The S. Murray Rust, Jr. Digital Scholarship Center at Lehigh University recently launched a geographical information system (GIS) project that maps the townscape of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the early twentieth century (http://digital.lib.lehigh.edu/beyondsteel/gis/). This interactive, historical GIS tool enables site visitors to map and to investigate spatially the lives of turn-of-the-century Bethlehem residents and Bethlehem Steel Company employees. Active from 1857-2003, “the Steel,” as locals call the company, was the area’s major employer at the opening of the twentieth century. The Steel is a major figure in the story of industrial growth, dominance, and decline both regionally and nationally.
Using demographic, housing, and employment data, this GIS tool provides information about those who lived in Bethlehem, especially Bethlehem Steel workers. The data, gleaned from the Sholes’ Directory of the Bethlehems from 1900-1901, Bethlehem Steel employee lists from 1900-1902, and select 1900 census data for Lehigh and Northampton Counties. Visitors can visualize this data geographically, as the site plots the information on a composite of historical Sanborn fire insurance maps from 1912-1935. Site visitors can also search the data sets textually.
The local Sholes’ Directory provides Bethlehem residents’ names, addresses, occupations and employers, marital status, and whether they owned or rented. Finer-grained data and spatial information is available for Bethlehem Steel Company employees. The company’s employee lists provide employee names, salaries, and where they worked within Bethlehem Steel. By searching the 1900 Census for these 1,200 steel workers, the site supplements the employee list information with details about the workers' age, race, place of birth, education, paternal and maternal country of origin, and other census information. By cross-referencing the employee lists, the Sholes’ Directory, and the census data, the site allows visitors to see where these workers lived, their proximity to work, and how their job status, pay, ethnicity, and education affected housing patterns. The site is being expanded and enhanced so visitors will be able to see the location of other businesses and industries (and the residences’ of their workers) in addition to the Steel. Coming in August 2008, data on the location of the area’s textile mills and their employees’ residences will be made available.
This GIS component is the most recent addition to Lehigh University’s digital library project dedicated to illustrating the region’s industrial history, Beyond Steel: An Archive of Lehigh Valley Industry and Culture (http://digital.lib.lehigh.edu/beyondsteel/). This project chronicles the nineteenth-century industrial boom and twentieth-century industrial decline in the Lehigh Valley through a large set of digitized materials including letters, books, newspaper articles, maps, photographs, pamphlets, and oral histories. The site continues to grow as materials are added that tell the story of how coal, canals, railroads, iron and steel converged in the making of an industrial community. Beyond Steel, especially with the addition of the GIS component, enables researchers and students to study not only the lives of railroad barons and steel titans, but also the everyday experiences of people who worked and lived in the community.
For more information about the GIS project of Beyond Steel, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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