The Challenges of Georeferencing

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The Challenges of Georeferencing

2012-03-25 00:00


While I sit at my wooden, kitchen table in Michigan processing metadata for a collection of drawings and paintings of mansions, buildings, and landscapes, most of which have been swept away by the passage of time, I am over 700 miles away from the unfamiliar streets of Philadelphia. As I approach the midway point in my internship with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I find that the most challenging and yet, most enjoyable aspect of processing the metadata for David J. Kennedy’s artwork is the georeferencing.  Georeferencing requires me to pinpoint on a modern-day Google map the location of the object that Kennedy drew or painted.  Accomplishing this presents many challenges, most of which revolve around the physical distance that separates me from the geographical locations that I am referencing. 

In truth, I have never even been to Philadelphia, which, of course, makes it even more challenging to georeference.   On a few pieces of work, Kennedy noted the crossroads of where the object once stood.  An example of this is the Vauxhall Garden at northeast corner of Broad and Walnut Streets.  Specifying the Vauxhall Garden at Broad and Walnut Streets is a simple, clear-cut georeference. 

    Vauxhall Garden at northeast corner of Broad and Walnut Streets
    Object 6470

However, it is the objects where little information or no information is provided that are the most difficult to map.  Yet, despite its difficulty, these objects can be also be the most interesting, because they require me to do more research. Kennedy’s “Belmont, The Residence of Judge Peters,” stands out in my mind as an art piece that I had to delve deeper into.  I could not simply pinpoint Belmont, Pennsylvania as the exact location for the residence, as multiple Belmonts could exist.  So, when I created a related entity for Judge Peters, I needed to find out his first name as Peters is a common surname.  When I began my research, I discovered that Judge Peters was Judge Richard Peters, Judge of U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania.  Researching a brief biography of Judge Peters led me to the official website for Belmont.  Belmont was not a town at all; it was an estate located at 2000 Belmont Mansion Drive in Philadelphia.  If I had not conducted further research into Judge Peters, I may not have discovered what Belmont truly was.

Belmont, The Residence of Judge Peters
Object 4592

Other objects can prove even more challenging when the georeference is outside of the United States.  Occasionally, Kennedy painted in locations within the United Kingdom.   His painting, “General Front and Floor Plan of Rosehall House, The Seat of Sir James Hamilton, November 1831,” was a little challenging to work with, as I discovered that it was located in Lanarkshire, Scotland.  Again, this required me to investigate who the person noted in the title was first for me to attempt properly locating the georeference.  My research led me to N. Lanarkshire, United Kingdom.  Researching individuals does not always led immediately to a geographical location, so digging up this information can be time consuming.  But, as I enjoy most historical research, it is a rewarding experience to gain more knowledge on something I knew nothing of before. 

General Front and Floor Plan of Rosehall House, The Seat of Sir James Hamilton, November 1831
Object 4680

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