Monday, February 22, 2010

Reinventing local history: background

We at Cleveland Area History want to do our best to connect you to the many rich local history resources this community has to offer -- such as these fine examples:

Case Western Reserve University - Cleveland Books (130 titles) and the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Cleveland Landmarks Commission - Cleveland Architects Database, landmark listings

Cleveland Memory - Books, photographs, other documents

Cleveland Public Library - books, photographs, maps and the Cleveland Necrology File

Cuyahoga County Recorder - property transfer records 1812-present

Google Books - full text of many hard to find books and periodicals

Library of Congress - photographs, many at very high resolutions

Rails and Trails - historic maps, including a full set of turn of the century USGS topos for northeast Ohio and Google Earth overlays for historic maps.

Western Reserve Historical Society - various databases

But sometimes our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness. There are so many resources out there, both online and in print -- how do we bring them all together in one place?

It’s a challenging prospect, but what we would like to see is a massive database that links all of our online local history resources in one place.

Imagine being able to do one search, and your online research needs would be taken care of ... all without the pain of slogging through page after page of Google hits.

Imagine a database that would link together all of the many contributions made not just by institutions, but by individuals as well. Local history blogs such as this one might be included, as well as many wonderful Flickr sets, such as this one, taken ca. 1929.

And then imagine what would happen if we pushed for online access to those collections that are currently only available offline! For example, the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) nomination forms, which provide a detailed background on the significance of the site (including historic documentation). There are 353 such properties in Cuyahoga County. Or what about the Ohio Historic Inventory forms, which are kept by Cleveland Landmarks Commission? These forms, a couple thousand of them, could provide a very useful data set. Or the property cards kept by the Cuyahoga County Archives? This list is endless.

What form might this project take? A wiki might be a good means to this end. Take a look at the Paul Revere House. We could show exactly where, on a map, the house is, provide contemporary and historic photographs, and provide text describing the house. Further, we could categorize the architecture by style, age, neighborhood, street, and city.

Now this would take some planning, but it’s completely within the realm of the possible. Would such a resource be of value to you? We want to hear your thoughts!

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