Using spatially-aware census records to examine a marginalized community in Ithaca, NY, 1900-1940

Authors: Robert Kibbee*, The History Center in Tompkins County, Eve Snyder, The History Center in Tompkins County
Topics: Historical Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Temporal GIS
Keywords: GIS, Human Geography, Marginalized Communities, Digital Humanities
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 24
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

HistoryForge is a web environment for understanding local history on an individual and neighborhood level. The History Center in Tompkins County is developing this application as an open source product available to any community. We will review the features of HistoryForge and then demonstrate and test its use in understanding "The Rhine," a marginalized community of Ithaca, NY, which existed from c.1890 to 1940, before it was removed for urban renewal.
HistoryForge is powered by census records from five US censuses that local volunteers have transcribed into a searchable database. Every record attribute is captured and every record is geo-coded through the street address. Geo-coding "supercharges" the map layers, which are geo-rectified mosaics of contemporaneous historical maps, primarily Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Researchers can then display filtered search results on these layers. HistoryForge also provides a scaffold for incorporating archival and user-generated content
The Rhine neighborhood straggled along the Cayuga Lake inlet in Ithaca's West End. Squatters and transient laborers and some immigrant groups inhabited clusters of shacks and substandard housing. The Rhine has been romanticized over time and was the subject of two early 20th century novels, most notably Tess of the Storm Country. Local historians have described the area but the demographics and the built environment have not been closely examined.
We will use HistoryForge to begin this examination and test the limitations of the application, the census or any data source as well as the accuracy and inclusiveness of historical map sets in representing marginalized communities.

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