Monday, April 28, 2008
Arizona Stories is a fun "before and after" photography site, where modern photographers try to take a photograph at exactly the same spot as a historic photo. Sometimes called rephotography, the technique is fun and lends itself naturally to presentations on the web. Examples include Third View - A Rephotographic Survey of the American West; Urban Life through Two Lenses — a flash-heavy exhibit of Quebec rephotography, and Springfield Rewind - featuring rephotographs of Springfield, Illinois. The last site presents the before and after photographs in my favorite format: one sees the historic photograph, but rolling the mouse over it causes it to "flip" to the modern scene. It is a simple trick that packs a punch. I have played around with rephotography myself here in Carthage, Missouri (examples 1, 2, 3). There are also many books featuring rephotographs.
Rephotography is easy and fun, especially with the large and increasing number of historic photos online. I think it would make a great project for school students! Give them some copies of historic photographs of their own community and send them out to rephotograph the scenes. The before and after pictures could go on the web, or have an art show where students stand next to large prints of their photographs while parents and community members visit. If any Spokane area teachers are interested, drop me and email and let's see what we can do together.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
You can see the Coeur d'Alene names for many sites in Washington, Idaho and Montana on this flash based map. (Which actually is not loading for me this evening--check back.) Or more fun yet, download the Google Earth KMZ file. Here is what a section of the Google Earth file looks like:
Clicking on the icons brings a pop-up window with the native and Euroamerican names and a link to "site report" page with includes an MP3 of the native pronunciation and in some cases a streaming video of Couer d'Alene elder Felix Aripa explaining the meaning of the name and the location. Here is Aripa explaining how his people called the area around Sprague Lake "Smell smell." Here is another article on the names project.
This is a wonderful combination of native tradition and modern technology. And it points the way towards other neat things one might do with oral history and Google Earth, mapping peoples memories of one room school houses, or CC camps or the like.
(This post via Metafilter.)
National Geographic has just published on Contours, its official map blog, this breathless announcement: "Last night at midnight - the switch was thrown and National Geographic's national recreation data base was born." The new data base is called TOPO! Explorer, and it focuses on recreational trails. One of the goals of "Northwest History" is to track new developments in digital history, and one of the most intriguing areas for Larry and me has been in the realm of mapping and linking maps to photographs and other data. So what does the Geographic site have to offer that Google Maps doesn't? Here are some first impressions of TOPO! Explorer.
The most obvious asset on the National Geographic site is their use of topographic maps. Google accesses satellite and highway map views. The geographic gives you a choice of satellite and topogragraphical views. The contour lines in the topographic views are valuable, especially when trying to get a sense of the terrain underlying an historical story. I was especially struck this morning by one of their "staff favorite" sites, Pisgah National Forest:
Clicking on the camera icon brings you to this image:
That image is a reminder to us living among the scenic wonders of the Northwest, that other parts of the country have their own scenic treasures. Visiting and mapping them, connecting the maps and images to history, finding the tools to do the job, and seeking the imagination to ask the right questions and find the right designs -- these are some of the enterprises the beckon us in the new technologies....
Here are a few other interesting features on the National Geographic web site: 1) the home page for maps begins with MapMachine, which provides a variety of resources including locations of major droughts and earthquakes; choose the "physical" tab and you see the contours of the earth from seemingly hundreds of miles up -- no closer shots, but useful for the big picture, say, of the break between plateau and mountains in eastern Washington; 2) from the same page click on "Map of the Day" for a map connected to a particular event for the day -- today's was a map Martin Waldseemuller published on April 25, 1507, the first map to use the word "America" in connection with the New World; 3) click on "Interactive History Globe" for a variety of historical entries organized by locale.
Last but not least, National Geographic's TOPO! Explorer home page provides access to topographic maps around the country and is beginning to post data on trails and journeys, including the Pisgah entry mentioned above.
How do we learn from the National Archives site, build on it, do it better? I immediately thought of one of my favorite sites, "Echoes from the Past: Prehistoric Archaeology in Quebec," produced by the University of Montreal and folded into the Virtual Museum of Canada web site.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The new National Archives Experience attempts to bring the National Archives into the Web 2.0 world. When you arrive at the site you are met with a flash animation of dancing words, inviting us to "Unlock the Digital Vault!" and that the National Archives has selected 1,200 records for us to explore online.
1200? Did they forget a couple of zeros? Alas, they did not.
The default interface is similarly designed to impress rather than educate. A set of eight icons twirl around a bit then settle down in an oval around a text box that invites us to "Select a starting point to begin exploring." But the images are not labeled--you will be exploring on your own. What does that picture of some geometric shapes stand for? Hovering the cursor over the images produces a box with a cryptic bit of text meant I suppose to intrigue, in this case "Claim Rejected." Ah, so that is what this is about! Some sort of claim by some person or person for something during some period of time that was rejected. I clicked on the icon for more information. Here is the next screen:
What the hell is this? The avocado colored navigation aid on the left offers us a choice of six "tags": Families, Fraktur (?), Illustrated Family Record, Pennsylvania, Revolutionary War, or Soldiers. It is by no means clear what any of these have to do with our document--since we still don't know a single fact about the "Claim Rejected." And clicking on the tags just makes the background dance around some more and the icons to change. This, my friends, is horrible, arrogant web design.
It turns out that you click on the little unlabeled plus sign to see the document. At which point I discover that the claim rejected was a claim for a widow's pension from Margaret Schwartz, whose late husband had served in a unit of Pennsylvania Artillery during the revolution. I would quote directly from the document description, but the flash interface prevents me from copying and pasting from the site. Grrrr. Here is a screenshot:
As you can see, the document itself appears in a frame on the left. We can zoom in on the document and even print it out, but cannot copy it (except with a screenshot as I have done here). We still do not know the date of the document, or the place where it was written, or any other basic bibliographic information. And in fact, the document is in German, and no translation is provided.
The search function is primitive, non-intuitive and allows only basic keyword searching. And the results are displayed in a long band of unlabeled icons along the bottom of the screen. Below are the results for a search for "revolution." What are these documents? You tell me:
In fairness, there are a couple of neat features at the National Archives Experience that I have not seen anywhere else. The "Create" tab takes us to screens where we may create posters and movies from items in the collection. The movie maker is like a stripped-down online version of Microsoft's free Photostory software, which is very popular with educators. But you cannot add sound, or text beyond a title page, or a thousand and one other things you could do with some free software on your own computer if only you could save the darned images from the National Archives site. Also you can create a "Pathway Challenge," a sort of web quest through the documents.
The National Archives Experience is what can happen when digitization projects go bad. The designers apparently became enamored of all the pretty things they could do with their documents and flash, and forgot to make the site useful or to give it a purpose. You can't do historical research on the site, it is not useful for teaching, and you can't grab the images and documents to use in a presentation.
Amazingly, the National Archives Experience has won a “Best of the Web” award from the Museums and the Web conference, recognizing “the best work in museum web design and development.”
Sunday, April 20, 2008
In the mean time, a program called GPSPhotoLinker [Mac only] provides a good approach to linking location-tagged photos to a map. In the example above Jeffrey Early, a graduate student studying physical oceanography at Oregon State University, has linked location data to a photo taken in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Early, who created GPSPhotoLinker, has put some slide shows on line linking his photographs to maps. His home page lists several of these sites including, "Las Vegas and Zion," "Oregon Coast," and "Glacier Bay."
Note from Larry: I purchased a similar program named RoboGeo a few months ago but haven't fooled around enough to get it to work. It seems averse to Magellan GPS units, which is what I have.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
This thought: the new media is indeed new and marvelous in many ways -- as witness the fine art of blogging and some of the wonders described on this site. But the urge to find new ways to portray the past has its own history. Merle Yenawine's work is a reminder that new media tools are only as good at presenting history as the imagination of the person using them.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Today at the NCPH Conference I saw a terrific new film: The Last Conquistador by John Valdez. The film told the story of the decision by the town of El Paso, Texas to erect what became a 36-foot-high statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate. New Mexican Indians, reflecting on the fact that Oñate had murdered no small number of native men women and children, did not think highly of the plan. The resulting controversy ripped the town apart--and made for a powerful film.
The Last Conquistador will air on PBS this summer.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Spokanites will be quick to add Breaking Blue, Egan's masterful telling of a 1935 murder case where corrupt Spokane cops murdered a Pend Oreille County town marshal.
Outposts is a collection of Egan's often historically-themed dispatches from various locations in the American West. His latest entry is a masterful and evocative description of the Irish in Butte, Montana:
Butte was a hard-edged, dirty, dangerous town on the crest of the Continental Divide, and if a single man lived to his 30th birthday he was considered lucky. Yet entire parishes left the emerald desperation of County Cork for the copper mines of Butte, fleeing a land where British occupiers had once refused to let mothers educate their children, and where famine had killed a million people in seven years’ time.
I want to be Timothy Egan when I grow up.
Early Washington Maps: A Digital Collection is a featured online resource at Washington State University's Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections department. The Early Washington Maps Timeline is a handy finding aid. They also have topographic maps of the state via the USGS Topos Index. You can download the standard display images with the ol' right click, but to use the high definition versions you will need a browser plug-in. A useful site for any northwest teacher or historian.