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Mapping and GIS Lessons for Poets, Historians, and Scientists: ARCGIS Activity 2

CS-X Module created by Emily Fairey, Brooklyn College OER Developer

Using ARCGIS StoryMaps: History of a Brooklyn Building

Part 1: Choose a building

1)  Using the Database of Brooklyn Historic Buildings file from ARCGIS Activity 1, or another academic or official resource, (I have listed several below) find an NYC building you wish to research. 

2) Create, title and save an ARCGIS StoryMap. Consult tutorials on this site to help choose the type of StoryMap that will best fit. StoryMap Journal is a good choice for this exercise.

3) In your first StoryMap slide, create a map onto which you add a pin of your building. Choose an appropriate basemap and save.

Begin historical research on the building you have chosen. The Database of Buildings file from part one is a good place to begin, and I have listed several good resources below. Also try the "Further Resources: Data" page of this site.

Areas to investigate:

Date: When was the building constructed? Was it ever renovated, and if so, when and why?

Architect: Do we know who the architect or builder of the building was? If so, find out as much as possible about this person's career, background, and life. How did this architect come to build the building? 

Build Style: What type of building is it? A row house, a warehouse, a brownstone? Did it "fit" into the architecture neighborhood at the time? Does it still or not, and why?

Neighborhood: What is the neighborhood of this building? What was there before the building? What has happened since it was built? Describe the changes this neighborhood has gone through over time and how this has affected the life of the building.

Function: What was the building used for originally? Is it still used for the same purpose? How does this reflect changes in NYC over time?

Bibliography: As you go, collect bibliographic references and links and save all relevant files and documents in a folder. This will make things easier when you build your StoryMap and a bibliography.


Create a StoryMap to tell the story of the building you chose. For an example, see the box on the lower right for a StoryMap on the history of the Fairway building in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

The idea of this StoryMap is to present resources with your own original annotations and comments. Avoid simply creating slides with resources, every slide should contain a paragraph in your own writing, proofread for grammar and style. Rather than simply describing each resource, talk about what each resource shows us about the subject of analyzing your building's history. 

Elements can be included on the main stage, the side panel (using Story Actions) and the Map Notes. The StoryMap should contain at least one, and preferably several, of each of the elements listed below. There should be at least one "dynamic" ARCGIS map in which the view of the map changes automatically and "animates." This can be achieved with Story Actions or the Basic Presentation of ARCGIS. Finally you must include a formatted bibliography of all resources used in the final slide. 

Elements to include: 

  • ARCGIS Maps: These can illustrate the both the building itself in its environs, as well as the life of the architect and changes in the neighborhood over time. It is also possible to incorporate a basic ARCGIS presentation (of the type described in the ARCGIS Basics section above) into the StoryMap.
  • Historic Maps: It is important to include historic maps that show the area before and after the creation of your building. It is possible to overlay these over a modern map using the David Rumsey Georeferencer, or Google Earth Desktop Pro, or the desktop ARCGIS.
  • Newspaper articles, academic articles, book excerpts: Find relevant documentation on your building, neighborhood, and architect. Primary sources (contemporary news,for instance) is particularly valuable. Search the CUNY databases as well as the resources listed below. Text documents must be added to StoryMaps as web pages; they cannot be uploaded directly to the platform. If this creates a visual problem, try saving an article as an image to pul it into the platform.
  • Images: Modern and historic images of the building, of the neighborhood, of the architect. Paintings, drawings and photographs. Don't be afraid to crop images to show details if resolution is good. ARCGIS will process most images but prefers those with the prefix "https" over "http". It is also possible to upload images directly to ARCGIS if they are not too large.
  • Web pages: StoryMaps can import an entire web page into its viewer. Just put in the web address, and make sure you click "configure."
  • Videos: StoryMaps can pull a video into its viewer. Just put in the web address, and make sure you click "configure." 

Learning Objectives

  • Perform extensive primary research on a building in the context of history. 
  • Attain sufficient skill with ARCGIS Storymaps to create a presentation on this research that will illustrate the transitions of your building and its neighborhood over time, as well as the story of the building's creator.
  • Learn good practices of selecting sources and media for illustration, note taking, bibliography, and citation. 
    • Include supplemental secondary research as needed.
    • Include relevant, clear sources and media, including historic maps. 
  • Practice formal analytic and narrative writing, which should accompany all sources (maps, articles, media) you include. 
    • Organization of your sources and original writing to create a logical flow. 
    • Create a formatted bibliography of all primary and secondary sources
  • Make use of the features of ARCGIS StoryMaps. This can be as simple as including dynamic changes in view, including "Story Actions." There also are many more technical possibilities involving file import. Explore and see what features might best fit the type of presentation you want to give.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the difference between making a StoryMap on an old building as opposed to writing a research paper on the same topic?
  • What do you think the difference will be for a learner who looks at a well-crafted StoryMap as opposed to simply reading about this topic? 
    • Would you answer the same way if the StoryMaps topic were anything, not just the investigation of an old building?
  • What was the experience of working with StoryMaps like for you as a developer?
    • Are there any technical features of StoryMaps which are especially useful, or any which were problematic?

Learning Outcomes

  • Gain experience with the process of channeling historical research into an original presentation.
  • Learn about the potential of GIS mapping not merely to illustrate, but to serve as the platform for original research.
  • Develop criteria for reputable, relevant source selection, and learn how to respond to these in writing.
  • Gain practice in placing sources in a sequence that is both logical and compelling.