• Possibilities for Local History


    As the librarian for UVa’s School of Architecture, I work with many scholars who are deeply interested in the history of communities.  Often, the interest is local (Charlottesville), but our historians and urban planners are also digging into communities throughout the United States and the world.  While the research is often centered on architecture and urban planning, it extends to interdisciplinary aspects of food planning, use of public space, and many other directions.  In terms of media, it encompasses images, texts, primary documents, maps, oral histories, planning documents, and just about anything else you can imagine.  I find so many wonderful new ways of discovering local history resources, many of which are the direct result of DH technologies like Omeka, GIS, etc.  But, implementation is scattered, and often limited to the silo of a single institutional collection.


    I’d love to create a vision for the ideal local history portal for researchers.  I imagine that it would combine multiple aspects of some of my favorite sites (HistoryPin, WhatWasThere, the NYPL MapWarper, Visualizing Emancipation), along with characteristics of tools like Omeka (and I have a feeling I’ll be adding NeatLine to that list soon).  It would also need to transcend silos of individual institutional collections—bringing together photos, documents, etc. from the local historical society, university archives, local planning and preservation org, public library, and more—while allowing those institutions to promote and “brand” their own resources.


    I’m hopeful that there’s a group of folks that might be interested in playing a game of “Imagine going to one site for a city/town and being able to….”.  I would guess that many of us will contribute knowledge of projects that are inching us closer to this research utopia, and we might also come up with some “boy, it would be great if someone developed…” ideas as well.  At the end, we might walk away with a road-map to some amazing possibilities, and hopefully some excited people that might want to collaborate to make that a reality.


  1. lisaschamess says:

    Very interested in this. I am exploring a pretty big fiction project based here in Washington, DC; as well as a memoir that has some spatial/place dimensions. In addition to teaching writing, I also have urban design/community form clients who would be interested in whatever I can bring back. I ld love to explore this w/others.

  2. Ethan Gruber says:

    Another potential aspect of this project is to create an interface between the scholarly community and the archivists of the Virginia Heritage Project. The VHP is a great, if underutilized, resource, which could be greater with the contributions of the scholarly community. The VHP desperately needs to modernize.

  3. Erin White says:

    I’m also very interested in this. Many of VCU’s digital collections are way-cool historic images of Richmond. Have been thinking a lot about how digital collections can follow the path of sites like dearphotograph to help folks connect with places and tap into histories.

  4. Just saw this article, which I think would be relevant to this discussion: news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/04/linking-libraries-museums-archives/

  5. Ivey Glendon says:

    Are you thinking something like The Portal to Texas History (texashistory.unt.edu/) but on a more local level? And more interactive?

  6. George Brett says:

    A possible example is in the old Boulder, CO public library. It’s a Carnegie Buidling. With the help of volunteers since 1986 they have been scanning most all images submitted by the city, county, individuals and other sources. They have had a couple professional folks who have recommended processes and standards (e.g., LoC Image Capture). Plus the over all collection includes original and scanned historical documents from the Boulder area. A veritable Gold Mine.

    For more info check out:

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