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Building the Philadelphia GeoHistory Network

Friday-Saturday December 2-3, 2005
Chemical Heritage Foundation, 315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia PA 19106

Sponsored by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL)
Conference presentations and summaries now online

GIS technology is proving itself to be a valuable tool for organizing data for both the public and private sectors -- for municipal infrastructure maintenance and record-keeping, regional planning, real estate, land use, and tourism. At the same time, scholars are using the technology in disciplines that embrace the humanities, the social sciences, the physical sciences, and medicine.


  • historians and social scientists
  • teachers
  • neighborhood, city and regional planners
  • natural and environmental scientists and planners
  • demographers and epidemiologist
  • librarians and instructional technologists
  • tourism professionals
  • real estate developers, community development professionals, architects, landscape architects
  • social services and public health/safety professionals

Now, PACSCL invites current and potential GIS users to gather to think about new uses for a geographic based resource, new users from a range of disciplines, and new ranges of contributors and contributions. The purpose of this symposium is to focus less on the "how" of building a GIS and more on the "why." We will concentrate on finding ways that data from all of these sectors -- when organized with a sense of place and time -- can offer new insights into connections across these disciplines.

Panel discussions in the mornings will be followed by facilitated small group discussions and information sharing in the afternoons. Participants will be grouped according to potential GIS uses (history, social sciences, city/regional planning, human services, public health, etc.) and users (professional affinity groups) for the small group discussions. PACSCL's objectives in hosting this event are to foster increased cooperation among a widened range of current and potential GIS users and to give participants the opportunity to consider issues of how best to work together in the presence of a lively and informed group of colleagues. The results of this symposium will be used to further shape the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.


Philadelphia GeoHistory Network Presenters:

  • David Moltke-Hansen, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
  • Bruce Laverty and Walter Rice, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia/Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project
  • Joan Decker, Commissioner of Records, City of Philadelphia

About the Meeting Site

The Chemical Heritage Foundation, a PACSCL member, serves the community of the chemical and molecular sciences, and the wider public, by treasuring the past, educating the present, and inspiring the future. Located in the historic First National Bank Building, less than two blocks from Independence Hall, the facility includes meeting space, a collection alchemical art dating back to the 17th century, displays of chemical equipment and glassware, changing exhibitions, and a library of more than 100,000 volumes. For more information, see

There are abundant opportunities for lunch within a two-block radius, including many restaurants in the 100 and 200 blocks of Chestnut Street and on south 2nd Street. The nearby Bourse Building (4th Street between Market and Chestnut) contains a food court with mutiple fast food choices. For additional information on Philadelphia restaurants, see

About the Philadelphia GeoHistory Network

The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network is planned to be an online resource that will allow users to explore Philadelphia through a series of interlinked maps, property information, photographs, and historical data. Users will eventually be able to call up a digital map of Philadelphia for a given year, point a cursor at a particular spot, and call up related information, such as the history of that building, photographs of it, the account books of a business that once owned it, or records identifying residents. Researchers will also be able to move backward and forward in time to examine land use or follow shifts in residence or employment patterns.

The GeoHistory Network will have as its foundation the extraordinary work of two PACSCL partners, the City of Philadelphia Department of Records and the Athenæum of Philadelphia. Its goal will be to provide a publicly accessible historical "map" for the Philadelphia region. Using an online Geographic Information System, users will be able to interact with different layers of history -- from Civil-War era atlases to turn-of-the-century photographs to the new city map developed by the Department of Records. The project will draw on building information and digital images from the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project, which is already available online at

The City of Philadelphia's Department of Records holds authoritative land records as well as two million photographs documenting the city's history and growth. Its historical land record maps have been scanned and prepared for use in the city's Geographic Information System, providing an accurate base for adding multiple layers of geographical information. To this base will be added the resources of photographs, records, and building plans collected by the Philadelphia Architect and Buildings Project, supported by funding from The William Penn Foundation and housed at The Athenæum of Philadelphia, as well as historical data from other PACSCL member libraries and archives and, potentially, additional contributors. It will offer a research tool for scholars, urban planners, architects and designers, historic site interpreters, tourists, teachers, and students.


The twenty-eight member libraries and archives of the Philadelphia Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) collect, care for, and share with a world-wide audience collections that, in their depth and variety, comprise an internationally important body of unique materials for students, scholars and lifelong learners at any level.

The collections of PACSCL member libraries include a total of more than 3,000,000 rare books, 200,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archival materials, and 9,000,000 photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and works of art on paper. PACSCL member libraries hold rich collections of materials on national, regional, and local history; the natural and social sciences; world history, literature and religion; art and architecture; and business and industry. For more information, see


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