Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mapping Seattle's Lost Landscapes

Founded on Indian ground by American settlers in 1851, Seattle is one of the most dramatically engineered cities in the United States. Its shorelines have been extended, lagoons filled, hills flattened and rivers re-routed. Built on an active geological fault near a large volcano, Seattle has also been jolted by huge earthquakes, washed by tsunammis, covered by volcanic mud and ash, fluted by glaciers and edged by rising seas. Enter here to glimpse this history through The Waterlines Project.

This attractive site from the Burke Museum takes a geographical approach to Seattle history.  At the core of the project are some neat GIS layers of traditional and historical shorelines, rivers, and other geographic features along with historic maps and place marks for significant sites. But GIS and the web are like oil and water, so the maps are rendered in flash (at least that is what I think is going on). I am not fond of flash but this site is really well-done, at least once you give up on trying to download anything and realize that the right click is no longer what you think. Fortunately a Maps and Images section provides downloadable copies of many (though not all) of the images used in the flash site.

The Duwamish River section (I would link, but it's Flash so I can't) has the richest collection of map overlays. On a modern map of Seattle you can click boxes to superimpose important native sites, maps of the shoreline at different eras, and maps showing how the rivers have been rerouted. Each layer brings up new interpretive paragraphs and a map key.

Waterlines is an ongoing project and will be more than a website: "In planning stages now are physical exhibits to be placed at sites in downtown Seattle and electronic broadcasts to handheld devices." Sounds great!

[Top Image: Plan of city during Battle of Seattle, 1856, Courtesy of University of Washington Libraries Image number: 2002.3.54.]

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