Sewanee Forest History Project

The Landscape Analysis Lab is working with the Office of Domain Management and the University Forester to develop a database of historical documents pertaining to the management of the natural areas now owned by the University of the South. By documenting and quantifying land use history, we hope to better understand long-term anthropogenic impacts on the environment. By compiling the thousands of existing historical documents describing past activities on the Domain, we hope to inspire and facilitate faculty and student research on the University's 13,000-acre landholdings. The Sewanee Forest History Project database will be made available at a future date to the University research community.

The Sewanee Forest History Project (SFHP) was initiated in the Spring of 2007. The first step in the process of developing a user-friendly database to provide access and protection of historical documents is to convert the hardcopy paper documents maintained by the Office of Domain Management. The historical documents available include, for instance, timber harvest receipts, forestry experiment reports, maintenance records, forest inventories, and numerous maps identifying locations of such events. During the summer of 2007, Lawson Armstrong ('08), Karena Kwauk ('09), Elspeth Iralu ('09), and Ann Bradley digitized approximately 50,000 pages of documents. This massive effort brought us to the present, having digitized the vast majority of documents available from the Office of Domain Management. Digitization will be an ongoing process. However, given that most documents are now produced digitally, incorporation of recent and future documents into the database should be much easier. Documents from other sources, such as the University Archives, may also be added in the future.
In the second phase of the project, Sean McKenzie ('11) and Ann Bradley developed the collection of digital documents into a database structure, which allows researchers and land managers the ability to quickly comb through large volumes of documents and summarize land use history. This task required thorough review, analysis, and interpretation of the content of the documents.
Currently, Ann Bradley is meticulously going proof-reading and standardizing the database. She is checking to make sure every entry has an accurate description, complete notes regarding locations of activities, and generally make sure the data are complete and uniform. An important part of this work will be the development of a user-friendly interface which will allow faculty, students, and staff, regardless of their level of technical proficiency, the opportunity to make use of this data resource.
The SFHP database will become an important component of the geographic information system (GIS) for environmental research on the Domain known as the Digital Domain. Understanding the spatial context of past land use changes will provide context for future ecological and environmental research. The large extent of natural areas on University land and the existence of documentation of past land use activities are unique to the University of the South, and the use of the Domain as an educational resource is an important part of recent strategic planning efforts to develop the University's strength in the area of environmental studies.
Faculty and students interested in using this resource in their own research are encouraged to contact the LAL Lab Manager, Chris Van de Ven.