Thursday, December 8, 2011

Washington College GIS Program Takes an Exclusive Tour of the U.S. Library of Congress

Several GIS interns, along with Professor Stewart Bruce’s GRW class, recently took a trip to the Library of Congress to receive an exclusive tour of their map rooms. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Mr. Michael Buscher, Collections Management Team Leader of the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress. Mr. Buscher escorted the group through many rooms filled with thousands of maps containing information about seemingly every place and time in history. We saw many incredible maps and atlases including an original map hand drawn by George Washington of the Potomac River and Mt. Vernon. We were also shown the first map of the new United States made after the American Revolution (as pictured below) that was recently sold at auction for 2 million dollars and then donated to the Library of Congress. The tour continued with a map that was originally annotated by Lewis and Clark, along with Stonewall Jackson’s cartographer’s original map book and a map drawn by him. This is especially relevant to our program because during the Civil War General Stonewall Jackson used GEOINT to get an advantage over the Union forces. The General told Capt. Jedediah Hotchkiss, "I want you to make me a map of the Valley, from Harpers Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offense and defense." Considering Hotchkiss's mapmaking skills, this would give Jackson a significant advantage the Union army in the campaign to come.

The staff informed us how these maps come into the possession of the Library of Congress, including through private donors interested in protecting an artifact or via government agencies that no longer require them. The Library of Congress also contains a large and growing collection of Sanborn maps that they are making digital. The Library of Congress is working together with the GIS lab for our Easton project by digitizing their Sanborn maps of Easton, Maryland.

After seeing a vast array of maps, atlases, and globes, both new and old, we were shown the room where maps are scanned and digitized using an extremely large state-of-the-art scanning machine (pictured below). However, the trip did not end there. We also visited the Library of Congress Jefferson building and were able to see Thomas Jefferson’s library, as well as a copy of the 2 million dollar map we had previously seen in person. To cap the day off our group toured the U.S. Botanical Garden.

With George Washington’s upcoming birthday early next year, Ed Redmond, Senior Reference Specialist and Curator, Vault Collections of the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress, will be giving a talk on George Washington's maps here at Washington College for the occasion. Coupled with this talk, the GIS Program is planning an exhibit of Washington's maps and surveys to coincide with the celebration of George Washington's birthday.

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