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Mapping Bethlehem’s development

Lehigh University and the Bethlehem Area Public Library were recently awarded a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Libraries Library and Technology Act grant to digitize, process and deliver geo-spatial information that will allow researchers to view socio-economic patterns of the city of Bethlehem over space and time.

The result will be a geo-spatial presentation of turn-of-the-last-century Bethlehem population and a context for more specialized visualization of workers in the steel industry, according to Julia Maserjian, Lehigh’s Digital Library Project coordinator.

Maserjian, along with Library and Technology Services staff, is being aided in the project by Roger Simon, professor of history, and John Smith, associate professor of history, as well as several Lehigh graduate students in history.

The grant will allow for the implementation of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to reconstruct early 20th century Bethlehem, drawing data from early fire insurance maps of Bethlehem, old city directories, employee lists from Bethlehem Steel, and early census reports.

“With this project’s resources, we will reconstruct an important, and typical, industrial city around the turn of the last century,” Maserjian says. “This reconstruction will provide valuable data on ethnicity, occupation, age, marital status and income. Through this process, we’ll contribute to the understanding of the region’s major industry and early 20th century and the society that made it work.”

This project is the first of its kind in the Lehigh Valley area, Maserjian says. It was inspired by similar projects in larger metropolitan areas, such as the pilot program being developed by the Greater Philadelphia History GeoHistory Network. That project will include a web-based repository of geographically organized historical information about that city, its buildings, people and geography.

Such projects, she says, allow others to investigate immigration, demographic patterns and consumption across space and time.

“This will permit the scholar or casual researcher to browse and search through images and text, or interact with multiple layers of information—all accessible through the web,” she adds.

The completed project will be presented in May of 2008 as part of the Beyond Steel: An Archive of Lehigh Valley Industry and Culture web site, providing a unique resource for researchers working in history, geography, sociology, and economics.

For more information about current Lehigh Digital Library projects, please go online.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Tuesday, May 22, 2007

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