New Castle News

April 25, 2014

Digital days of yore: SRU students map out Lawrence County’s past online

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Students taking Dr. Aaron Cowan’s history course at Slippery Rock University have helped put Lawrence County on the map.

To be more specific, they’ve put photographs of some significant people, places and events on a virtual map of Lawrence County.

It’s all the brainchild of Cowan, an assistant professor of public history at SRU. His students partnered with the Lawrence County Historical Society to make a number of notable New Castle images available online through the site HistoryPin — which enables users to link historical images to their original geographic locations through GoogleMaps. It also allows viewing of how streets and landscapes have changed over time.

According to Cowan, each image includes information and is pinned to the place where the photograph was taken “as best we can tell.”

HistoryPin allows one to overlay the picture with the current day building, slide it back and forth on the map and see how things have changed.

Cowan said HistoryPin is a collaborative tool, and members of the community with photographs or research information can contribute as well. “The more people know about the site and the project, the stronger its impact.”

It all began last spring when about 20 students worked in groups to research for an entire semester and make a capstone presentation on what they discovered. It continued with a new class this year.

 “History is like doing a puzzle and figuring out what happened,” Cowan said. “It’s been gratifying to see how excited they’ve been about it.”

Leah Cozza, a sophomore history education major at SRU, took part in the project. Her job was editing the team’s research before submission.

“My focus was how the steel mills affected the city and its economy,” said the 2012 graduate of Shenango High School. “It was really personal for me because I have relatives who worked in the mills.

“It was a lot of work, but it was fun because we got to do what historians do. We got to do the research, working together and digging into all these documents. My grandparents love talking about New Castle and the era they grew up in.”

Maria Camera of Edinburg is an art major who was part of a team that researched streetscapes and architecture. The 2012 Mohawk High graduate and her group looked over photos of old buildings and discovered their locations.

“It was surprising to find that I was actually driving by some of the buildings and didn’t realize their history.”

Other teams worked on African-American history of Lawrence County, disasters and accomplishments in sports.

Cowan said his students had done work projects before, but nothing that connected to the community like this.

“Normally when students do projects, nobody sees it,” Cowan said. “But now they’re doing work that people will actually be able to see and use.”

Cowan said the work is being done in the name of the Lawrence County Historical Society.

Cowan’s students came to New Castle for what he called “a boot camp of research at the historical society at 408 N. Jefferson St. They spent hours at the New Castle Public Library, pouring over microfilm and diving into New Castle News archives.

Many of the photos used in the project came from the Hitch collection. Cowan said project will be completed early next month.

In addition to his teaching duties, Cowan also serves as curator of the Old Stone House, a reconstructed 1822 stagecoach tavern museum owned by SRU and staffed by students.

“It’s pretty user friendly,” Cowan said of the HistoryPin site. “Their philosophy is to make it accessible and easy. Digital technology is changing everything, especially when it comes to gathering and preserving historical information.”

Cowan estimated about 150 photos have been placed on the map. You can see the work done by the students at