Our project, a mobile walking tour of Basque historical and cultural sites in downtown Boise, evolved several different times during the course of the semester. We knew that we wanted to create a walking tour that was accessible on a mobile device, but initially we were unsure what form it would take. We first considered creating a paper brochure that would be accessible via a text file (PDF, Word, or other) that would be optimized for viewing on a mobile device. However, this option seemed like it would result in a static brochure with less possibility for interactivity than we wanted. Second, we attempted to build a mobile-optimized website from scratch using a page creation platform that we found available for free online through www.wapple.net. Since none of us had any solid background in building complex websites, and since the platform was somewhat difficult to figure out, the website that we created using this method was basic and, like the brochure option, seemed like it would be difficult to update or improve. Thus, we finally settled on creating a blog through WordPress that we fashioned to look more like a website than a blog.
In order to determine which sites to include on our tour and figure out what resources were available to us for the project, we met with Patty Miller at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center early on. Patty pointed out sources in the Museum’s archives that contained information about the sites we wanted to include, and assisted us further by providing copies of historical photographs of various Basque sites. We also took photographs of the present-day sites to include side-by-side with the historical snapshots on the mobile site for the walking tour.
Once we gathered the necessary photographs and information, we each chose a handful of sites to write brief histories on. We created a page on our WordPress site for each historical site that includes both text and photographs. The mobile site also includes a map so that visitors can easily locate the sites we chose, a menu on the left-hand side listing all of the sites for easy navigation, and a brief history of the Basques in Boise.
Our research for this project has increased the general knowledge of our group on Basque history in Boise and the unique cultural landscape that has taken root here as those who have left their Basque homeland in Spain have brought many of their traditions to the western United States. Our project provides a new, more cohesive layer of interpretation for the Basque block by including a brief history of each Basque historical site on one website or on a single printed brochure. The content on our website provides information about life for the newly arrived Basques in the nineteenth century, the customs they brought with them, their contributions to the foundation of Boise, and their architectural influence on the evolving capitol city. The Basque block mobile walking tour caters to two different types of potential tourists to the Basque block: those who visit the Basque Museum and Cultural Center and have the desire to view the other historical sites on the block that deal with the same topic, and those who may not be as interested in a museum interpretation of Basque history, but have an interest in the architectural, cultural, and historical significance of this portion of downtown Boise. The mobile tour gives an excellent introduction to Boise’s Basque history that can function independently or that can augment the experience provided by The Boise Basque Museum and Cultural Center.
The greatest challenge in creating this project stemmed from the fact that none of us had prior experience with mobile devices or mobile website design and implementation. The Wapple platform was difficult to work with for someone who did not possess the necessary vocabulary of web designers, and even WordPress posed some issues with its seemingly basic WYSIWYG editor. Once we figured out how to create menus and pages, however, WordPress has been decidedly easier to work with than any other platform that we considered. Although it is not entirely mobile optimized, the WordPress format allows the site to be viewed on a mobile device in a manner that is sufficient for a walking tour—a success for our limited programming skills.
A further challenge that we encountered was gathering the necessary resources to include in the project, namely historical photographs. The Basque Museum and Cultural Center has a wealth of these materials in its archives, but since many are copyrighted or were not given to the Museum for public use, we were unable to freely collect photographs for use on our mobile site. Patty Miller was of great assistance to us when dealing with this issue, and she was able to procure low-resolution digital copies of several historical photographs as well as obtain permission for us to use them. We had hoped to include audio files of oral histories on the mobile site, but so far we have been unable to do so. Several problems had led to this, including difficulty obtaining permission from surviving family members of those who gave the oral histories, and the necessity of converting audio tapes to digital files. Patty Miller is currently working on both of these issues for us, and we hope to be able to add these materials to our walking tour soon.
We are currently in the process of expanding our project and are searching for funding sources to implement our ideas. Three main areas are being considered for this expansion: the creation of a physical walking tour brochure that can accompany our mobile tour site, the expansion of content on our website, and a means to connect the physical sites on the tour to our online interpretive content.
We are presently in the process of creating a physical walking tour brochure which will be available in Basque, Spanish, and English. Expanding the content of our website will be a more in depth process. In the near feature we would like to add audio files that will make oral histories available and are working with the Basque Museum and Cultural Center to get these oral histories digitized. We would also like to add photos and histories of no-longer existing historical buildings to our website. This will allow us to expand our tour both online and geographically to the River Street area. Lastly, we would like to make our website’s content available in Basque, Spanish, and English to reach a larger and more diverse audience. We are also working with Patty Miller to incorporate QR codes into our project. This would allow mobile users to photograph a QR code on a historical site and use an app to transfer to building’s page on our website.
Expanding our project’s content will require both institutional and financial resources. Institutional resources have been made available by Patty Miller at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. Patty has provided support and encouragement in addition to access to historical photos, documents, oral histories, and an online home for our project. Funding for designing and printing the brochures will hopefully be provided by grants from Bank of America and the City of Boise Department of Arts and History which we are currently in the process of writing.
Our main points of advice would be two. First, it is important to find competent, highly motivated, creative, and overall awesome individuals to collaborate with on a project. This allows the group to confidently assign work to any individual member. The second point of advice also addresses the importance of collaboration. For us working with the Basque Museum was an invaluable resource. They were able to provide excellent historical materials to incorporate into our project, and provided support and guidance on how to procure funding for expansion. As newcomers to the field, working with established public historians and a successful institution was extremely beneficial.
Several essays in Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson edited by Paul Groth helped our group contextualize our mobile project as we helped to weave the story of the Basque community into the fibers of the Boise cultural and historical landscape. The blog post “But I Want You to Think” by Jeremy Boggs also provided some inspiration for our project pushing us to evaluate the information that we gathered from our research to make it relevant to our potential audience and make a case for the importance of Basque history and culture to Boise’s story. Translating the brochure aspect of our project into Spanish is also part of Boggs’ admonition of considering those who might be interested and making it accessible to a larger demographic. We looked at several different walking tours and walking tour apps when developing our mobile project and received inspiration from the definitive Boston Freedom Trail App (http://www.bostonfreedomtrailapp.com). The Boston Freedom Trail App adds points of interest that the Freedom Trail lacks and we used this idea to add additional sites to our Basque walking tour website that lack interpretive signage which provides a more complete historical picture for this area of downtown. We also consulted Racontours, which has mobile tours of New York City (http://www.racontours.com) and Geogad mobile city tours (http://geogad.com/geoga/tours) that helped us decide what elements such as pictures, maps, and the type of historical, cultural, and architectural content should be implemented into our mobile project.
 This will occur in conjunction with the reworking of the Museum’s own website that is currently in progress.
LauriAnn Deaver, Anna Holdorf, and Luke Schleif