By Greg Kowalski
The multilayered history of Hamtramck is coming to light, thanks to an innovative venture involving a partnership of Wayne State University, Michigan Technological University and the Hamtramck Historical Museum.
It’s called Deep Mapping, and, with it, not only can you view the past, you can help preserve it.
“This has been a community creation,” said Prof. Krysta Ryzewski, who chairs the Anthropology Department at Wayne State University.
The idea, she said, was to have people contribute their personal stories and memories of Hamtramck, to be folded into a digital mapping site spanning the city.
Ryzewski was speaking at the introduction of the project on Sunday, Oct. 8, at the Hamtramck Historical Museum. Also speaking was Dan Trepal, associate professor at Michigan Technological University in the Upper Peninsula, who has introduced a similar project in the Keweenaw Peninsula. But what’s envisioned for Hamtramck may be much more sweeping.
Essentially, for this project – christened The Hamtramck Explorer – historical sites around the city have been identified on a digital map of Hamtramck. By clicking on the sites, you can see photos of buildings and objects associated with these sites through the years. At the core of it all are Sanborn Fire Insurance maps.
Such maps have been used for decades, for insurance purposes, to show what buildings existed in town, and these maps include specific information on size, use and what they were made of, for example whether they were wood or steel construction.
For urban archaeologists, they are gold mines of information.
You can see for yourself. Go to www.mappinghamtramck.com. You can switch between drawings of buildings across the city and aerial photos of the sites. Then, you can focus on individual sites.
But this is just the beginning: the website has tabs leading to “Artifacts,” “Historical Maps,” “Historical Photos,” “Historical Records,” and “Report Documents.” These are being added to on a continuous basis. And the public is being invited to contribute their personal stories of life in Hamtramck as well.
Such stories can be emailed to the Hamtramck Historical Museum at email@example.com, or mailed to the museum at 9525 Jos. Campau, Hamtramck, MI 48212.
“The public has a lot of information,” Trepal said. “You can say, ‘I know something about this,’” and add it to the information bank.
“Memories come back,” Trepal said, as people get more involved in the process.
Trepal, along with MTU professor Don Lafreniere, led the mapping project in the Upper Peninsula. Lafreniere is also involved in the Hamtramck project, but could not attend the presentation at the museum due to his commitments at the university.
Wayne State University already has a deep knowledge of Hamtramck. Anthropology students under the direction of Ryzewski have conducted three archaeological digs in the city – two at the site of the old village hall on Jos. Campau, between Grayling and Alice streets, and on a lot just south of the viaduct at Denton Street.
The digs have produced a vast amount of material uncovered by the students. And their work has greatly increased knowledge of the city’s development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Items found there are being processed and fed into the Hamtramck Explorer website.
And this is just the beginning. “Our goal is to digitally map all of Hamtramck, open it up so that any of you who have stories of Hamtramck can upload the information too,” Ryzewski said.
The Hamtramck Explorer already is attracting attention in the world of professional anthropology and archaeology. Ryzewski said that, at a recent professional conference in Lansing where the site was demonstrated, it attracted a lot of attention.
The Hamtramck Historical Museum has been a part of the project from its inception, and even earlier. The museum has been working closely with WSU students on the dig sites, which were identified by the museum. The museum and WSU have an official operating agreement, and a portion of the museum has been set aside for the museum students and volunteers to archive material into the site database.
Future archaeological digs are already being planned, and will no doubt contribute to The Hamtramck Explorer.
(Mr. Kowalski is the Executive Director of the Hamtramck Historical Museum.)