Digital History Project Proposal

I’ve reached the point in the semester where I need to have a good idea of what I’m going to attempt for my final projects and papers. So here is my (ambitious) proposal:

Belmont Mansion in stereo

I want to use the 1937 Federal Writers Project city guide to Philadelphia (or more likely simply the walking tours of Fairmount Park) as a jumping off point for a digital map similar to the Mall Histories project. Among the resources I hope to geolocate are Historic American Building Survey (HABS) images and drawings as well as stereoscopic views of Fairmount Park that are part of the New York Public Library’s online collections. I might also include contemporary photos to highlight attractions that weren’t present in 1937, such as public artworks and graffiti. The mansion called “The Cliffs” was not included in the 1937 guide, likely because it is off the beaten path, but its fire-damaged, graffiti’d shell is a major draw for urban explorer types, and before and after images could be really interesting.

I hope to follow the model of Mall Histories and use Leaflet with the Omeka geolocation plugin, after having first stretched the WPA maps (the aesthetic of which I hope to keep) in Map Warper. I thus hope to make the map very mobile-friendly. Using Omeka will allow me an easy back-end interface for adding content. Leaflet is lightweight, making the map faster-loading, and using Map Tiler will also help it be quick. I understand about half of what I just wrote.

Fountain in Old Park.

I think the WPA is a relevant precedent for our time in which federal involvement in the humanities is under attack. Marking this particular guides’ 80th birthday is an opportunity to show the value of such investment as well as a chance to update its information to include a broader range of attractions. Moving the walking tours to digital format allows for the inclusion of a lot of publicly-available images and puts the project in the hands of anyone with a smartphone. By juxtaposing HABS images with contemporary scenes, I hope this project will show the victories of historic preservation as well as encourage a healthy criticism of the static nature of some restoration/reproduction.

My audience is my friend Zack, who, as a runner, dog owner, and explorer, loves Fairmount Park. He’s also the kind of guy who sends a ton of hyperlinks in our text thread. My audience is also two young women of color who appeared on a panel at the Public History Community Forum (#PubComm17) a week ago. They shared that they felt like most museums weren’t for them but were looking for more historical excursions they could take on their own. I hope they check this out. My audience is also my parents, who have one smartphone between them (and that one they don’t use to its full potential). With this map on my phone, I could facilitate an adventure with them the next time they come visit. Fairmount Park attracts a lot of people every year for all sorts of events and reasons. This map could be a pleasant addition to park visitors’ other activities. Perhaps the Fairmount Park Conservancy (which already has an interactive map on their website) could be a partner if this actually comes to fruition.

 

Image Citations:

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Belmont Mansion.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 16, 2017. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-aecc-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Fountain in Old Park.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 16, 2017. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-aec8-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

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