Mapping Early Lebanese, Part I

This installment provides background on the year-long collaborative project with The Digital Innovation Lab. The next installment will include the interactive tools designed for the community. Telling the story of the largely unstudied Lebanese community in North Carolina would not be possible without the generous donations of family photographs and home movies as well as oral histories to learn firsthand the rich and complex history of the community.  Along with conducting primary research into the process of naturalization and uncovering local newspaper reports of Lebanese/Syrian immigration, we also collaborated with experts to illustrate and represent this history in new ways. Like making maps!

Charlotte, NC postcard courtesy of “Main Street, Carolina” project

In Fall 2011, the Lebanese in North Carolina Project teamed up with UNC, Chapel Hill’s Digital Innovation Lab to “spatialize historical data” to demonstrate the presence of Lebanese immigrants to two North Carolina towns–Charlotte and New Bern from 1880-1920. The Digital Innovation Lab and, specifically, their “Main Street, Carolina” initiative, focuses on using large scale data sets derived from Sanborn Insurance maps, Census data, city directories and newspapers to tell migration stories of various populations.  Because Lebanese/Syrian immigrants began making their mark on their communities early, they are “visible” in the historical data! Two School of Information and Library Science students, Kim McCray and Elizabeth DeBold, worked with city directories and census enumerations (for 1900, 1910 and 1920) gathered by a team of undergraduates, and UNC Archivist and Lebanese-American, John Blythe, to identify and map Lebanese families, household and business locations by surname and date. You can see the important research conducted by the undergraduates here. The way they compiled their research provides yet another great tool to find census data for and photographs of various “downtowns” in North Carolina (25 to be exact)!

Screenshot, “Main Street, Carolina” undergraduate research

The outcome is 2 interactive maps that can be sorted by various fields. The sites also offer household listings, short responses by undergraduates based on the research conducted for and impressions of this project, and lengthy bibliographies for all of you interested in pursuing personal research into your family legacy. Learn more about the Digital Innovation Lab and its projects including a new tool they are working on, inspired by “Main Street, Carolina,” called diPh (pronounced “diff). The second installment will be posted soon!

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