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Map Digitization!

By Laura Juliano

Posted on August 21, 2019

Thanks to our new initiative, Portal to the Past: Creating Brooklyn Historical Society’s Digital Map Collections, BHS has just finished digitizing 1,600 maps!

In 2017, BHS received a generous grant from National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support Portal to the Past: Creating Brooklyn Historical Society’s Digital Map Collections, a project that will increase public access to the institution’s extensive collection of flat and folded maps through conservation, digitization, and the creation of a web-based portal. Additional generous funding for this project has been provided by the Robert D. L. Gardiner Foundation as part of the Revealing Long Island History project.

BHS’s map collection is full of unique and special maps that are now preserved forever as high-resolution images. These will soon be available to students, researchers, and the world via our upcoming Map Portal, launching this fall! While we are still putting final touches on the map portal, you are welcome to come visit the Othmer Library and look at the maps in person, as all our maps are back onsite and available upon request.

Bay Ridge and Red Hook Channels, Buttermilk Channel, Gownus Canal and Gowanus Creek Channel, New York, showing condition of improvements in charge of Major H.M. Adams, Corps of Engineers, U.S.A. [1896]; B A-1896.Fl; Brooklyn Historical Society.

While the majority of the maps in the collection depict Brooklyn, BHS also has a large collection of Long Island, Manhattan, New York State maps, as well as topical maps such as those depicting Civil War and Revolutionary War battles and events. Together, these maps provide unprecedented detail about the built environment of Brooklyn and the United States across five centuries.

Assessing flat maps and adding barcodes in the Othmer Library, Brooklyn Historical Society.

The first step to digitization was assessing our folded maps and checking their ability to be digitized; each map was appraised for fragility, how many pieces it was in, the condition of the paper, if they had hard covers or booklets, and if they were able to be handled and moved without damage. If they were able to be digitized, they were encapsulated in Mylar and added to the flat file maps.

Already encapsulated maps were assessed for durability and content. Each map was given a barcode, placed in a flat box, and shipped offsite for digitization.

Tess Colwell approves pick-up of our first batch of maps, Brooklyn Historical Society.
Map boxes ready for pick-up in our Fransioli Gallery, Brooklyn Historical Society.

Julie May and Camille Lannan at IDI Headquarters in East Brunswick, New Jersey.

Innovative Document Imaging (IDI), our digitization vendor, used overhead map scanners for small- and medium-sized maps, and a large rolling scanner for our oversized maps. This entire process took eight months from start to finish!

Overhead map scanner with a BHS map getting scanned, at IDI Headquarters in East Brunswick, New Jersey.

The completion of digitization is a huge accomplishment and a great leap forward for BHS. Thanks to the hard work of the project team, our vendors, and collections staff, we have digitized the majority of BHS’s map collection and we can’t wait to share the results with the world!

Daniel Brenner helps with the final map delivery at Brooklyn Historical Society.
Bergen manuscript maps at Brooklyn Historical Society.

If you missed our first two posts, please read them here and here. In the meantime, please stay tuned for the next update on this project!

Map Portal Team:

Julie I. May, Laura Juliano, Camille Lannan, Daniel Brenner

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