure of the population...the various waves of immigration that through Marietta over time,” Young said. “Taking all of that information and putting it together in a searchable database would allow researchers to analyze it. And I think it would reveal some interesting things about the changing composition of the population over time,” he added.

Because the database will include genealogical data, many local users will be able to utilize it to research their own families, as well.

Young has a history of working with geographic information systems and digital mapping. Several years ago, he earned a certificate in the subject and developed a minor in geographic information systems, which is now offered to students at the college. Young said that digital mapping is a skill that complements and can be utilized by those in a number of fields, such as history, political science, graphic design, marketing, and more.

The project is an example of the kind of work that students earning the geographic information systems minor can expect to be involved in. The school’s history department has also developed a public history minor, and Digital Marietta will be relevant to the research conducted by students in that program, as well.

Young said he is currently seeking volunteers to help transcribe census data for the project. Those interested are asked to contact him at youngs@marietta.edu.

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