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September 12, 2008

GIS Assignment 1


For this assignment, I examined a project done at Lehigh University. The project, titled Beyond Steel: An Archive of Lehigh Valley Industry and Culture, examines the many industries in Lehigh Valley during the early 20th century. The project uses historical documents, including letters, books, maps, photos, etc. to better understand that time period. The research looks into the lives of the wealthy barons and titans of the time, but it also examines the daily lives of the common workers and families. While the project looks at these topics over many years, including the industry boom, decline and community readjustment, the GIS focuses on the years 1900-1902. However, because this project is ongoing, I hope that the GIS will be expanded to include more information. It would be very interesting to see how the housing patterns changed over time as the industry began to decline.

Mainly, the GIS data allows one to visualize where the employees of different companies in Bethlehem lived in relation to each other and their work places.

The data was compiled using Sanborn fire insurance maps, the Sholes' Directory of the Bethlehems, Bethlehem Steel employee lists, a contemporary database of streets, and selected information from the 1900 Census report. This data was collected from a number of sources. The map is a composite of over 100 Sanborn maps that were provided be the National Canal Museum. These maps were from an atlas that had been put together by the Bethlehem Steel Company. The atlas was made up of maps from different years, mostly dating around the 1920's. Because some of the Sanborn maps were from a later time period then is being mapped, the addresses of employees shown on the map are from 1900, but the street names may be labeled differently. In 1917 Bethlehem's five municipalities merged, causing many streets' names to be changed.

The Shole's Directory was supplied by Bethlehem's public library on microfilm. It was then digitized and transcribed into an Excel file. The documents listing the Bethlehem Steel Employees were provided by the Hagley Museum and Archives and then similarly digitized and transcribed.

Because I'm used to being able to access data so easily, I really like the idea of having to combine maps and records from different documents to make new maps. There is so much information available, but it's easy to limit ourselves to what is available digitally. I think older information can be used to better inform our work today and can play an equally important role in the ways we think about planning.

Because the GIS component of this project focused on company and residential addresses, the mapping aspect is very important. However, I think this project could be better utilized with some more data and better maps. I found the map difficult to use, because the color-coding was poorly done. Some of the mills were coded the same color as their employees' homes, so it was difficult to know where the actual mill was located. The colors were also just difficult to see on the map, because the base map has colored lots that can't be turned off. Think it would have been useful to make the base map gray scale.

The other components of this project could be done without the GIS, but I think the mapping is a useful part of the research. As I said above, I think there is a lot more that could be done with GIS, such as looking at the housing patterns over time. I think this spatial question is important and would be very useful to explore. While it is interesting to know where different people lived at a certain time period, I think there are larger questions and lessons that can be taken from this data. Maps existed in the past with housing information, but with GIS we can take this information and compare it in ways that were much more difficult before. Once companies began to shut down or downsize, where did the employees live? How did the residential makeup of neighborhoods change?
Other maps using data from 40-50 years later could be used to see how these neighborhoods changed.

There are also other questions that I have, related to racial or economic breakdown in these neighborhoods. Additional layers of the map could show demographic data. In the data notes, the researches said that the upper management employees were not included in the housing data. It would be interesting to see where they lived as well.

Overall, I think this project is very interesting. I've done oral histories with factory workers and I think their stories are important to be told. I hope that the research will continue with this project and that the maps will be improved that they can be used more efficiently. According to the website, the GIS feature is new, but I was unable to find a year for when this project began.

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