Sunday, October 30, 2011

Project Update: Omeka

Even though I have more research to do and more photos to round up, I've started add some content to the project website. My only experience preparing and adding original content to a website has been from blogging and using a content management system at work. So I'm using Omeka because I thought it would work well for what I have -- lots of photos from different sources that will help tell the history of Robinson's schools and show the architectural elements that indicate they are Robinson's work.

I'm uncertain exactly what information should go into which fields when adding new items. It reminds me a bit of cataloging a collection item.

Another challenge is figuring out how I can present the information I have about him and each school. I'm thinking that I will use a simple page to give an overview of Robinson's work in Northern Virginia, with information on each school, like when it was built, what materials were used, what evidence there is to attribute it to Robinson, how it was used and modified, etc. Then I'll incorporate that information into the item descriptions. Almost feels like I'm going to be writing a paper and then cannibalizing it but I think that's the best way to make this work.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Project Update: List of Schools

Compiling a list of possible Robinson schools is a bit more challenging than I thought it would be, but in a good way. I'm finding more strong candidates than I thought, reconsidering at least one school and trying to assess two others that I have little documentation for.

Another challenge is the names of the schools. As tempted as I am to call them by their original names, in most cases those names don't reflect how the schools would be recognized by the public.The Franklin Sherman School opened in 1914 as the McLean School but was renamed for the community leader who coordinated the drive to open it and who died shortly after his concept became a reality. The old Bennett School in Manassas was built as the Manassas Agricultural School but only existed in that capacity for a couple years. Still its name reflects its historical significance as the first agricultural high school in Virginia.

So in an Excel file, I'm using multiple names for the same building and my plan is to use the name of the building it was known by when the photo was taken. I think I'll be able to connect them to their different uses and names through descriptions, tags and a related items plug-in.

Here's my working list so far, in no particular order:

McLean School/Franklin Sherman/McLean Teen Center
Herndon High
West End School
Lee School for Girls/Prince Street School/Virginia Tech Washington Alexandria Architecture Center
Clarendon School/Matthew F. Maury School/Arlington Arts Center
Round Hill School
Eastern College/Swavely School/Manassas State Vocational School
Bailey's School/George Mason Collge
Floris School
Cherrydale School
Agricultural School/Bennett School
Lucketts School/Lucketts Community Center
Fort Myer Heights School/Wilson School/Mongolian School

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1897 Map of St. Petersburg

I've been checking out this 1897 map of St. Petersburg and each time I look, I see something new. How amazing this is! Even in French.

Cemeteries, located on the outer edges of the city, are recognizable even at a distance. But looking more closely through the zoom function, you can see crosses marking an area as a burial ground. Map makers in the U.S. Civil War used these same marks to depict a cemetery in their hand drawn maps.

Studying Civil War maps also makes me think I recognize two forts, or maybe the remains of a fort, along the Canal de Kronversky, because the angles appear to be bastions. Their location where three waterways meet would be an important strategic position and deserving of fortification.

I don't know if the grid layout of streets evident in several districts is typical of urban development at that time and I can't tell how old those streets are, but I wouldn't be surprised if they have the same configuration today. I'm interested to know how and when the small parks within these areas were established. Where they connected to a prominent property owner or a member of a ruling family or were they squares specifically opened as parks for the public to enjoy?

At the southern end of the city is a pretty big railroad yard with lines coming in from the south and the east. A slaughterhouse is located close to this yard, perhaps indicating that animals were transported here by train. In the northeast, near the forts, there's another much smaller rail yard with a line coming in from the north.

The presence of several rivers, canals and ports indicates that the city was was likely an important center of commerce, even before rail. While probably not equally balanced to industrial use, some space, like the zoo and hippodrome, must have been used for leisure purposes. This mix is still highly desirably in urban planning today.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Project Overview

Probably would have been good to put my research plan into words so I can post on my progress and have it make some sense, so here's an overview. My project is to use photographs, maps, newspaper articles and other materials to research and document schoolhouses in Northern Virginia designed by architect Charles M. Robinson in the early 20th century.

My goal is to identify schoolhouses Robinson built in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, to locate and obtain permission to use early images of these buildings, to find later photos that represent subsequent uses or expansions of these structures, and to determine whether they are still standing and how they are being used a hundred years after they were built. I will also describe the design elements that were typical in Robinson's schools and I will attempt to explain why Robinson moved to Richmond from Altoona, Pa., where he had successfully worked for more than ten years. 

Among the resources I plan to consult are newspapers, school board records, Sanborn maps, historic images, school yearbooks, building permits, nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, and David B. Robinson, the architect's great grandson and creator of the website I plan to consult the local history and special collections in local libraries in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, as well as collections of the Library of Virginia, the Virginia Historical Society, the George Washington Masonic Memorial, George Mason University and the University of Virginia.

Opening of the Manassas Agricultural School, also known as the Bennett School, in Manassas, c.1909.

The former Bennett School in 2011.
In my completed project, I hope to present historic images of each school with a description of the building and its uses. I also plan to use current photos if the building is still standing and incorporate GPS elements to identify the specific locations where the schools were built

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fleeting Permanence of Knowledge on the Web

What an appropriate topic today.

Considering the work I had done yesterday on the list of links for Northern Virginia history resources disappeared along with work I had done days earlier, even without a obvious keystroke, I am too familiar with this concept.

But it was reinforced this evening when looking at the Wikipedia article for IndyCar driver, Dan Wheldon. Wheldon was killed today in a wreck and like thousands of others eager to learn more about him, I Googled him to find out more about the crash and his career. I took note of the Wikipedia entry with the cautionary note: "This article is about a person who has recently died. Some information, such as that pertaining to the circumstances of the person's death and surrounding events, may change as more facts become known."

Amazing how quickly Wikipedia contributors will post info on a famous or infamouse person's death! This was something I paid particular attention to last spring when the death of actor Jeff Conaway was imminent. Conaway had a documented history of substance abuse and was on life support so his actual death was not a surprise and yet following the dozens of changes to his Wikipedia article in the week before his death was sadly fascinating. So bizarre to watch the apparent throwdown among Wikipedia contributors to see who would get his actual death information correct!

Fleeting but correctable.

Thinking back to the times when I would need to get a correction in a newspaper and people would remind me that no one ever reads the corrections. While that might largely be true, at least the facts would get printed in hard copy, there for the permanent record. This consideration remains with me when I consult historical newspaper sources for information and I remind myself to check the issues following a specific news item, just to see if anything had changed. I have found cases of critically ill and injured people who were reported to be dead but actually survived and subsequent clarifications appeared in the paper. But this was more than one hundred years ago. And what about those erroneous reports that were never corrected?

What was the excuse or rush with Jeff Conaway? What was the rush to call the 2000 Presidential election? Tim Russert's clipboard. Wishy-washy headlines. Wrong headlines. Dewey Defeats Truman.

What about the Sago miners? I'm still waiting to hear how that got botched.

I value instant access to information and still I question all information, evaluating and balancing information and the sources of information. Where did it come from? What do I know about the source? What is the source's motive for sharing the information? In a year or twenty years from now, will this information be perceived as accurate?

So Jeff Conaway, Dan Wheldon, Tim Russert and twelve Sago miners are still dead. Web entries, articles newspapers and other sources for information still get clarified, corrected, updated and deleted.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Building History Websites

Considering the focus of the chapter and the developments in digital processes to bring history to the web, I can see how fast things change. Server capabilities are beyond my professional experience but I can understand the necessity and limitations of using OCR for reading digital texts. The good thing is that the software necessary for converting scanned documents and even images of texts to readable -- and searchable -- text has been integrated into most scanning equipment.

The domain name and redirects to a stable URL are things I'm familiar with but have a hard time balancing. Coming up with a simple and clever domain name only to discover it's already in use. Using an obvious domain name -- and hopefully keeping it registered -- to have it point to a changing URL I have no control over. The creative side of my wants the end product to reveal what its own name should be based on a recurring theme and strong consistent content. But that's not always an option so with this blog name, I took the easy way out.

The project I'm leaning toward is a site that compiles information on online resources for Northern Virginia history. I would love to have something with an advanced search that would point to users to specific sources so they wouldn't have to visit each site and sift through the information to see if it would be useful. But even a basic page with a description of another site's content and collection could be helpful. From my experience doing research, I've found that searching for one key word or subject may be efficient but also limiting. While scanning what a collection holds, I get ideas for other ways and materials I would not have otherwise considered.

I'm a huge photo freak so I would love to find an effective way to incorporate a powerful photo from a collection or repository to represent the entire collection that site offers. This could be flexible, too, with a historic photo or an image of a history record. For example, the online collection of Alexandria property records from the Alexandria Library could be represented by a photograph from the property appraisal card or the card itself, like these images of a home documented in the early 1970s.

The property is 514 Crown View Drive which was built in the early 1950s for a young Congressman and his wife. It became more historically significant when the resident became President in the summer of 1974.

I don't think I could find such a compelling photo for every collection but I think a strong, represntative image is important.

Exploring the History Web

This assignment is to check out these sites and put them in chronological order.

Avalon Project
The April 16 Archive
The Oyez Project
Valley of the Shadow
Romantic Circles
Dickinson Electronic Archive
Persepolis: A Virtual Reconstruction
American Memory
Digital Karnak
Hurricane Digital Memory Bank
Hawthorne in Salem
Amiens Cathedral Project
Life Outtacontext, In Our Path and Eye Level

So looking at the design and in some cases, the last time they were updated, this was my order.

American Memory
The Oyez Project
Romantic Circles
Dickinson Electronic Archive
Avalon Project
Hawthorne in Salem
Valley of the Shadow
The April 16 Archive
Amiens Cathedral Project
Hurricane Digital Memory Bank
Digital Karnak
Persepolis: A Virtual Reconstruction
Life Outtacontext, In Our Path and Eye Level

The more advanced the graphics, the more likely I was to assign them more recent dates. The exception to this was Jeff Gates' works because them appeared to be blogs. So while the design and data applications, like databases and search functions, weren't too sophisticated, the information was recent.

I did remember consulting The Oyez Project several years ago but had the same thought about the Library of Congress site American Memory. Both were pretty basic in their design -- fonts, graphics and presentation of data -- but it turns out, American Memory wasn't as old as I thought it was. But it still had that government feel that 25 years ago would have been reflected as a two-color print publication with overuse of half tone blues or greens.

Some early ones like Valley of the Shadow offered visual attempts to demonstrate accessing different data based on events and data, which might have been edgy at the time but now seem confusing. Worse, the information that comes from these different searches in Valley of the Shadow, is not limited to a specific time period as the interactive graphic would lead the user to believe. While it's possible that historical data and sources may not have changed in ten years, the applications to access this information have changed and the early sites haven't been updated.

The stunning graphics and movement of more recent sites, like Lascaux and Persepolis, were incredible. But the use of mapping, hi-res photography, and digital illustrations made these historic places and collections come alive. In this way, they were virtual visits to lost or hidden places.