A Baldwin Hall study commissioned by the university’s Office of Research has reached a significant goal: completion of a comprehensive mapping project conducted by a team of faculty and students led by Marguerite Madden and Sergio Bernardes, director and associate director, respectively, of the Center for Geospatial Research.
The project was commissioned after human remains were unearthed on the Baldwin Hall construction site. Initial DNA analysis of the remains revealed the vast majority of those tested were of maternal African descent; therefore, considering the age of the remains, the individuals were most likely slaves or former slaves. The Office of Research pledged last spring to support the further research of the Madden-Bernardes team in the UGA department of geography.
The team’s immediate goal was to construct an interactive database of maps, photos and other images that collectively reveal the changing physical landscape in and around the Old Athens Cemetery, Oconee Hill Cemetery, the UGA campus and the greater Athens area from the 1800s to present. The team has created a chronological series of maps showing the evolution of the cemeteries, campus and town, serving as a tool to connect additional research to the changing physical landscape.
“This interactive database will be a wonderful tool for anyone wishing to research and report the history of Athens, including the history of the Athens African-American community,” said Vice President for Research David Lee.
To create the database, Madden and Bernardes assembled a team of UGA graduate and undergraduate students, as well as two local high school students. Over the past year, members collected maps (some dating back 200 years), aerial photographs and satellite imagery focused on the north UGA campus and extending to the historical 19th-century circular boundary of Athens.
“This project provided an excellent vehicle for training students in the use of geographic information systems and an opportunity to engage Athens-area high school students in a relevant and timely STEM application,” Madden said. “We hope it is a platform for education and continued discussion about Athens history.”
The unique database of maps and images will be made available to researchers and the general public alike for use in building their own Athens-area “story maps”—multimedia presentations that can combine research findings, historical accounts and oral histories with the detailed geographical resources developed by the Madden-Bernardes team.
To illustrate use of the database, as well as to summarize its work, the team has constructed a story map depicting the evolution of the project, which can be accessed online at www.athenslayersoftime.uga.edu.
The story map demonstrates how interactive maps, images and other information from the database can both enhance the known record and highlight new discoveries. For example, an old, hand-drawn map of burial sites in the Old Athens Cemetery can be accurately projected onto current aerial views, even allowing users to scroll over specific burial sites to reveal what is known about the individual buried there.
The team is presently working to construct a publicly accessible map portal, through which anyone interested in Athens history may view, download and use maps and other imagery contained in the database. The portal is expected to be complete later this fall.