Washington DC Reconstruction

I found the Washington Post article to be very interesting. I especially enjoyed the short documentary that accompanied it explaining how the whole process of reconstructing Washington D.C. worked. Being interested in filmmaking, I found this to be my favorite part. Being able to see how they layered maps upon each other, then used the perspectives of different artworks to reconstruct buildings, and used historical evidence to verify was really interesting. It was so cool to see them highlight a point on the map, Q4 I think, and then show how it corresponds with a known piece of artwork. The reconstructed Washington D.C. that they show at the end of the clip is so lifelike that it feels as if you are watching a real-life movie rather than a computer graphic. Reconstructing the city must have been difficult but a lot of fun. I think it would be rewarding to reconstruct the capitol of our nation at a time before it was the capitol and then slowly add layers to see it build up to what it is today.

One of the things I think makes this project, and a lot of other public history projects, so interesting is that it combines a variety of academic disciplines that might not otherwise be used together, such as art history, geology, geography, and cartography, to create one singular work. I think that it is an interesting approach that could be used in a lot of different areas, provided they have been documented enough to create a wealth of information. Plus, the 3D model looks really cool.

Stanford’s Spacial History

The work that Stanford is doing for spacial history is truly remarkable. Their embrace of new, and foresight of developing technologies is going to revolutionize the way everyday Americans can study history, and the way Historians can interpret their findings. The most direct way you can teach someone about a certain topic is to show them first hand. Since both Washington D.C. and the Western railroads have seen significant change, if not demolition, over the last few hundred years, by showing the general public what ‘used to be’ gives them a first hand perspective that may not have been obtainable otherwise.

The challenge for a Historian is to ignite the imagination of the common public. By developing spacial history, Stanford is setting a visual standard so that even the most unimaginative person is able to enjoy the same immersion as one who is more practiced. The two topics Stanford has tackled are easily among the most important in U.S. History. The District of Columbia is the epicenter for all national matters, in addition to holding some of the most historically significant artifacts and museums in the world, and without Westward expansion by way of the railroads, our history could be drastically different than how we know it today.

Spatial history for Boise?

Wow.  I am so excited after exploring The Spatial History Project and the Center for History and New Media.  I do wish, however, that I was more technologically savvy, and in the near future, I may look into taking some of these courses on java, linux, etc.  I have several computer geeks in my life, but it seems my free ride has come to an end.  After exploring the possibilities within the professional field, I have concluded that I should possess these skills myself.  Especially now that Omeka’s open-source coders have made it relatively simple for a girl like me to utilize such amazing technology.  These people are brilliant!

That being said, I was pretty excited to discover that what I envisioned for the fabulous history project is not so audacious that it would be impossible to complete.  After exploring history pin more thoroughly, I discovered that this is precisely the kind of spatial history project that the CHNM are talking about!  It is a little rough around the edges, and I wish it were easier to navigate, in fact, it was not quite what I was hoping for.  But since at the present moment I am not able to use Omeka’s platform, history pin will do the job.  All you have to do is create a user account and upload photos, “pin” them to a location on Google maps, and viola! You have made your historical mark. Each user has a page, a format similar to Picasa, where digital contributions are posted. You have the option to view these photos in their relative locations in Google street-view, which is cool, but it is hard to navigate from one photo to the next. Not quite a coherent tour, as much as it is a point-and-click, hunt-and-peck kind of situation. Here is my trial run, http://www.historypin.com/photos/view/phid/5759015/bground/:photos:feed:geo:42.7639,-108.79692:zoom:15

Beyond it’s navigation issues, I have discovered the potential in history pin to become an extensive digital archive that spans both time and space, and because it is a Google project, I have faith it will achieve this potential (it is in beta, after all).

So how does all of this apply to our fabulous public history project?  Well after browsing the world wide web, I decided to visit some local digital histories.  I discovered a connection to the main body of research, a completed master’s thesis by a graduate student at U of I in 2006, on the old black neighborhood on River and Ash streets. This former student is now a member of Preservation Idaho and contributes to their guided tours and digital histories. Here is their main site, if you feel like browsing http://www.preservationidaho.org/ (it is much more digitally inclined than the ISHS site, sadly enough) So it turns out that she lives and works here in Boise as a consultant. So we met for coffee.

She got her Master’s in Archaeology, and studied Anthropology at the University of Idaho in 2006, her thesis is titled “Boise’s River Street Neighborhood: Lee, Ash, Lover’s Lane/Pioneer Streets, the south side of the tracks.” I asked her what her interest in the River Street neighborhood was, why she chose it for her topic. Turns out it was assigned to her at random, something she was pretty apprehensive about. But she said she was happy to have something that hadn’t really been “done” before.

Demo’s primary sources for the people who lived in the neighborhood were the oral histories from the Preservation Archives and Research Library PARL (Osa, 1995). She is particularly interested in maps and physical traces of people. She said that she would love to conduct a field school on some of the River Street lots that remain vacant. I’m curious what they might find. After she graduated, Demo worked as an archaeologist for the Idaho Transportation Department, and she worked a few federal contracts. She said that working for federal money is nice, but it is a job-to-job type of experience. So today she is a consultant and volunteer. She volunteers her time organizing photo images that have evidence of canals and ditches in order to reconstruct archaeological organization of past farmers and irrigation. She is happy to compile them for later researchers to use.

And so she seemed quite excited for this history to be visualized, verbalized in a way that people will see.

Listening to history…

Over my nearly three year tenure at the Idaho State Historical Society, I had the opportunity to work alongside some of the most passionate Historians in the state. I also had the opportunity to take part in other projects outside of my field, as well as perform projects of personal interest. Through this, I was able to witness others in their area of expertise and see first hand just how Idaho’s history was compiled.

I had met Ellen Haffner while a Historical Interpreter at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. She had been employed at the archives as an Oral History Assistant, while also filling in at the Old Pen during my training and other staff changes. Currently, Ellen is a Research Assistant at the Idaho State Archives within the Idaho State Historical Society, a title which has broadened her work from Oral History into other archival based research methods.

Ellen’s path to work in public history started out as an internship in 2005 while seeking her undergraduate degree in History from Boise State. An internship is the most common path towards a position within a state agency, however there are still a few, myself included, who were able to gain a waged entry-level position. Originally attending Boise State to teach, her personal interest in audible history directed her down the career path she is currently on.

The day to day operations of a Research Assistant are broad, however strategically planned in order to assist the mission of the ISHS. While attending to the specific needs of the agency, Ellen is granted a certain level of freedom in how she pursues the goal. In the archives, there are paper documents, audio tapes, pictures, maps, architectural plans, and other forms of recorded history at her fingertips, and any combination of these can be used to acquire specific information requested of the ISHS.

What most people may not know, is Ellen and other employees of the archives are largely there to cater to the citizens of Idaho. The inquiry an archivist could be researching may have originated by anyone from a judge or lawyer trying to find further evidence in a case, to a curious citizen who wants to know more about one of their relatives. In the past few years, the Idaho State Historical Society, especially the archives, has been relying more heavily on catering to the general public. This commitment to getting citizens to walk through their doors and become interested in the various sites throughout the State will only help the sustainability of the various sites as well as the agency as a whole. The service of a professional Historian at the archives is free of charge; the only time they’ll request money of you is for a photocopy of any item you desire (and they are legally able to give).

While an employee, I was fortunate enough to be asked to partake in an Oral History project for the Idaho State Historical Society. A few years ago, the Idaho History Museum developed a temporary exhibit about the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, or Freemasons, and their history in Idaho. I had been a recently initiated Mason, and was requested to be interviewed in order to get a young person’s perspective of Masonic membership. The process was a series of planned, as well as improvised questions which ended up feeling more like an inquisitive conversation than anything else. After my interview was completed, I was given a CD containing the recording of the interview, as well as the transcript that Ellen had typed; both of which were now to become a permanent part of the Archives of the Idaho State Archives.

Oral History is one of the oldest forms of storytelling, education, and preservation of the past. This field is unique in that it has developed and progressed alongside technological advances. From wax cylinders to tape recorders, the voices of the past have all been recorded so that future generations can not only hear history, but also in the voices that lived it. Digital technologies promise a strong future in the field, once the original cost hurdles are passed. Like any new, developing technology, original equipment cost can certainly overwhelm any state budget (especially in a economic downturn), however, the technology’s longevity and quality cannot be matched by any predecessor and will eventually be a necessity in the field.

As a former professional Historian, I can immediately recognize why Ellen pursued Oral History as a career path.No matter what aspect of history someone works in, their job boils down to storytelling. It’s Ellen’s job to compile the stories, and preserve them so that future generations can hear them.

Reading Reflections

I was intrigued by all of the readings this week. I started with The Beginning of the Road article. The story of bridging one person’s life-long interest and information gathering with another’s technology expertise was inspiring. Of course, Hawkins and Bailey are on the grand side of the scale in terms of resources, but our projects with our mobile devices are a start. I’m not as old as Hawkins, but I share some of his sense that there is a lot of story collecting to do and the people with those stories won’t be around forever.
 The Shaping the West Project brought to mind a book I read recently called Wondrous Contrivances: Technology at the Threshold by Merritt Ierley. The author looked into how the telegraph, telephone, rail travel, bicycles and the automobile, etc. impacted and changed people’s sense of time. I’ve also been streaming on Netflix a newish BBC television series Downton Abbey thathas shown how the automobile and telephone changed the lives of the people in a small town in pre-WWI England. 

 I spent a lot of time looking around the site for the Center for History and New Media. Under the “research” tab I got caught up wanting to read the whole selection Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web because it started out with a great explanation of pros and cons of digital media. I stopped at the end of the introduction and realized I have to work on not getting so sucked in when I’m supposedly browsing. Then I jumped to the “exhibitions” tab and wandered around The Lost Museum, for way too long, which recreates P.T. Barnum’s museum in New York City that was lost in a fire in the 1800s.

On late Friday afternoon I went to hear two speakers brought in by the Boise State Group for Early Modern Studies. Both speakers had wonderful presentations about how knowledge was made public in the 17thcentury. They both had really great images on Power Point to go with their talks. I found myself smiling and thinking how much their presentations would be enhanced if the images were 3D or more interactive.

The Importance of Digital History

I really enjoyed exploring this week’s assigned reading and exploration, especially the website for the Center for History and New Media. I was not entirely familiar with this project before checking out the site. I explored some of their hosted sites, including the website featuring sources on the May 1970 “Hard Hat Riots,” and the “Greek American Stories” project. Having looked at these projects and others included in our assignment this week has given me a new, improved perspective on the importance of new media and digital history. While I won’t deny that I and many (probably most) historians still view printed publication as the highest achievement in academia, I feel that the creation of digital public history has so many positives when compared to the standard textbook.

The main positives would be the ability for users to customize their experience with the publication, and opportunities for authors to constantly add information and material. Digital projects have a “choose your own adventure” aspect that is ideal for researchers, or the curious visitor. These projects can provide links to related material, documents and photographs that are much more accessible than footnotes or endnotes in a textbook. The ability for authors to add material goes hand in hand with the opportunity for readers to contribute new information. The future of the history field is promising, and I feel that exposure to projects like these can help emerging historians to be part of that future.

History through the Back Door

Scott Berg and Richard White really expanded my perspective on the nature of history and how it is viewed, researched, evaluated, and discussed.  Richard White made an interesting point about most of history involves tracking changes over time using chronology as the structure that conveys these changes.  Using the new structure of spatial relationships to understand how humans’ relationships with each other and the landscape evolve through time added a whole new dimension to the study of history.  Reading about all the work done by Dan Hawkins and his work to discover the original topography and layout of Washington, D.C. and then see it condensed and packaged in the video by Dan Bailey caused several reactions for me.  At first I felt betrayed on behalf of Dan Hawkins to have his work distilled into a short interpretation of all his research into a short digital interpretation.  However, after really getting into the video I saw how much value technology added to the historical research making it accessible, easy to understand, and useful.  Reading and looking at all of Hawkins’ maps never would have conveyed what the video could; a visual document of changing spatial relationships.  Although I consider myself somewhat of a Luddite, I am really getting excited about using technology to enhance our perception and understanding of the past.

Dale Fisk, “Jack of all Trades” Historian of Council Valley

Miles from the hustle and bustle of the capital city of Boise lies the town of Council, nestled in the rich Council Valley alongside the ever flowing Weiser River.  The history of Council is a history like many other western towns.  With its name derived from the large meetings of Indian “councils” the valley’s roots stretch far back before the arrival of the white man.  The town itself began in the late 1860’s with settlers off the last stages of the Oregon Trail and the population grew as the farmers, ranchers, miners and loggers worked together to develop a community out of the mountains. 

One hundred and fifty years later  Council still clings to its past with tremendous pride and scattered throughout the population of 815 are the same names and faces of that bygone era.  There is one man among those who has taken it upon himself to research, record and preserve that history for future generations, Dale Fisk. Dale Fisk is a product of Council history himself with homesteaders from both sides of his family settling in the valley.  What started as a personal interest in his own family history evolved into an interest and love of the history of Council and the valley where he still lives. Dale has written three books on the history of the area, authors a byline in the weekly newspaper known as “History Corner”, sits on the Adams County Historic Preservation Commission and in his spare time is the guy in charge of the Council Valley Museum. 

Unlike in the bigger cities that have the sources of revenue to pay for a full time museum director, archivist, tour guide and oral historian, Council does not have that luxury.  Dale has all of those aforementioned titles plus many more.  He supplements his lack of income as a public historian with income derived from his books, newspaper articles, scrimshaw work, playing in his bluegrass band, ranching and a host of other part time jobs where he can utilize his tremendous talents and abilities.  For Dale, his love of history shines through in all of his work.  In many of his songs that he sings in his country/bluegrass band you can hear reflections of his Idaho past.  Songs such as his most famous “Running Back to Idaho” show a tremendous love for his native state.  Dale’s love of history also extends into his scrimshaw work.  This painstaking artistry on remnants of ivory is an art unto itself and much of his work depicts famous leaders and scenes from  the past.  Dale has tremendous pride in the three books he has researched and written on the Council Valley area and the railroads that helped build the towns in it. 

Most small town public historians are like our Dale Fisk.  Most of them don’t get paid that much if any, most didn’t go to college to get a public history degree and most would probably tell you that they don’t do what they do for money, fame or notoriety.  The do it, like Dale, because they love history and specifally the history of their beloved home towns.  Like a good county doctor, Dale provides us “Councilites” with an invaluable service.  He is our “jack of all trades” historian that we wouldn’t trade for anything.

Spatial history and neat-o graphics

The spatial history site at stanford.edu was really interesting. The railroad project seemed like a huge undertaking when I first looked at the site, but then looking at other projects, it did not seem so daunting. The programs to look at the demography of a city, like they are working on with students in Sao Paulo, or the visual of prostitution arrests in Philadelphia during a specific time period, is not only beneficial to research, but is also pretty wicked awesome. The Washington Post site with the digital imaging and over-lays of past and present Washington, D.C. was incredible. I can’t even imagine the amount of work that went in to that project. I believe it is the same project we watched last semester, but for some reason it has more meaning this time. Perhaps it’s because I have a new found appreciation for the historically accurate AND tech savvy.
The mobile for museums site I remember seeing before as well, and is more useful for research than it may seem. The the mobile for museums project itself, of course, but the tools available on the homepage of the CHNM website.
Now I feel like whatever application I am involved in developing will obviosly pale in comparison to these projects, but they do give me a huge burst of inspiration, which is always nice when you’re pretty sure you forgot everything you knew how to do.