Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web

Preparing for Museums and the Web 2011

Next week is a busy time here at Azavea. The annual Museums and the Web conference is in town, and we’re excited to be part of the festivities! An international gathering of those interested in web-based museum technology, we’ve attended Museums and the Web for the last few years and really enjoyed the chance to meet a diverse group of people excited about discussing new innovations in cultural institutions.

Erik and Deb experiment with the new PhillyHistory.org augmented reality application.

On Tuesday, April 5, I’ll be leading a walking tour of various local history sites around the Center City, Chinatown, and Callowhill neighborhoods. With my public history background, few things make me happier than a walking tour! In addition to an intro to Philly’s history, we’ll be looking at how images from PhillyHistory.org, the website of historic photos that Azavea built for the Philadelphia Department of Records, can help tell the history of a neighborhood. Tour attendees will be able to view images from the site via the PhillyHistory.org smart phone web application and will even have access to a sneak peek of the new Augmented Reality by PhillyHistory.org application.

Where exactly will we be stopping? Here’s a hint at a few of the spots.

  • City Hall – You can’t walk around Center City without being aware of City Hall. Architecture, government, Penn’s plan – the building brings up so many topics connected to the city’s history. Besides, there’s a great new exhibit up featuring images from PhillyHistory.org!
  • 10th and Arch – This intersection has a fantastic history. From the Chinese arch today to a 1919 photo with a sign declaring that “Food Will Win the War,” this corner’s history can help spark discussion on how neighborhoods in Philadelphia grow, change, and adapt over time.
  • 11th and  Wood – The Callowhill neighborhood provides great insights into Philadelphia’s industrial, residential, and transportation heritage. The Reading Viaduct, 19th century workers’ rowhomes, and architecturally interesting industrial buildings illustrate a few of the many stories connected to Philadelphia’s status as the Workshop of the World.

After the tour, we’ll be hosting a cocktail reception at Azavea to help kick off the conference. We’re looking forward to the chance to meet people active in the field, get their feedback about the AR app, and acquaint them with some of our humanities work.

Throughout the conference, I’ll be attending sessions and we’ll be exhibiting some of our projects in the conference exhibit and demonstration hall.  On Saturday, we’re excited to be part of a mobile parade session where we’ll talk about “Implementing Mobile Augmented Reality Applications for Cultural Institutions,” and specifically our findings from creating the PhillyHistory.org augmented reality application.

If you happen to be at Museums and the Web, stop by Booth #23 and say hello. We’ll be talking about our work in the humanities and perhaps demoing the new PhillyHistory.org augmented reality application. Should be a fun and busy week!

Conference Wrap-Up: Museum Computer Network 2010

From October 28-30, I was fortunate to attend the annual Museum Computer Network conference, held this year in Austin, Texas. My only previous experience with Texas involved a long, hot, six hour van ride between Dallas and Lubbock so the chance to get another view of the state by spending a few days in Austin learning about new digital projects and discussing museum technology was much appreciated!

Formed in 1967, the Museum Computer Network serves as an organization where members can discuss, debate, and investigate new technologies and practices in the museum field. The group operates a very active listserv and holds an annual conference. While other of my Azavea colleagues had been to the conference before, this was my first time attending.

Some of the highlights of the conference included:

  • Case Study Showcases: Featuring a quick five minute introduction to a variety of projects, these showcases were a great chance to hear about activities going on around the country. After the initial presentations, each speaker was available to answer further questions or provide more information. Some of my favorites?
    • Information Visualization and Museum Practice: How do we use visualization tools in museum activities from representing visitor information to understanding our collections? This was a great session that continued into an unconference discussion I unfortunately couldn’t attend. It’s a fascinating topic that I’m excited to read more about in the future.
    • Great conversations with museum professionals from around the country.
    • Barbecue and delicious food!

    In addition to hearing about these topics, I also had the chance to speak on GIS for preservation and community engagement as part of a panel on 21st Century Conservation. My session included information on Muralfarm.org (powered by Sajara) and its use by the Mural Arts Program to make more mural information and photographs available to the public.

    Overall a great conference that left me with a long list of projects to check out and websites to read!

Mapping Literature, Postscript

Turns out that I’m not the only one in the office who likes the idea of combining place and literature. A conversation with my deskmate, Dana, led me to a few more great literary mapping projects.

A Literary Map of Manhatten: Having grown up in a small town in the Midwest, my New York City was the New York of books and movies. When I finally got to the city and visited the Met for the first time, I was so excited to see the place where Claudia and Jamie lived in From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!

Get London Reading: London is the other city forever connected with literature in my mind. I haven’t made it there yet, but until I do, this site provides a great overview of the writings associated with the city!

The combining of literature and geography doesn’t require mapping software or a digital interface. For decades, beautiful literary maps have provided a visual representation of the connection between writing and place. In 1993, the Library of Congress hosted “Language of the Land: Journeys into Literary America,” an exhibition of literary maps, that later traveled throughout the United States. An online exhibition provides access to some of the maps and photographs that were part of the exhibit. I’d love to see another exhibit like this!

Mapping Literature

In May 2010, I was fortunate to attend THATCamp 2010, the Humanities and Technology Camp hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Amidst all the discussion of digital humanities, text mining, linked data, and open source software were several great sessions on geolocation, mapping historic sites, and the use of place and space in humanities scholarship.

Many of these conversations focused on the use of geography in the study of history. From historic photographs to maps to artifacts used at a particular place, both non-profit organizations and the academy have embraced geography as a way to connect the past to the present. Azavea has worked on several projects that use GIS to help understand and visualize the past including PhillyHistory.org and AfricaMap.

In one session, however, we were encouraged to look beyond spatial analysis and history. What about applying GIS technology to other fields in the humanities such as literature? Place has long been recognized as a great influence upon many writers and their work. Flannery O’Conner, William Faulkner, and Zora Neale Hurston are inextricably linked with the American South just as Dickens is forever associated with London and Mark Twain with the Mississippi River. Other writers create their own locations as varied as Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Jonathan Swift’s Lilliput. Travel writers, journalists, and non-fiction authors also help tell the stories of a place and describe the culture, people, and events that are intimately connected to a region.

With geography so interwoven with literature, it seems like GIS could be a perfect way to help further analyze and understand both fiction and non-fiction. A little bit of online research led me to some great literary GIS projects.

A W.E.B. DuBois map (c. 1896) of Philadelphia's 7th ward.

A W.E.B. DuBois map (c. 1896) of Philadelphia's 7th ward.

Mapping the DuBois Philadelphia Negro – Led by Dr. Amy Hillier in the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, the Mapping DuBois project uses GIS technology and archival data to depict the demographics of the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia in 1899 when W.E.B. Du Bois surveyed the area as part of his book, The Philadelphia Negro. Azavea assisted with the GIS technology for the project.

Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania – Developed by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, this literary map shows the authors and works associated with counties across Pennsylvania. Clicking on a county provides additional information about the authors as well as links to books, newspapers, and maps related to that area.

The Map of Early Modern London – Using the Agas map (circa 1560), visitors can gain a better understanding of the relationship between the geography and history of London and how those factors influenced Renaissance theater in the city.

Haverford College Department of Classics – Want a better understanding of the geography of Homer’s poems? View locations associated with Homer’s ships using Google Earth.

Google Lit Trips – Developed as part of the Google Certified Teachers program, Google Lit Trips enables teachers and students to view locations associated with certain books by downloading kmz files for use in Google Earth. Works range from Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey to Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.