My name is Jeff Burnett, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology and an incoming CHI Fellow. When not in CHI I work as Campus Archaeologist, a student position in MSU’s Campus Archaeology Program. My dissertation research is an archaeological investigation of a historic resort in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. My work there focuses on the history of African American homeownership, the experience of place, and community formation.

As part of this project, I performed extensive research at the local Registry of Deeds, digitizing many historical records. By chaining the deed records of a single property together it becomes possible to view changes in landownership over time. By looking at many properties, it becomes possible to explore such changes within a geographic community. It is my hope that digging into this history will allow investigators to ask questions about what the community looked like in the past and what it may have been like to live there.

While historical deeds are public records and are available to all, they are not easily accessible. Additionally, individual deed records to not give a sense of a historic community. If we want to understand a residents’ community, neighborhoods, and social lives we need connect the records to each other and in space and time.

I am in CHI this year to learn what digital and computational techniques are available to turn historical documents into an accessible, open, web-based map. Once I find the best tools, I want to learn how to do make map that allows individuals to learn from and build on the history of landownership recorded in deed records. CHI seemed like the best opportunity to do both. While I have a lot of experience making static maps in digital Geographic Information Systems (GIS) programs, my goal is to learn how to make something more dynamic that allows people to view the history of their homes and their community in a new way.

As this is my first year in CHI and I am a new coder I know I have lots to learn. I look forward to this and expect that many of my posts will share my thoughts on the difficulties and possibilities of what I want to do.