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The Development Team

Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health
Dept. of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University
722 West 168th Street
Suite 934
New York, NY 10032

(212) 305-1307 Tel
(212) 342-1986 Fax

Elizabeth Robilotti, MPH
Doctoral Student, Program in the History & Ethics of Public Health & Medicine
Martina Lynch
Program Coordinator, Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health

Amy Fairchild, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor and Assistant Director, Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health
David Rosner, PhD, MSPH
Professor and Director, Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health

Content contributors to this project include:

Elizabeth Robilotti, MPH
Martina Lynch
Donald Olson
Prea Gulati

Technical and Design Consultant:

Charles Forcey, Jr., Clio Inc.

Taking New York City as its starting point, the Living City Project will create a resource for visualizing and studying the interplay among sanitary engineering, technology, laboratory science, society, and culture in shaping the built city.

During the decades between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War I, American cities experienced profound changes in their populations, geographic boundaries, and economic and social bases along with changes in their physical infrastructure. Horse-drawn carriages were replaced by subways and cars; low-rise housing gave way to modern skylines; uneven sewerage and water supplies were extended and developed; electricity, telephone wires, and steam pipes were introduced and then concealed underground. During this period, science and technology were brought to bear on the problems of urban industrial America. Disease, in particular, stood at the crossroads of the myriad social, cultural, environmental, and infrastructural problems of rapidly growing cities.

New York City provides a unique place to begin studies of the built city. New York's published and unpublished record of reports, statistics, maps, photographs, and correspondence documents the social reordering of the city via sewer lines, subway systems, and water works; this record documents the manufacture of chronic ailments borne of the modern city and its creation. More important, New York City's careful documentation of its "technological" conquest of infectious disease provided paradigms for national social, health, and urban policy. Wrote historian Charles Rosenberg of the creation of its health department: "in the history of public health in the United States, there is no date more important than 1866, no event more significant than the organization of the Metropolitan Board of Health." For the first time, "The tools and concepts of an urban industrial society were beginning to be used in solving this new society's problems." The Annual Reports of the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH), published continuously from 1866, provide a unique portrait of the changing city. These reports were the primary means of documenting the activities, achievements, and plans of the agency most responsible for maintaining and shaping the city's environment.

The NYCDOH Annual Reports serve as the foundation for the digital collection. They also serve as the framework for understanding more narrowly conceived yet important social snapshots of specific aspects of the city's growth and have helped us to identify several key local sources that provide the background for tracing the dynamics of infrastructural transformation within a framework of health. In addition to the Annual Reports, the digital collection now includes: John Griscom's 1845 report, The Sanitary Conditions of the Laboring Population of New York; the Citizens' Association 1864 report on The Sanitary Condition of the City; John Shaw Billings's 1890 report on the Vital Statistics of New York City and Brooklyn; and the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission Reports of 1910, 1912, and 1914. Some 1,000 images from the 19th- and 20th-century illustrated press revolving around health in New York City flesh out the initial substance of this digital library, offering visual commentary on and documentation of the sanitary and health issues that most concerned the city. Sources for these images include Harper's Weekly, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine, Puck, Judge, Scientific American, Harper's Monthly, Scribner's Monthly, McClure's Magazine, Outlook, and The Survey. These nationally circulating publications were largely based in New York City. As was the case with the city's paradigmatic sanitary reports, these visual representations of science, disease, health, and urban change were widely distributed and had significant national impact.
The Development of the Project

The Living City Project will unfold in several phases. At this first critical juncture, it is our goal to provide users the core documents in the form of image files searchable via metadata and a searchable database of images from the 19th and 20th century illustrated press. We will post these documents on line as they are scanned, cleaned, and coded.

A large portion of this collection (roughly 40% of approximately 20,000 pages) is quantitative. In the second phase of this project, we will begin converting these statistics into database form. When it is complete, The Living City databases will span approximately 55 years, from 1865 to 1920 and reflect urban infrastructure in the Manhattan, New York study area.

In phase three of the project, we hope to create a geographic information system (GIS) linking physical data regarding the progress of sewer, water, and steam systems, electrical and telephone lines, and subways and other transportation systems to the mortality statistics in the digital collection. Statistics will be linked at the city ward level.