OUTREACH PROJECT: Metropolis of Science

Associate Professor of Professional Practice and Director, Science & Environmental Journalism, Marguerite Holloway
Map of NYC 1832
Map of NYC 1891
High Bridge Aqueduct New York City 1900
Harlem Hospital NYPL digital collections
Triangle Shirtwaist 1911
Map of NYC 1862
Metropolis of Science is a web-based mapping project that explores the history of science and technology in New York City with the goal of engaging the public. Ultimately, that engagement will occur via visits to the web page itself and via an app that will permit walking tours (by neighborhood, era, or discipline) as well as quick identifications of historically important sites using the GPS capabilities of smart phones. Metropolis of Science began several years ago as a project developed by Professor Holloway for M.A. students in science writing. Co-taught by natural scientists, this yearlong seminar has a strong emphasis on the history of science. Students were asked to find an engaging topic and to research it; each then contributed a short report, slide show, or audio story, along with visual images
The project was designed to be iterative with a new set of students each year adding new material and one or more of them with an interest in digital media assuming the role of editor or designer. The approach has been successful and to date there are nearly 40 finished pieces, a dozen or so of which have been uploaded to the Metropolis of Science website. Stories include Victor Hess’s work on background radiation in the 190th Street subway station; the story of Nellie Bly’s investigation of life as a psychiatric patient on Blackwell (now Roosevelt) Island; the Manhattan Project’s Manhattan story; the archaeological work on the African burial ground; and the story of Typhoid Mary’s incarceration on North Brother Island. Over the years, several graduate students have generously volunteered to oversee the website and worked on various aspects of the project.  Work ahead for Metropolis of Science includes adding maps (courtesy David Rumsey and the New York Public Library), developing more stories, ensuring accuracy, refining design, geo-locating, standardizing the editorial voice, and creating software.

As a Center for Science and Society initiative, graduate students in history and in journalism collaborate on the Metropolis of Science project. Students from each program will be paired in the fall to work together to produce a piece for the site by the middle of the spring semester. The exchange between students benefits both groups, as journalists help history students on storytelling in different media, including video, photo, or audio, and history students help journalists think about historical research, ways in which events are interpreted, causal explanation, and precision. Both groups contribute enormously to each other’s familiarity with these two worlds, the varied viewpoints, each deepening the other’s skills and thinking.Metropolis of Science has enormous potential as a destination for New Yorkers and visitors who are curious about history. With a handheld device, people could walk the city as the app tells them stories about history in a particular neighborhood or at specific addresses.

Metropolis of Science also provides a deepened connection between Columbia University and city institutions, such as the Museum of the City of New York, The New York Academy of Medicine, the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, the Tenement Museum, many other neighborhood history groups, the borough historians’ offices, and other universities as well as high school or elementary school students. With many lower and middle school curricula centering on New York City’s history and transformation, this site that brings the city’s rich history in science and technology to life will be useful to teachers.

The site was designed and built former journalism graduate students Meredith Melnick and Michael Krisch and the walking-tour app was developed by Juan Francisco Saldarriaga. Maps were provided by the David Rumsey Map Collection and the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Metropolis of Science is supported by The Center for Science and Society and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.



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