University Archives Part of Multidisciplinary Team Awarded BETHA Grant to Explore Architecture of Underground Railroad


Tamar Chute, University Archivist, stands in conversation with another woman at the book depository.

The Ohio State University Archives is part of the multidisciplinary team awarded the 2023 Battelle Engineering, Technology and Human Affairs (BETHA) Endowment to pursue their project "Uncovering the Underground Railroad: Scanning History through Architecture." The team, which includes members from the Department of Architecture, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, Facilities, Information, and Technology Services and University Archives, will explore the architecture of Neil House, an undocumented but often cited station on the Underground Railroad.

For more than 60 years, newspapers and other publications have reported that underground tunnels, hidden passageways and secret rooms found in Neil House were used to conceal Black men and women escaping slavery. However, it is not clear whether these passages were used to hide people or were the result of decades of architectural renovations. Using image scanning technologies, three-dimensional digital and physical models and other architectural representations, this project seeks to forensically investigate and visualize the architecture and infrastructure of the Underground Railroad across Ohio State’s campus.

The University Archives participants will use their map collection and drawings of campus grounds and buildings as critical resources in the investigation.

The BETHA Endowment competition, funded by Battelle Memorial Institute, invites full-time assistant, associate and full professors to submit proposals for the annual grant competition. The competition awards three to six projects from $10,000 to $60,000 that examine the impact of science and technology on individuals and society.

We look forward to seeing the results of this collaborative project and the insights it will provide into the history of the Underground Railroad and the role of architecture in shaping our understanding of this important period in American history.