Walking Tour of West Fairmount Park

Memorial Hall and surrounding area (HABS PA,51-PHILA,265B–34, Jack E. Boucher, Photographer, April 24, 2003)

Almost two months ago now I posted my proposal for my Digital History final project and I’ve finally wrapped it up. First of all, here it is!

I was steered toward StoryMap.js as an alternative to my original Omeka concept (for several reasons) and it was a really good decision. The StoryMap format is designed for a linear tour like this and works pretty smoothly on mobile devices. While I wasn’t able to incorporate the original map artwork as I had planned, I was still able to include an image for each stop and some text. One unexpected perk of using StoryMap was that it uses Open Street Map and several enterprising individuals have mapped lots of hidden Fairmount Park stuff (old trolley paths, hiking routes, etc) onto the map. So if you are the urban explorer type, use Open Street Map the next time you’re venturing around Fairmount Park!

I think the power of walking tours is that the act of walking triggers different types of sensory learning and spacial reasoning. For instance, I learned during an Irish Literature course at Goshen College that James Joyce’s Ulysses makes more sense if you’re walking while reading it. We accomplished this by having two walkers flank a reader, guiding them as they read aloud.

By connecting various sites in a linear path, the tour makes some sense of what might otherwise simply be scattered dots on a map.

While the original WPA walking tour is great–and I plan on following a couple of the tours myself–it is woefully out of date,  and includes relatively limited pictures. Plus one of my goals for this project was to get this sort of a tour in the hands of folks whose primary tool is the smartphone. StoryMap achieves that and allows me to draw from public image sources to craft what I think is a pretty good tour.

One of my favorite things about the final product is that there are a whole lot of things included in the 1937 tour that aren’t there anymore, despite their seeming timelessness. The number of sculptures that have been relocated out of Fairmount Park would put many other city parks to shame. We often think of bronze and concrete as permanent, but they aren’t, and this tour is a sharp reminder of that. I hope that people who embark on this tour find themselves mulling how quickly the built landscape (and at this point all of Fairmount Park is built) can change. There used to be a lake that’s no longer there!

Conferences!

This month has been sort of full of professional development, with three very different events providing opportunities to learn from smart people, eat catered food, and network.

On March 8, I went to the Public History Community Forum (PubComm), an annual event put on by Temple’s Center for Public History and Rutgers-Camden’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH). I helped a bit with the event website and helped set up and clean up, but the meat of the work was done by my classmates Cynthia Heider and Chelsea Reed and Rachel Craft of Rutgers-Camden.

Cynthia, Chelsea, and Rachel assembled an amazing little conference (6 workshops, a keynote address, and a panel) on a shoestring budget, and managed to get supremely qualified presenters, including the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s Annie Polland, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site’s Sean Kelley, and Ismael Jimenez, a high school teacher in Philly and part of the Philadelphia Black History Collaborative.

I spent a lot of my time at PubComm live-tweeting the event and I collected my tweets and those from some other nimble-thumbed folks into a Storify of the day: https://storify.com/theodeomutts/pubcomm17 Continue reading “Conferences!”

Research Notes: Chamounix Mansion (Hostelling International)

Having made my way through some of the pile of scholarship on Historic House Museums, I made a foray into Fairmount Park on Wednesday to visit the Chamounix (SHAM-ah-nee) Mansion, which has operated as a hostel since 1965. Abbe, the hostel’s steward, and Andrew, the manager, showed me around the place and then we had a really nice conversation about Philadelphia, historic buildings, Fairmount Park, gentrification, and the Church of the Divine.

Because I’m trying to learn some Google Map APIs, here’s a map of where Chamounix is located in Fairmount Park:

A photo from the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust (now the Fairmount Park Conservancy) after restoration work completed 2006-2008.

Built in 1803, the mansion has been a summer-home, a year-round residence, a concession stand, a boarding house, a raceway, residence for a park employee, and a condemned fire-damaged shell before it found its current purpose.

[Check out PhillyHistory.org’s collection of images that show the condition of the mansion in 1962*]

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Digital Project Review: Clara Barton National Historic Site Interactive Experience

Clara Barton National Historic Site Interactive Experience. https://www.nps.gov/features/clba/feat0001/interactive.html. National Parks Service. No credit/about page exists. Accessed 27 January, 2017.

The Clara Barton National Historic Site Interactive Experience is a resource that allows elementary school students to experience Clara Barton’s home from a computer at school or home. Taking the form of a Flash presentation, the virtual tour allows users to pan their way around each room of the house and click on a few artifacts in order to see, read, and, in some cases, hear more about Barton’s home and life. There is also a section that provides activities (largely reading comprehension and multiple choice) for students to complete.

Screenshot of the interface, this is essentially full-size

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Bringing Historic House Museums to Life

In the process of working on a paper for my US History survey class, today I visited the Powel House, located in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood. Jennifer Davidson, the Site Manager, gave me a wonderful tour, including lots of sage wisdom about the front lines of public history in addition to the regular historical tour material. The Powel House has had a relatively narrow interpretive focus since it opened as a historic house museum in 1938, focusing primarily on the time period (1769-1798) in which Samuel Powel and Elizabel Willing Powel lived in the house and played host to famous friends such as George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin (Samuel Powel was part of Franklin’s Junto), Benjamin Rush, and even the Marquis de Lafayette.

  Continue reading “Bringing Historic House Museums to Life”