Brooklyn Historical Museum Visit

New York City College of Technology Whitman class made a field trip to the Brooklyn Historical Society on November 3, 2009. We met in front of the Brooklyn Historical Society with Professor Gold where we greeted by Elizabeth Call. She is the Special Collections Librarian and has immense knowledge of resources available at the Museum. Some of these resources are:

  1. Historic Atlases
  2. Land Conveyances
  3. Brooklyn Directories
  4. Brooklyn and Long Island Scrapbook Collection
  5. An extensive image database
  6. Real Estate Brochure Collection
  7. Architecture Books

I will see if I can get a digital copy of  the handout discussing these sources.

Thanks to the generosity of the NEH Office for Digital Humanities, we have a semester pass to the museum and library. We can find sources from Brooklyn we can’t find anywhere else. This blog post is a highlight of some of the things we saw.

Upon entering, I wondered why the class made a trip here. Professor Gold told us we would be using this resource for our next project. We are going to become experts of a particular historical Whitman location. We will be looking for pieces of history around the city, especially Brooklyn using the aforementioned resources.

This library was literally old school. It had card catalogs and microfiche repositories; I haven’t seen one of those in years.

From Wikimedia

From Wikimedia

We took a look at the Atlas maps from different time periods. I didn’t know that such precise records were kept of Brooklyn in the 19th Century. The class saw Atlas maps from the 1820s up to the 1920s. Brooklyn has changed substantially. This will make our historical location project more difficult. In some cases, some streets may not exist in the past.


In the diagram above, you can see small boxes that are pink and yellow. Yellow stands for wood while pink stands for stone. The building numbers and block numbers are even on the map along with another slew of details.

The library has the Brooklyn City Directories that are something like our phonebooks today. These were published periodically in the past. This link is an example of the physical resource. You can look for someone’s name and find out where he or she lives and their profession. I could link the name to an address and then pull up a map to see where they lived. With their name, I can do research on them and do some follow up work. Elizabeth even found Walt Whitman’s father but not his son.

The Library even has the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1841-1950s. I can be sure I can find many of Whitman’s journalism articles in that collection in their original form.


Because this library has so many resources, many people visit it to prove that an area or a building is a landmark. Elizabeth Call (our guide) gave us a helpful tip when it comes to researching our sites. She said, “check  if the address is in a landmarked neighborhood”. If it is, you can find a wealth of information due to its landmark status and significance. Anyone can get a historical perspective of Brooklyn through the library’s historical documents.

The library was particularly cold, old books don’t like moisture and the air conditioner was on full blast the duration of the trip. From the Atlas maps to the articles, and scrapbooks down to the deeds, we can uncover pieces of history and bring them together.


The library is open Wednesday to Friday from 1-5 PM. My classmates will be sure to visit this incredible resource that I didn’t know existed in our search for Whitman.

2 Comments so far

  1. Matthew Gold on November 8th, 2009

    Thanks so much for putting together this wonderful recap of our trip to the BHS, Pedro. We are indeed lucky to be able to work with Elizabeth Call and other BHS staff members, and it’s our duty to present our findings this semester in such a way that students studying Whitman in other locations can read and build upon our research.

    I just want to clarify that this research project centers upon a collection of Brooklyn addresses in which Whitman lived briefly — many of them boarding houses and all of them rentals. These addresses have not, to my knowledge, been explored deeply by Whitman scholars, so we’ll be doing work that I hope will be of value not just to the classes involved in the Looking for Whitman Project, but also the broader community of Whitman scholars.

  2. […] Here are some recaps of the trip from students in the course: techwhit: Brooklyn Historical Museum Visit […]

Leave a reply

Skip to toolbar