Digital History Review: Vintage San Antonio – a photo history

View of the Majestic Theatre in the 1950's
View of the Majestic Theatre in the 1950’s
Photo courtesy of Vintage San Antonio Facebook Page

San Antonio recently celebrated its 300-year “birthday.” Birthday is in quotation marks because we know that 300 years ago was not when San Antonio just popped up out of the earth. Three hundred years ago Spain founded San Antonio de Padua on the date that recognizes the saint. Photography has been around a couple of hundred years and has since captured a relatively new style of history. This new style of history is a photo-history.


Occasionally, a reader may come across a new stream of images on their timeline based on a follow or a re-post. That is what happened in this case. Casually scrolling through a Facebook timeline, can bring a user upon a photo of San Antonio from the early 1940s or an image of a Battle of Flowers Parade photo from a few years ago or 20 years ago. The findings are usually unique.


Vintage San Antonio is a Facebook page, created in 2013 that features photos of San Antonio from just about every year range of the historic city’s timeline. A scroller of social media will most likely not come across a portrait of themselves but could see a photo of a loved one from years past. The page is an excellent way for an individual to reminisce over a pastime that has faded in many parts of the city.


The photos included on the page have a broad audience including students, historians, San Antonio natives, those visiting the historic city and a wealth of other page visitors. Depending on the scope of a visit to the page, the audience can broaden further.
The page design is the same as every other Facebook page due to the inability to change the layout or color settings of the page. How the administrator’s post to “Vintage San Antonio – a photo history” is simple and draws users straight to the page through organic impressions. The page is easily accessible and responsive on most internet-accessible devices.


This page is sufficient in its use of digital media. The page operators request photos from the public to be sent in with as much information that can be shared to send along with them. Some images are scanned and shared by the administrators of the page.
Mentioning the administrators of the page led to questioning who the administrators are. Searching through the page did not reveal the page owners ( an update to this post will include the creators once a response to a message sent comes through).


This Facebook page is a page that is frequent for inspiration of photos and ideas for writing topics. Hopefully, readers of this blog post can use this Facebook page for the same inspiration that others have.

Tool Test: Airtable

Airtable Logo

Let’s talk tables. Tables for everything! Tables

Let us talk tables. Tables are for everything! Tables are for projects! Tables are for birthdays! Tables are for eating on! No. No. All jokes aside, tables are amazing tools that, if used the right way, can maximize efforts and can maximize productivity.
My professor at St. Mary’s University, Dr. Lindsey Wieck, introduced me to this innovative application, and I have been using it ever since.

“Airtable” has a way of helping teams track and manage projects. That is how I use it, of course.

When I approached the idea of using “Airtable” as a tool for project management, I was not thinking of historical advantages. I was not thinking of how I could access this fantastic tool in the future. My thought process around using “Airtable” was simple. The application was cute, free, and it worked. Using apps like Google Docs, Slack, and Skype, verified for me that collaborative apps were probably the way to go. This assumption has proven itself and paid off in dividends.

Now to the use of the app itself. “Airtable” is excellent. The version of the application that I will refer to here is the free version that has some restrictions, but I will lay those out here. The paid version of this tool grants users the rights to “blocks” that allow users the capability to change text colors, send text messages, integrate with other applications, etc. There are a few different options that the paid version unlocks, but those pieces were not really deciding factors in using the web-based client, so I haven’t included them here for that reason.

Using Airtable as a simple archive-tracker can do wonders. While I was tracking submissions for requests for photography, I was also storing photos from each photo shoot that could help me create a timeline in the future.

I have had the great opportunity of being invited to events and cultural happenings in San Antonio and will continue to be. These events provide me with insight and opportunity. These events also provide me with photos of a ton of fascinating subjects that represent a culture that is seen throughout the historic, 300-year-old city in Texas. The application has helped me track these events, the photos, and the contacts that I have made throughout this journey thus far.

The development of the program has and will continue to develop my workflow and can do the same for any user that is new to the system. This system also has ways to help track historical events and photos and will continue to do so for other users.

Tool Test: Adobe Indesign

Pre-K 4 SA Milestones

The cool thing about being a graphic designer for the beautiful City of San Antonio is that learning new things is a daily adventure. I work for Pre-K 4 SA, a corporation that began by through the ideas of some smart individuals that understood that early childhood education was the way to ensure a change in the infrastructure and workforce of San Antonio. Sure enough, those brainiacs were right.

I have the distinct pleasure to work under the Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Sarah Baray in a capacity that allows me to take the knowledge I have learned and use technology to convey a story or a message that is easy to understand but simple enough to engage a general audience.

Tools. Being a graphic designer does not always guarantee specific software. Being a graphic designer doesn’t always guarantee creative freedom. Being a graphic designer, in my case, did somewhat guarantee what I was going to be given to facilitate better the work that I was doing.

That said, Adobe Illustrator was a must in the world of graphic design work and let me tell you, Adobe Illustrator has become my best friend. To help an audience visualize history is no simple feat. If working with an organization, then ensuring that creations match a standard of branding can be difficult.

I started with a pallet of colors. A shade of red, a shade of blue, yellow, green, and another blue filled the color palette of my Adobe Illustrator window. Then I looked at backgrounds and fills and fortunately enough, we have a handful of those (relatively the same, but with different colors). I also started with a size. This particular project was to be made to fit on a powerpoint slide.

After determining the graphic elements that included, I began to discover the slides of historical information presented in the past and worked with the CEO and my supervisor to prepare a list of historic milestone that the organization wanted to share with the council.

I placed the pieces into a linear fashion and began typing. Each part of the document split into several, and each layer had a process to access the objects. That said, I was frustrated about halfway through the project. Repetitive clicking was quickly becoming annoying, and even though I had a more extended timeframe for this project, I was able to piece together every piece to create a beautiful graphic that is now a base timeline until our next significant milestone occasion.

This project (and tool) helped me understand the need to be concise and still informative with historical graphics. Too many words would not have left this specific piece looking beautiful and polished. The project altogether was a blast, but the tool, that was not.

I have got to admit that Adobe Illustrator is easy to use the tool once played with enough, and once the user has spent countless hours on Youtube to determine best practices. The user interface is confusing unless you are used to Adobe Creative Suite products like Photoshop or Indesign. To correctly save documents, there is no easy “save” button. There is an export button, a save as, and an extraction button; all of which have different uses. If the files need to be accessed on a different computer or server, then there is also a packaging option that downloads all photos, fonts, and other media to a folder and allows other users to edit.

Adobe Illustrator is a great tool when used correctly, but without several weeks of playing with the application or several projects that require testing techniques, it is not so easy to pick up by your average Joe Shmoe.

Digital History Review of the Morning Edition (NPR)

https://www.npr.org/programs/morning-edition/

Every morning I walk up to my desk and take a seat. I could have twelve different things pending that need my attention, but I take the time to sit and visit NPR or National Public Radio to hear the daily release of the top news from the day before.

I am not positive that this site is a digital history project per se, but I am positive about the information that the website does provide and what I know already.

What I know is that the information shared is non-partisan, meaning that it does not sway left or right in terms of a political party. I also know that thousands of people listen to NPR using a multitude of mediums, but in this review, I will be talking about the NPR website. The website is my platform of review. The site itself is only a facilitator to access the podcast.

What is interacted with is not as much the website as it is the content. For the most part, the content is being released in the form of a podcast. The podcast I am referring to is titled “The Morning Edition.” The podcast’s name is the morning edition because it’s released every morning. The website that leads the listener to the podcast is an easy-to-use website that helps users access a variety of information. There are podcasts with transcriptions, articles written, interviews recorded, and a multitude of other great ideas on this site. The Morning Edition is just another one of these resources.

I am going to refer to this popular podcast as a digital history project for a couple of reasons. The first reason for referring to “The Morning Edition” as a digital history project is due to the medium being used. As a podcast that is digitally recorded, the digital aspect is fulfilled. In terms of what makes it historical in nature, the answer is obvious. All of the podcast recordings are saved in their digital forms and can be accessed in the future. The topics that the podcast covers almost always have some sense of historical significance which just adds to my justification.

The site and podcast have a friendly interface. Once at the homepage of the original NPR.com website, all one would need to do is hover over the tab labeled “Shows & Podcasts). Once the dropdown menu appears, the “The Morning Edition” overlay will show and once that button is clicked, the podcast is loaded and populated.

After populating the podcast for that day, the listener is given a breakdown of the podcast in pieces. If one would feel more inclined to listen to the show in their own order, they would have the ability to do so. If a listener only wanted to listen to one segment, and not hear the rest, that would also be an option. The use of the digital medium is more than acceptable. Even when trying to access the podcast on my phone, the user interface is easy to work with and has some obvious navigation.

The audience for this podcast is listed as “morning drive time”. Morning drive time means the average person driving their car to work in the morning. My assumption is that more people listen to the podcast at work, the way I do, but I can’t be too sure without making simple assumptions.

This show started in 1979 by Bob Edwards and has survived decades of listening and controversy. Edwards would leave “The Morning Edition” in 2004 to be succeeded by a new voice. The show now has 3 hosts and runs until 12:00 P.M. some days.

The show is a great way to engage individuals in national history and to stay updated on the news that affects a broader audience. I don’t doubt that the morning edition will last until way past it’s 100 year anniversary in 2079.

Digital Review of “Equity Maps”

Equity Maps is a teaching tool that allows the teacher or presenter to track how frequently and how long a participant in a conversation takes part. The site not only follows the talk but also records it in a way that is easy for playback and sharing. This is a downloadable application for smart devices with wifi capabilities. You can find the application by visiting https://equitymaps.com/ or by searching “Equity Maps” in google play or the Apple app store.

The application has a nice user interface and addresses client needs by offering different display options. The tabs in the application are easy to use and follow basic visual requirement needs. There is a high contrast background with dark letters and plenty of colors spread evenly. The structure of the app makes it easy to navigate through. Unfortunately, the application does not have a completely free version but the demo version did work as expected and was quite easy for me to maneuver around.

The design of this application does not look very original, to me becasue it reminds me of quickbooks or other financial strategy applications. The application is pretty responsive to ipads but not to phones. The ammount of features wouldnt fit on the screen and with the option of having up to 40 students, it seems non-pragmatic.

This application is pointed towards a specific audience set. Teachers are the intended audience for the app, based on the first view of the website and if you want to be specific, teachers interested in equity in the classroom are the intended buyers of this $1.99 app which is available on the Apple app store. The other audience specified by the app website is “facilitators, administrators, business start-ups and instructional coaches to provide a dynamic way to increase reflection and affect change.”

Equity Maps does something I have not seen done before. It tracks and records based on student genders, and where they are seated in the classroom as well as how long they talk and participate in the conversation. Technically, this could be done on another medium like paper or a board but it would not be as quick and easy to change. It seems to be a good application and has value to the results.

The application was founded by Dave Nelson, who had 29 years of experience in the field of education. He is from Oregon but is currently a coordinator and teacher in Greece. The creation of the website was done by George Sachpatzidis, who is a software engineer and solutions architect.

It is in my opinion that this application is helpful and can be used in a pragmatic way but the applicatiom is not necessary to achieve the same goals. Personally, I would take the ads in the application in order to not have to pay for the premium version. The interesting thing about this application is that there is no indication how this app can continue to evolve and when looking back on the older versions of the cite, it seems the site itself hasnt evolved either.

Take some time to check out Equity Maps and decide for yourself!

Tool Test: Story Maps

Sleeter, S. Michael. “Southwest History Project.” StoryMap JS. https://storymap.knightlab.com/edit/?id=southwest-history-project.

            I worked with Storymap JS for this tool test.  The site allows you to take pictures and mark where they are from on a map.  It has a space of a caption and you can cite the source of the picture too.  There is a headline that you can write to name the picture or place, depending on how you are setting up the story.  Below the headline box is a place for text.  This box can be utilized in several different ways.  The most obvious one is to tell that part of the story for that picture.  It can also be used to simply describe the picture or the place that is being shown.  Finally it can be used to give information about the history of the area featured in the picture.   This is a great way to organize pictures or to use pictures to tell a story that is connected to locations.  The site is easy to use and the maps are simple to put together.

For this test I used pictures that I took in conjunction with the Southwest history project.  I wanted some primary source material that I controlled the rights too just to make things easier.  I laid out the pictures into a kind of tour of the area that people could use to guide themselves to important sites in the district.  I added a little bit of text as part of the trial, I will go back in fill in the historical research that I have done on these places to bring the tour up to professional quality.  Also I could have united the places by telling a story.  Not just having people travel through the space of the district, but traveling through the time as well.  That will be something I consider when I revise this project. 

This program is a real good tool for both professional digital historians and casual ones.  Students learning about history can also put this site to good use as a way to present projects they have worked on.  The photos were easy to upload, but they had to be the right size.  I had to crop all the photos I took because of the size limits.  The other issue I had was that you could only have one photo per slide.  This is annoying if you wanted to display multiple photos of a place.  You would have to set up multiple markers at one site.

I look forward to revising my test project and using this site in future projects to help people understand the history of space.  I am a strong believer in that you need to understand geography to have a full grasp of history.  This is one more tool to help people accomplish that goal.    

Digital Review: Bdote Memory Map

“Mitakuyepi! Welcome!” Bdote Memory Map. http://bdotememorymap.org/.

The Bdote Memory Map started out as a local history project on a wall of the Ancient Traders Gallery in Minneapolis.  The gallery is a community center for the Dakota people in the area.  The visitors who toured the gallery participated in the collection of the community history by writing their memories of Dakota sites on the wall.  The wall featured a map of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and was marked with important Dakota sites.  It displayed the sites with their Dakota names and allowed people to connect with those places.  Eventually the memories found a new home as they became digitized and turned into the bdote memory map.  The website is a continuation of the map on the gallery wall, plus the addition of educational tools and a telling of Dakota history. 

The website presents itself extremely well.  It is eye-catching and reflects the Dakota culture in many facets.  The main page has a menu that allows visitors to navigate the site.  A tab at the bottom of the page provides users with some background information about the Dakota.  It did not take me long to learn why this site was called the “bdote” memory map.  Clicking on the bottom of the circle takes the user to a video where a video shows a greeting in the Dakota tradition.  A click to the right side of the circle and the user finds a video that explains the Dakota place in the world as “Urban Tribesmen.”  The short video explains how the city is their home even after losing the land their ancestors lived on for hundreds of years.   Clicking on the top of the circle takes the visitor to the memory map.  It contains places around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that are important to the Dakota tribe.  When the user clicks on the site, they choose a list of videos about specific spots.  Many of the videos are oral histories by people who witnessed the history that unfolded at those places.  The left side of the circle provides a link to a brief history of the Dakota people in the area.  It also explains the importance of being connected to a place.  Tabs at the top of the page provide a Dakota glossary with words read by the Dakota people themselves.  There are also lesson plans for teachers to help them teach about the Dakota tribe.

I found this website to be a great resource, it contains great primary sources and the information is easy to access.   The first thing that I noticed was that this website encompasses everything that public history is.   It is a community history, written by the community, for the education of the community and the public in general.  It provides insight into the history of the Dakota people in the twin cities area of Minnesota.  It allows community members to participate by adding their voices to the record and it allows young Dakotas to learn their history and traditions from their tribe members.  This well-designed site is very user-friendly.  It is a great place to learn more about the Dakota people for anyone who is interested in learning about them.  This site would be especially useful to anyone doing research on the Dakota people.  The oral histories are especially valuable for the stories that they record about the people and their experiences. Go and see for yourself, if nothing more than to discover why it is called the bdote memory map.


A Review of the Digital Academic Website EDSITEment

EDSITEment is a content provider of detailed lesson plans. Provided by accredited and financially sponsored academics for public use and evaluation, the quality of content is generally high. Content providers are, for the most part, professional educators, and most of these lesson plans are intended for secondary and higher education level courses. Overall, the sheer quantity of lesson plans is quite impressive. In general, they offer quality content that is backed by legitimate source material. However, upon reviewing dozens of these lesson plans, I’ve determined there is no adequate metric for determining the quality of each lesson plan.

It would appear that the administrators of EDSITEment simply sponsor certain educators with adequate qualifications to provide content. Rather than evaluate the quality of each individual lesson plan, EDSITEment places trust in their chosen content providers to provide quality content. The result is a great disparity between the quality of any two lesson plans.

The danger of this lack of regulation is that those who may be less qualified or ill-informed on a particular historical subject may take the content of a lesson plan at face value. Educators who wish to use these lesson plans should critique the overall quality of the lesson plan and determine whether the material presented is relevant to their classes’ curricula. If these vital steps are not undertaken, the result is that some of the less fulfilling, less substantiated or blatantly inaccurate lesson plans (there are some of these present,) may be adopted in the classroom. This is largely due to the unrestricted guidelines of EDSITEment’s content, which is both of benefit and detriment to the platform. The benefit of deregulation of content is that there is simply more content available, but the detriment is that much of this content is not adequately vetted by qualified individuals. The best way to understand the discrepancy in quality between lesson plans is to walk through the process of creating one.

The first section of an EDSITEment lesson plan is the topic or ‘guiding question’ that provides focus for the content provided. Some EDSITEment content providers use this section well, with specific questions that truly delve into the material and may invoke relevant questions in the intended audience. Other lesson plans I’ve seen have very weak guiding questions that don’t inspire the audience to make inquiries and simply digest information without thinking critically about the content. Fortunately, the aforementioned lack of regulation makes the less valuable lesson plans identifiable, as the weaker lesson plans often have uninspired guiding questions.

In my opinion, the section that truly determines a successful EDSITEment lesson plan is the ‘learning outcomes’ section. Here, the ideas voiced in the guiding questions segment are more fully developed, and the process of achieving the goal of the lesson is described. EDSITEment content creators often support their initial claims about the material with evidence in this section, and some of the more developed lesson plans have many learning outcomes with a number of sources that substantiate their claims about the topic. This section is the heart of the lesson plan, and it is solely up to the content provider to create a well-rounded outcomes section in order to successfully pitch the use of the lesson plan to their intended audience.

Aside from these two sections, there are several other segments that content providers can dedicate to providing extra resources relevant to the lesson plan. The best lesson plans I’ve seen use these sections liberally, and some have dozens of primary source documents and media varieties attached to the lesson plan for those who are interested in the topic and wish to explore it further.

In summation, EDSITEment is a great, albeit simple, digital platform that enables users to share their lesson plans and gathered materials with a wider audience of academics and educators. The lack of regulation ensures that there is a steady stream of new content coming in, but also leaves the responsibility of vetting the material to the individuals that access the website. As a primarily text based platform, there aren’t any multimedia features of note to speak of, but this simple platform is a step in the right direction. EDSITEment is emblematic of an increasing democratization of knowledge and a greater level of collaboration between educators between institutions and across disciplines.

For more information about EDSITEment, please visit their website:
https://edsitement.neh.gov/

A Review of the Digital Exhibit Tool Omeka

Omeka is a self-described “web publishing platform for sharing digital collections and creating media-rich online exhibits.” When considering this mission, Omeka’s developers make it clear that Omeka is a platform intended for academics and professionals, and not for casual use. Omeka’s statement of purpose also suggests the amount of detail that is customary of most of its exhibits. When creating an online collection, a great deal of time is necessary to gather valuable metadata on exhibit items. This again nods to the point that Omeka is intended for the detail oriented academic or professional.

The website is fully functional and everything works as intended. Visitors have the option to download the Omeka application for further ease of use and for some features that are not included on the browser platform, such as tool integration with academic software like Zotero. There are three versions of Omeka: Omeka S, Omeka Classic and Omeka Browser. When deciding which of the three a user wishes to use, there are visual representations of what they may expect with that model of Omeka. There are also integrated web pages for those who are curious to learn more about each model of Omeka. The Omeka landing page does not overwhelm visitors with too much information but allows for clear navigation to more information if they so choose.

Once a visitor chooses which version of Omeka to use, they will find that the platform allows users to tailor their exhibit to their own needs, abilities and volume of material. Integral to the Omeka platform is the Dublin Core, which is a valuable tool for entering and managing metadata related to an exhibit. There are fields for virtually any kind of metadata one could imagine, but users are not forced to fill out data that isn’t pertinent to their exhibit. In other words, the options are there, but aren’t mandatory to complete.

There are also numerous customization options for an Omeka page. One can tailor the look and format of their Omeka page to their own needs and preferences, much like a personal website. This is key to presenting a collection in a pleasing way to the creator’s audience.

Overall, Omeka is presented in a very professional manner and allows its users to create professional looking exhibits on a digital platform. The ability to customize an exhibit and have built in options to determine the amount of metadata one wants to include in an exhibit allows for both flexibility and professional quality work. Omeka is ideal for those who want to include visualization materials to their research while maintaining a professional looking exhibit that isn’t dominated by large blocks of text.

For more information on Omeka, please visit their website:
https://omeka.org/

A Review of the Digital Mapping Tool ArcGIS StoryMaps

StoryMaps is a digital tool that provides the resources to create a narrative using customizable digital maps. StoryMaps is part of the ArcGIS platform, a digital tool that is quickly growing in popularity, largely due to its unique format and great amount of customization options. The best way to evaluate the effectiveness of StoryMaps is to go through the process of creating one of these map-based narratives.

StoryMaps is solely reliant on the ability of its audience to see detailed maps clearly, as that is the primary benefit derived by using the ArcGIS platform. ArcGIS powered mapping tools form the basis of StoryMaps, and their quality is exceptional. There are a wide variety of maps available for use. Some maps highlight the actual street conditions on the ground. Others focus on specific geographical features such as mountains and rivers. There are even highly detailed maps taken from the United States Geographical Survey. These are the only maps that require knowledge of sophisticated cartographic elements. Aside from an ability to understand some of the more complex and obscure maps, the rest of the website’s features are all quite intuitive and require minimal technical ability. However, the ArcGIS platform is exclusively meant for sighted users. The only accommodations made for non-sighted users are the availability of alternate text sections that can provide an audio-based description of photographs and other forms of embedded media content.

StoryMaps is ideal for telling stories that take place across great distances, but can be useful for both regional and local stories as well. The diverse collection of maps and ability to display maps from a global to street level perspective is invaluable contextual information. There are numerous customization options available to lend even more information to the default maps. These options allow users to indicate the movement of people across time and space, highlight areas of interest and label locations with other valuable information.

Other than the maps, there is a significant amount of space on any individual StoryMap dedicated to text. This section includes all the most common and useful content additions and rich text editors that are available. Users can embed links to different types of media content, which when clicked will appear within the StoryMap itself in an area known as the ‘main stage.’ Other methods of embedding content are available when first organizing the StoryMap. Overall, the amount of media one can effectively package within an individual StoryMap is staggering.

There really is no limitation on who can and who should use StoryMaps, but those who would derive the most benefit from the platform would likely be those involved in the humanities, such as historians, political scientists, sociologist and any kind of cultural studies enthusiast. While not overly complicated, the use of the ArcGIS platform encourages extreme attention to detail, and therefore a patient and discerning outlook. It also encourages users who have a passion for the content they are providing. This in turn can inspire visitors to undertake similar projects based upon their own interests. StoryMaps is easy to learn and hard to master. At the most basic level, it is a great platform to tell a story through maps and different varieties of media content, and at its most sophisticated level, it can provide a platform for historians to provide deep contextual knowledge of a subject through a combination of academic research, mapping tools and media content.

For more information on StoryMaps, please visit:
https://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/

To see a fully developed StoryMap that I created:
https://arcg.is/1O9KK4