Rooted In Memory: Cataloging the Trees of Gettysburg College

If you take a walk through the campus of Gettysburg College, you will notice that it is filled with plaques. Known as named spaces, they are under trees, on benches, attached to buildings, or put into walkways. While they are clearly visible to those on campus, their history is less well known. To make these spaces more visible and accessible, I have been working with Special Collections and Facilities to gather data about trees on campus. I have compiled coordinates, photos, and other information to be used in a digital map by the college.

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, the trees are directly on campus. People can go read the plaques and see the trees in real life. But through this method, the information available is limited to that on the plaque. Stephen Hoalden Doane has an exhaustively detailed plaque, but the plaque for Grace C. Kenney does not list any identifying information. By using a digital mapping system, I can link out to further information or embed information into the map. For example, in the digital pin for the TC Williams Football team of 1971, I put a trailer for Remember the Titans, a movie based on their amazing season. The team completed their spring training at Gettysburg College, a fact that many students and visitors may not realize. By using digital platforms to connect people and information, the stories behind the trees can be discovered and accessed by more people.  

The sites I have constructed are only samples of what can be made. The initial site I made used Esri Story Maps from ArcGIS. This site functions as more a catalogue of all the trees on campus, giving users the name, location, plaque information, and picture. What they do with this information is up to them. I also used StoryMapJS from Knightlab to make smaller maps focused on patterns I noticed in the trees. For example, a large number of the donated trees had a link to the 1960s, and could be grouped together in a tour, which I made. Other groups can be made with the trees, like maps of all the graduates, faculty, and staff honored with trees. I am currently working on a map of all the trees with fall foliage using pictures I took on campus. This idea can be expanded upon in the future and maps can be made with winter and spring foliage and information about tree species.

While this project has been fun, it has not been easy. The biggest lesson I’ve taken from this project is that your data is only as good as your platform. I’ve spent a lot of time trouble shooting flaws in a platform to make my data presentable. Some of the mapping systems would not take the full coordinates I gathered for the trees. The maps are perfectly serviceable to get locations for larger objects like roads and buildings, but trees are much more precise, and so they are harder to pinpoint. I found a way around this by using satellite images in the mapping systems and landmarks to approximate their exact locations. Another issue with data arose while trying to input images of trees. Some of the photo files were too large for different platforms to utilize. So, even though I had a high quality image that could orient users, I was unable to put it on the actual map. Luckily, this was only a problem with the platform I used to make sample maps. The actual website has superior photo capacity.

Overall, this project is a great boon to the college. It allows the history of the campus to be more discoverable. As a student of this college and of history, I always wondered who the people commemorated on these plaques were, but I never had a chance to research any of this myself. Funding this project brings the history of this campus to the students on a medium that they can readily use. The project can even be expanded or adapted to the other named places on campus. With construction on campus, it is also important to recognize how this place has changed over time and catalogue the history of this place. This project has the potential to engage people with both the history and future of the college. I look forward to continuing work on this project. After all, there is a great deal of history on this campus. I have just only scratched the surface.

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