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About Boston Streets


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Data preparation overview

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The Project:

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Boston Streets: Mapping Directory data was developed by the Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University, with support from a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Additional support was provided by Docema, The Bostonian Society, and other anonymous gifts. The Bostonian Society provided more than 3000 images to the project and was also a major partner in developing descriptive cataloging specifications.

Location, location, location

Boston Streets combines three heavily used resources in historical research libraries, photographs, maps, and city directories in a way that transcends their use in the physical world. Underlying the entire project is the idea that is possible to organize data by spatial location and then link this data to many other sources of information that share the same location without having to extensively catalog them by subject, name, or other subjective terminology. At the same time, any subjective terms that are added become discoverable though their relationship to the location.

More than just a visualization mechanism, Boston Streets uses structured text, standards-based metadata, and GIS tools to create access to collection content. Geographical representations of collection information in terms of both time and space can be generated at the user's request in ways that are flexible enough to support present and future research questions.

A Variety of Materials, Many Uses


Converting traditional city directories from paper resources to full-text searchable digital documents is one essential part of building the geospatial relationships required of such an access system. The city directories contain richly detailed information about occupations, home ownership, city government, immigration trends, populations, civic organizations, and commerce. Advertisements throughout the directories provide a history of commerce, advertising, and manufacturing, as well. By transforming these printed works into well-formed, searchable, easily manipulated, structured databases of information, the content can be accessed, organized, and analyzed in non-traditional ways. The ability to identify street addresses and regularize these addresses according to authority lists allows for geospatial and temporal links to be made across digital library repository holdings. This enriches the user's experience of working with the material.

As of August 2004, eleven Boston city directories beginning in 1845, have entered the Boston Streets directory conversion and data structuring workflow. Sections of each directory that have been identified as containing the richest and most varied information about the city's residents have been and will continue to receive the greatest attention and resource allocation for digital conversion purposes. Other sections of information, such as ward divisions, train schedules, and government divisions, along with advertisements are provided to researches as cataloged page images.


Historic images of Boston from both The Bostonian Society and Tufts University were scanned according digital preservation standards developed by the Library of Congress. Metadata for each images is captured using controlled vocabularies from LC, the Art and Archeticture Thesaurus, and agreed upon local geographical resource lists. As of August 2004, more than 3000 images from The Bostonian Society photographic collections and an additional 400 images from the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives holdings have been added to the repository for use with the Boston Streets project. Contributions from other institutions and organizations are being solicted for inclusion in the next phase of the project.


Overview maps and atlases of Boston ranging from 1844 to 1950 make up the bulk of the geographic resources included in the project. Orthographic images of modern day boston, and vector data from the boston redevelopment authority and MassGIS are use dto ground the Boston in its modern context. The layering of historic maps and datasets of address points collected from those maps, show visually the changes in Boston's physical landscape as time progresses. Bromley, Hopkins, Sampson, and Boston city maps