Gainesville State College students are getting their hands on history that occurred here in Gainesville.
Using technology and computer software, students are taking old photos and placing them onto Google Earth to get a better sense of what the area looked like more than 50 years ago.
Other students in history, film and literature classes will interview local residents and place their stories on the map to recreate what life in the Chattahoochee River Valley was like before Lake Lanier took its place.
GSC’s Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis is spearheading this “Historic Hall County Spaces and Places” project and is seeking individuals to interview for the purpose of preserving these stories for their historical and scholarly value.
“We want to get the kids and the community involved in constructing the history of the valley,” said J.B. Sharma, a professor of physics and remote sensing in the geographic information systems department.
“Our local soil conservation person Buddy Belflower told me that he had old air photos from 1955 of the valley and asked if we could do something with them because they were crumbling away,” Sharma said. “We scanned them in, did image processing and photomapped them to show seamless coverage of the land before the lake was there.”
On the current project website, visitors can zoom in on Gainesville and Hall County to see what the landscape and houses looked like in 1955. Sharma also has aerial photos from 1938, 1957, 1973 and 1980 but will start with the 1955 site as the pilot program for students.
“If you zoom in, you can see what existed. You can clearly see individual homes and farms,” he said. “Obviously there was a lot of history associated with it, and now we have the lay of the land exactly as it used to be. We can interview people who lived in the valley at that time and place it on the map.”
Because residents from then are getting older, Sharma wants to capture the memories now.
“There’s a sense of urgency because people are passing away,” he said. “We need to get those memories and associate them with the spatial locations to examine the intersection between geography and history. They’re slices of space and slices of time.”
The project should also develop a sense of heritage for the students.
“Any child has no idea what happened underneath Lake Lanier,” he said. “It’ll be a great research resource for them. We want to curate the stories into a digital exhibit on the website.”
The site will include video, audio and essays created by the students and verified by the faculty.
“This will help extend the dimension of southern Appalachian studies here and examine how storytelling is done is a spatial context,” he said. “Students need to be able to integrate different fields, and we hope such a project celebrates the liberal arts concept of unity of knowledge.”
The students are seeking anyone who remembers the area prior to the filling of Lake Lanier and specifically those who once owned land that is now covered by the lake. Anyone interested in sharing information can call the GSC public relations office at 678-717-3836, or by e-mail.
“If you pan across the image, you see the farms and the houses,” Sharma said. “What happened there? What were the lives that lived there? Some people left willingly and some didn’t. We can access what happened through these images.”