The Digitization Projects Group’s efforts to put the War of the Rebellion Atlas online have once again led to an exciting collaboration, this time with Zada Law, Director of the Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). Law will be utilizing high-resolution copies of several Atlas maps of the Nashville area to see if defensive earthworks built around the city by Federal forces might still be discoverable today, almost 150 years after the war ended.
Law, a PhD candidate at MTSU, plans to overlay the Atlas images with “modern high resolution orthographic aerial images,” she told me via email. Using records from the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and enhanced elevation (LiDAR) datasets, she hopes to locate “previously unrecorded extant earthwork sections or identify where archaeological traces of entrenchments may still remain.” (1)
Before she located the Atlas using a simple Google search, Law was relying on hard copies of the Atlas and other records to conduct her research. That all changed when she found our Digital Collections.
“Finding Baylor’s freely accessible high resolution image of an original copy of the War of the Rebellion Atlas plus searchable metadata was the tipping point for me to finally proceed beyond the dreaming phase,” Law said. “And, as GIS becomes an accepted part of scholarly research in the humanities, I’m certain the need for access to digital copies of original maps will increase.”
The metadata Law refers to is the cataloged information that accompanies each image in our digital Atlas, including information like city names, names of battle participants, descriptions of geographic formations and more. This is the fully-searchable information that makes finding specific locations or persons in our Atlas much faster than using traditional printed indices and page-by-page searching available elsewhere.
In addition to her work on the Federal defenses of Nashville, Law shared access to the Atlas collection to Dr. Wayne Moore of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Moore is heading up a project called the Tennessee Civil War GIS Project, where he and his team are working to “inventory and describe the geospatial data points for approximately 700 Tennessee Civil War military engagements” throughout the state. “Having the Atlas’ maps available online and searchable and ‘zoomable’ through your website will improve our workflow and will be less tedious that looking at hard copies of the maps with a magnifying glass,” Law said.
Finally, Law hopes to use an image of the area around Murfreesboro – specifically a location called Fortress Rosecrans – to search for the location of a nearby contraband camp. “Contraband” during the Civil War referred to Confederate-owned slaves who sought protection in Federal camps or who lived in areas that fell under Federal control. The public history program at MTSU is documenting a “rural post-emancipation African American community that likely had former residents of that camp,” Law said, and the maps provided by Baylor could help them in their work.
We’ll keep you posted on how Law’s research goes, and we wish her and her colleagues all the best in their efforts. We’re happy to be collaborators in this important work, and we look forward to seeing where it leads as the Civil War Sesquicentennial continues through 2015.
(1) Excerpts from email from Zada Law, received 1/5/2012
Visit the Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.