Analyzing Urban History

Recently, CURA has been working with the Engaging Columbus project in collaboration with Ohio Wesleyan University faculty member John Krygier to improve the geocoding of historical photographs.

A 1922 Ohio State University masters thesis by Forest Ira Blanchard contains a wealth of panoramic photographs covering much of the city of Columbus. Blanchard, inspired by the Chicago School of Sociology, sought to study the racial and ethnic composition of the city, with a particular focus on the role of transportation (railroads, roads) in shaping the urban landscape. Blanchard’s photographs are remarkable for their depiction of typical streets, railroad corridors, and neighborhoods (rather than the more typical images of important buildings or events). As such, the photographs provide a vital source of information about the urban form of Columbus, its neighborhoods and development.

This makes for a captivating portrait of urban life in the early 20th century, rife with imagery that helped spawn suburban development in an attempt to flee the ills of poor sanitation and rampant pollution. Idyllic country homes and winding residential streets sharply contrast the muddy, littered allies of the city’s squalid urban sections—many of which have long been demolished. Mr. Blanchard was the Department of Geography’s first ever graduate-level matriculation, as noted on the Department’s alumni page.


An example of Baist’s 1920 Real Estate Atlas Map, used to compare Blanchard’s photographs with existing structures. Luckily the maps were made just two years before Blanchard’s photographs were taken.

Using historic real estate maps and local knowledge, CURA is assisting the content curators in relocating a number of historic photos. Sometimes photos are not accompanied with specific locations, so historians must puzzle together the most probable one. His thesis is available in the Architecture Library at the Knowlton School, panoramic photos and all.

The map of Blanchard’s photos is hosted by the City of Columbus on the “collaboration and information portal,” along with numerous other maps showing historical census data, real estate, redlining, and more.

We hope to continue working with the collection and encourage others interested in Columbus urban history to get involved! Please contact Matthew Adair (614/292.5930,, CURA’s Program Coordinator, with any questions about the project.

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