Digital Mapping and Teaching the History of Rio de Janiero


Digital Mapping and Teaching the History of Rio de Janiero

The Architect and the Historian

Metcalf first presented at Rice in 2008, when she was recruited to give a job talk about her work on 16th century maps of Brazil.  Farès el-Dahdah, then a Rice University School of Architecture Professor, was in the audience and they began an email correspondence after the lecture.  Rice pursued Metcalf to fill an opening for a Brazilian historian, and when she returned to the campus in 2009, she and el-Dahdah met for lunch.  “He was interested in the design of Brazil, and I was talking about my interest in and learning about digital mapping, how GIS is transforming the way we make maps.  I’d started going to conferences on digital mapping, and I was learning how to make maps in GIS to be published in a book I was finishing.”

Metcalf and el-Dahdah have taught the History of Rio HIST/ARCH 366 class three times.  “We were really putting together the history of the city.  We alternated lectures.  Farès would focus on how the city’s urban fabric changed over time, the sorts of projects mayors and viceroys were implementing to redesign the city.  What kinds of projects are architects developing to support the changing political aspirations for Rio? And I was teaching the social history of the city.  Where did people live and how did they move through the city?  How are the public spaces of the city used by the people?”

Originally, Metcalf and el-Dahdah planned an exhibit on Rio to go along with the excitement about the Olympics, but then it became a digital project.  “Having an architect and a historian working on the same project allows you to come at it from different perspectives and sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree on points,” said Metcalf.  “But we can do so much more on a digital platform.  Farès was interested in the design of the city from an architect’s perspective.  I was interested in the social history of the city.  He is a natural with digital technology. I was full of excitement when I returned from an International Cartographic Association conference on Digital Approaches to Cartographic Heritage in The Hague in 2011.”  At that particular conference, there were a lot of librarians and archivists who had maps from all over Europe.  How could they take those resources and digitize them, make them available to general public? “I saw how you could take a historical map and georeference it over a modern set of geographical coordinates so that the information on the map corresponds exactly to modern map coordinates. As Farès and I talked more, we quickly dropped the idea of an exhibit and went ‘digital’ and began planning a course on Rio that we could teach together.”

Click to see the full article on Mapping Rio from Rice and the imagineRio project.