Project Outline: Mapping Historical New York

This project examines the demographic and industrial evolution of Queens and the Bronx using historical census data. It aims to visualize urban development patterns and provide insights for urban planning and policy-making.

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Mapping Historical New York: A Digital Atlas


Dan Miller, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Spatial Research, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP)

Professor Mai Ngai, Professor of Asian American Studies and History

Project Background

The Mapping Historical New York: A Digital Atlas initiative captures the evolution of Manhattan and Brooklyn from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing on 6.5 million census data records from 1850, 1880, and 1910, it shows how migration, residential, and occupational patterns shaped the city. This initiative is groundbreaking in its method: it pinpoints the exact residential locations of individuals recorded in the census, some tracing census takers’ steps and from periods predating the established street grids.

The significance of this research lies in its ability to make historical demographic changes visible and accessible to a diverse audience. Scholars, educators, students, and the general public can visually discover spatial patterns and trends that would be impossible to grasp by looking at census records alone. They can also trace how neighborhoods transformed over time due to shifts in population and industry. 

As a living project, Mapping Historical New York is set to expand its scope to encompass all five boroughs by the 1940 census, broadening our understanding of the city’s historical landscape. While this ongoing project promises to deepen our knowledge of the communities that shaped New York, it offers valuable context for contemporary urban studies. 

Research Questions

  • How have demographic shifts and industrial changes influenced the urban landscapes of Queens and the Bronx over time?
  • What spatial patterns and trends can be identified through the historical data of these boroughs?


  • To analyze the impact of demographic and industrial changes on urban development in Queens and the Bronx.
  • To enrich academic discussions and inform practical urban planning and policy-making, particularly within contexts of cultural diversity and economic growth.
  • To contribute significantly to urban development and sustainability through community storytelling and ethnography.


  • Data Collection: Gathering census data from 1850, 1880, 1910, and 1940 to map the historical urban development and contribute to dataset publications.  
  • Spatial Analysis: Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and statistical package tools to analyze spatial data.
  • Digitization: Digitizing historical streets and address ranges, incorporating city directories, non-digitized source maps, and other media.
  • Source Analysis and Literature Review: Conducting thorough source analysis, census methodology research, and literature reviews.
  • Case Study Development: Identifying and documenting a case study that exemplifies significant urban changes or cultural heritage.
  • Field Research/Ethnography: Hosting field visits to relevant sites and museums to gather additional insights and document findings.

Official Launch of Queens and the Bronx to MHNY Website - September 2024

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