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General Information, Media Advisory, Research

Map Quest: LSU Scholars Digitize 140 Years of Change in New Orleans Neighborhoods

07/02/2013 09:27 AM

BATON ROUGE – The city of New Orleans has some of the finest architectural records in the United States, but until recently those records were disconnected sets of data housed in different archives. Now, LSU Professor of Geography & Anthropology Jay Edwards and Research Associate Gabriele Richardson are completing a four-year project that presents maps, records and data on historic New Orleans neighborhoods in a unified digital database. The user-friendly project covers the period between 1800 and 1940.

The digital database compiles Sanborn maps, which were once used in American cities to assess fire liability, hand painted images of New Orleans properties created for assessment purposes, aerial maps, planning documents, real estate transactions and other sources of information. Once the various records have been integrated and put online, users will be able to click on particular parts of town to learn more about their evolution over a 140-year period. The database provides scholars and researchers a unique window into the city’s architectural history.  

“When you have this much information in one place and it’s easy to access, the scholarship possibilities are endless,” said Edwards, an expert in vernacular architecture in the Gulf South and Caribbean who retired from teaching in January. “Our intention is to make it available to the widest set of users, including historians, planners, architects and everyday residents.”

The database shows how shotgun houses, Creole cottages and other housing types changed over time because of historic events. For example, after the influx of Haitians in New Orleans between 1804 and 1809, the city saw an increase in small, affordable shotgun houses. And later, after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, New Orleans experienced the development of the camelback, a housing type that provided a convenient second story over the kitchen on the rear of the structure that was used largely as a master suite. By then, middle class women were cooking for their families, and they wanted the convenience of a private bedroom separated from the kitchen and family dining space.  

As more information is found and added to the digital database, researchers will be able to unearth all sorts of aspects of life in historic New Orleans neighborhoods, from the domestic habits of demographic groups to the relationship between housing types and income levels, to the evolution of architectural features.   

Richardson worked on the technical aspects of the project, digitally stitching sections of maps to create a complete picture of the city during a given period. She layered maps from GeoVideo, aerial photos from 1933 and 2006, Satellite images from 2004, the Robinson Atlas from 1883 and the Sanborn maps, constantly ensuring that maps from different periods were accurately geo-referenced.

The pioneering work will be searchable on personal computers as well as smartphones and other mobile devices.

“With everything accessible in one place,” said Edwards, “the project will allow researchers to rewrite the rules of the game.”

The Department of Geography & Anthropology is part of the LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences. For more information, visit


By Maggie Heyn Richardson

LSU Media Relations