How do the Web, imaging, computer graphics and other technologies of the imagination change our understanding of, and even the images we attach to, the cities in which we live? I think at its best the new tech gives us a sense of flow, of how we got here from there, and how close (and how distant) the two points are. That certainly seems to be the case with this experiment in historical imaging from the Imaging Research Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Here Professor Dan Bailey and his crew have created Visualizing Early Washington D.C., a project to use today's technology to recreate yesterday's national capital. It was inspired by a request from PBS to create a 3D version of Capitol Hill for a documentary on the architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. But it has grown over four years into a project to map the entire city, from 1790 to 1820.

Watching the project come alive online is analogous to watching the city come alive through the work of the IRC. It is so patently a Symbol these days that it is refreshing to see it again as a city.

According to Bailey, the tech has reached a point where it is not the problem.

"The task of visualizing the nascent city has proved to be more challenging than we'd anticipated, not due to the limits of technology, but due to the sparseness of reliable historical evidence."

The steps involved ran the gamut from hand drawing off a database of DC drawings, paintings and documents to advanced 3D modeling.

The project is not just about DC. In a sense, it is, to use Bailey's phrase, "proof of concept" that a dynamic computer rendering of history is a useful tool, responsive, detailable and here to stay.

Other sources: io9, OpenCulture, The Washington Post