November 27, 2018

Travel back in time with Purdue archives’ new online building database

Libraries database Betty Nelson, dean of students emerita, and her husband, Dick, professor emeritus of educational studies, explore the new historic building database as computer science professor Chris Clifton looks on. Purdue University Libraries’ Division of Archives and Special Collections debuted the database this month. (Purdue University photo) Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Imagine being able to open a time capsule with just a click of a button.

A new online database allows users to take a closer look at the metamorphosis of Purdue’s buildings over the years that goes beyond just maps and illustrations.

Purdue University Libraries’ Division of Archives and Special Collections debuted the historic online database this month that documents the historic grounds and structures of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. The project took five years to complete.

Using an interactive map, researchers will be able to find and sort campus buildings by architects, contractors, university president at time of construction, building materials and keywords. Each building has data related to his specific history, including construction information, renovation information and images from various stages of their use.

Neal Harmeyer, Archives and Special Collections’ digital archivist, has helped lead the creation of the exhibit, which was funded by a 2013 gift from Richard Funkhouser, professor emeritus.

Through studying the history of Purdue’s facilities, Harmeyer said the intention of the database is to help researchers understand and visualize Purdue’s growth over the years – and perhaps study how those facilities will impact Purdue’s future.

“The Historic Database will provide all members of the Purdue community the opportunity to experience the West Lafayette campus from an entirely new perspective,” Harmeyer said. “As the university has changed over its existence, the places Purdue students, faculty, and staff have visited, studied and lived have also changed. For the first time, there is a resource to search and study the physical campus, re-visit, and even share those experiences.”

Haymeyer said data has been gathered from archival collections, reports and publications regarding all known structures throughout the West Lafayette campus history. Priority is given to academic buildings, but the project encompasses non-academic buildings as well.

The database is entirely online. Digitized campus maps have been created to visualize the history of campus. Meanwhile, Purdue Libraries information technology staff have worked alongside those from Archives and Special Collections to create a database to incorporate that information.

Harmeyer hopes the database is also used for educational purposes in addition to traditional research.

“For example, Purdue Polytechnic or Engineering faculty can use the database to learn more about construction materials and building techniques over time,” Harmeyer said. “Or, political science students can analyze building numbers in micro or macro scales to determine economic trends in campus buildings infrastructure.”

And, of course, former Purdue students can check out just how much campus has changed since their days at the university.

The University Development Office and Archives and Special Collections are partnering to provide donor information data for different buildings on campus. All information related to donors is maintained and managed by the development office, and information is being added or amended in the Database incrementally.

Harmeyer said the database will continue to be maintained, and information will be added on an annual basis to reflect new buildings or demolition of older buildings.

Purdue Libraries’ Geographic Information Systems and Digital Programs also assisted with the development of the project. 

Writer: Abbey Nickel, 765-496-1325, 

Source: Neal Harmeyer, digital archivist, Archives and Special Collections, 

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