SBIR Phase I: Temporal Geocoder: A Collaborative Software Tool for Connecting Historical Materials with Contemporary Place
The innovation is a new approach to structuring, collecting and using historical geospatial data that will make it possible to rapidly assign a geographic location for text descriptions appearing in historic documents. Geospatial location is a critical element of most documents, and historical archives are no exception. Geocoding, the assignment of coordinates to a geographic reference, is the key task required to enable geographic searching of historical databases. While geocoding technology has continued to advance, current digital mapping systems focus on contemporary location references, and an urban scale temporal geocoder has yet to be developed. Such a service would take not only an address, intersection or place name as an input but also a time period, enabling accurate identification of its contemporary location on the urban landscape even when street names and other reference information have changed over the years. New database structures and processing algorithms will be developed that translate street addresses from any documented time period into contemporary geographic coordinates. Collaborative data collection and quality assessment tools will enable individuals with varying skillsets across diverse locations to update, edit, and refine the historic geographic and temporal data that will populate the database. The broader/commercial impact is the development of temporally-enabled geographic databases that will support both new and more effective use of historical data for research in public health, political science, criminology, social science, genealogy and any other subject where the connection between past and present is important. Street names, place names and addressing systems in our cities change a great deal over time. The dynamic nature of urban geography in particular has long been a barrier to the use of historic directories, property deeds, atlases, and other archival materials as a means of understanding the relationships between geographic location and the human condition. While current commercial and open source geocoders can help researchers navigate the contemporary landscape, the ability to tag documents with a geographic location at a specific time will unlock an entirely new dimension of human knowledge by bringing digital scholarship and research to archives that are largely untapped. In addition to generating new knowledge about the past, a collaborative platform for creating, maintaining, accessing, and viewing temporal geographic data is a significant business opportunity. The initial project will focus on the City of Philadelphia, but the resulting framework will be applicable to any location in the world.
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