Each year, the Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board (USHRAB) awards grants to organizations throughout the state to assist with the preservation and public access of our state’s history. These grants are made possible by funding from the National Historical Records and Publications Commission at the National Archives. As we get ready for the USHRAB’s 2023 funding season, we’re going to spend the next couple weeks taking a look at some past and current projects and the work the Board does to make Utah history more accessible.
How do you scan a map that is 44 inches wide and 10 feet tall? The Natural History Museum of Utah needed to figure out a plan to do just that when they proposed their archaeological map scanning project.
The records that are the focus of their project include large format maps and documents created from the 1940s to 1990s during the process of surveying and excavating archaeological sites in Utah. These documents range in size from 8-inch by 20-inch maps to 44 inches by 10 feet. These unique maps and documents were created primarily by the University of Utah’s anthropology staff and students during the course of 50 years. These documents contain both photographic images, hand-drawn illustrations, composite images using illustrations, and photographs. Each of these maps are one of a kind records that were created and used in the field. They are dirty, covered in tape, and ripped in places. Some of the actual physical archaeological sites have been destroyed and the only access to them is through the maps and documents created by people that previously visited and recorded them. If these maps are not preserved, valuable information about human history in the state of Utah, surrounding states (i.e. Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho) could be lost forever.
To preserve these maps, the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU) first started with a large format scanner, called a Contex SD One MF 44 from Proplotter, capable of imaging massive scale maps as those in NHMU’s collection. The maps are being scanned as ultra high resolution TIFF files to capture as much detail and depth as possible. Along with creating archival quality digital files, the processing team will be writing descriptive and informative metadata about each map file, including but not limited to date of document creation, spatial coverage of the document, document creators, and a whole suite of metadata describing the process of creating the digital assets.
Along with creating digital files, NHMU is also rehousing the physical map collection in new protective folders and storing the folders in archival cabinetry and boxes. The maps and documents will be arranged according to the project responsible for creating these records. They will then be recorded in a finding aid that describes the entire archaeological document collection. The finding aid and basic metadata will be shared over the Marriott Library Digital Collections while respecting federal laws on sharing archaeological records.
NHMU has shared their project’s progress via social media and their website, and talked to the public about their project at NHMU’s annual Behind the Scenes event. Around 3,500 to 4,000 people attended this event and had the chance to view the longest map in the collection, which shows the river system of Glen Canyon before it was dammed up to become Lake Powell.
We are looking forward to celebrating the completion of this project with the NHMU team in June. Keep an eye out on the Museum’s website and social media for updates on the project progress.
If your institution has records in need of specialized equipment or care in order to ensure their long-term preservation, consider applying for a USHRAB grant to fund your project and keep your records available for future generations.
The USHRAB’s grant program is funded by a State Board Programming Grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives. The USHRAB assists public and private non-profits, as well as non-Federal government entities throughout the State of Utah in the preservation and use of historical records.