Puget Sound Assistant Professor Andrew Gomez arrived at an Orientation session for first-year students this August with a tough assignment.

The students had signed up for what was billed as “an immersive experience,” an opportunity to spend time learning about the food cultures of Tacoma. A historian, Andrew had the task of introducing students, most of whom are not from Tacoma, to the complex historical forces that shaped the city’s neighborhoods. To do so, he had an ace in his back pocket, or maybe a better description is a link up his sleeve.

It was a digital history project, led by fellow historian Rob Nelson ’95, capable of laying bare right before students’ eyes the prejudices and discriminatory practices that have shaped not only Tacoma’s fortunes but the trajectories of cities like it across the country. At the project’s core is a series of federal government-produced maps and paperwork from the 1930s and ’40s that Rob and his team have digitized.