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

Review of Bdote Memory Map

http://bdotememorymap.org/

The Bdote Memory Map was created through a long term partnership between the Minnesota Humanities Center and Allies; media/art.  They thank their collaborators: First Person Productions of Migizi Communications, Andres Parra of VenUS Directions, Jewell Arcoren of First Nations Composers Initiative, Pat Nunnally of the River Life Program of the University of Minnesota, Marty Case of Allies Research and Writing and the Indian Treaty Signers Project, and Web design and development by This Clicks Interactive, St. Paul, MN. They also thank those who contribute words however the list is always changing and may not be correct.

Bdote Memory Map provides the Dakota’s people relationship and point of view to Minnesota. The project provides a decolonized approach to rethink historical sites, using multimedia platforms, documents of elder gatherings, interviews and oral histories, reflections for visitors and archives related to the Dakota presence.

The site opens up to the home page with a short description of what the site consists of and explains why the tabs are in the format of the different traveling directions. The background and colors used for the main page are very complementary to each other. The background is the same map that is used for the Memory Map however it is a more muted sand color. This color works with the contrast of the green that the tabs are. The tabs that are available to navigate are: We Are Home, Dakota Greeting, Mnisota: A Dakota Place, and Memory, which is the core of the site.

Next, the We Are Home tab directs the visitor to a video that is about one minute long. The video begins with a person saying, “De makoce kinde de untanhanpi” and large white birds flying. Next it transitions to a map with Fort Snelling and then an aerial view map of the same land. Then a layer is added on to the map with labels that are related to the Dakota people. It goes into two different speakers talking on the topic of their land being taken away from them. Below the video is a short caption about the Dakota people being from the land and also having a history with the land, like the site of their genocide.

The Dakota Greeting tab is a video of Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D. Dakota, Wahpetunwan saying the Dakota greeting in the original language and then translating what it means in English. There is a caption below the video however I am not completely sure what all of the information is.

Then the Mnisota: A Dakota Place tab that gives background information about the history of the land. There are also videos included to pronounce Mnisota, books and research that are related to Bdote area, the history of the Dakota people and projects. The videos are of decent to great quality. There are also links to voice recording on different topics.

Finally, the Memory Map tab takes us to a map of different locations important to the Dakota people. There are no different sites. When one clicks each site there is a description and background of the sites and videos proved. If one is interested in seeing more information, there is a read more link provided which goes to another page specially dedicated to the site and then there is also a link to click to see the site on Google Maps. There are two links provided on the main map: What is Bdote and About This Site. It is very important to understand the read to have a better grasp and knowledge of who created the project and what it is about.

Beyond the compass and map, there are links at the bottom of the site, which includes other tabs: Mnisota, Memory Map, Glossary, Learn More and For Teachers. These links provide more resources about area, glossary of Dakota words translated, and downloadable books, teaching guides to other resources specifically for teachers.

I would suggest moving the About This Site and What is Bdote? tabs in the Memory Map to the main page as well because it is confusing on what exactly the site is. This can be really helpful to future visitors, especially those who may be interested in conducting research.

Overall, the site is very well done in a nuanced view. There are not many projects that offer a decolonized point of view to history and the thanks of contributors. The site does not require any manipulation on the computer, like zooming in and out. The project provides many links is a visitor wants more information. The site provides a project for an empty space that is currently missing in academia and the voices of those who are oppressed.

Much Needed Perspective

In recognition of the 183rd anniversary of the Siege and Battle of the Alamo, residents of San Antonio are reminded of what makes this city so popular. Lifelong residents of this city, are introduced and introduced again to the defending heroes who fought for our city’s emblematic historic site. In celebration of that heroism, historians for the Alamo recently provided San Antonio residents with an opportunity to view the Texas Revolution through a new lens, one based upon new evidence and research. 

For this panel, Alamo historians brought together three individual perspectives on the familiar story of the Alamo. Dr. Miguel Soto, Ph.D., Professor of Mexican History at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, reimagines the story of the Alamo from the perception of the Mexican Army. Dr. Andrew Torget, Associate Professor of History at the University of North Texas, examines the story of the Alamo while emphasizing the connection between the Texas Revolution and the forthcoming Civil War, while Dr. Gregg Dimmick, a medical doctor who is an avid Alamo enthusiast provided a layman’s but still well-versed perspective.

Most intriguing among the things mentioned by these speakers were the ideas of looking past the traditional perspective of history, an idea growing among historians today. In particular, I found the theories of Dr. Torget most interesting. His connection of the Texas Revolution with the Civil War was highlighted by a discussion of por-slavery feeling among early settlers of the Texas Republic. Torget discusses this topic in-depth in this book, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850

In an age where differences in interpretation and opinion are not popular, voices which parallel Dr. Soto, Dr. Torget, and Dr. Gregg are much needed. It is my opinion that an absence or unwillingness to acknowledge the opinions of other historians of varied levels, disables us as enthusiasts from fully producing a complete history.  

Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory – A Digital Review

Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory. http://shermansmarch.org/. Directed by Anne Sarah Rubin (Professor of History, UMBC). Received production assistance from the American Council of Learned Societies’ Digital Innovation Grant Program, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the Dresher Center for the Humanities. http://shermansmarch.org/about/credits/. Reviewed on April 18, 2019.

As the title suggests, this site maps out General Sherman’s infamous march across Georgia near the end of the American Civil War. Starting off, the homepage is a single image of the title and map. Title aside, the homepage has very little to offer in hooking the audience. The map section features five different types of perspectives: Sherman, civilians, tourism, soldiers, and fictional (which consists of historical songs). Each type has a different map aesthetic but all feature pins that point to interesting events. Clicking on a pin opens a brief description of events that occurred at that location, usually accompanied by an image. Some of these pins only have an audio clip, although it takes a few seconds to open, and there is no way to pause or move the clip forward or backwards. Unfortunately, the map is a work in progress. Many of these pins are blank, especially the “tourism”, “soldiers”, and “fictional” maps. I believe that more images and more primary sources could benefit this site, as only a small number of images are displayed. There should also be some indication as to whether the pin is a text entry, video or an audio file. The site has a small bug in which clicking and exiting out of the Covington pin on the “civilians” map causes it to freeze. On a smaller note, each popup could have an exit button to make it easier to close, as some people may click the back button on their web browser which takes them back to the homepage.

Aside from the map, the site has a blog that gives first-hand accounts of Sherman’s march. These include memoirs of Sherman and diaries of soldiers and civilians. While this is a nice addition, I wish there was more background context to these posts. It would also be nice to have the primary source attached to each blog post.

The site is said to be completed by November 15, although no year is given. It is unclear as to when this site was last updated, but it seems recently because of the copyright. This site is aimed towards a large public audience, as the author points out that they do not wish to fill the viewers with text-heavy documents. While more work needs to be done, like a more engaging homepage or more pin entries, the site is making progress, and has the potential to attract a wider audience.

Digital Review 3: The Well Read President: Examining the Reading Habits of Theodore Roosevelt

After looking through the American Historical Associations website I noticed an interesting excerpt. The American Historical Association conducted a conference in the beginning of 2018 that included a section called, “Digital Projects Lightning Round.” There were about 15 separate digital history projects that reigned from Omeka sites to text mining. Of these separate sites, the one that intrigued me the most is, “The Well Read President: Examining the Reading Habits of Theodore Roosevelt,” by Ms. Karen Sieber at Loyola University in Chicago, IL.

Her Project begins with a Word Press site that explains how she came to wonder and in turn research this topic. She understood that Theodore Roosevelt throughout his life is an avid reader and an author himself to many manuscripts. Sieber saw the opportunity for a truly interesting text mining project that can show influence through Theodore Roosevelt’s political career. She creates a visual timeline of teach book that Roosevelt is believed to have read during 1901-1904, his first term as president. The timeline also includes a virtual bookshelf that holds a selection of these books through themes. Sieber’s main purpose and thesis of the digital project is to show Roosevelt’s connection to the books that he read and how they shape his diplomatic decisions as well as his family relationships.

Once entering the timeline, the user is presented with a quote by Theodore Roosevelt himself that explains his love for books and how they connect with the idea of choice. The quote is presented with an image of Roosevelt sitting in his own personal library at home. The user is then asked to click onto the next slide that explains everything that is written in paragraph two while also including that each book in the virtual bookshelf can be read for free with a link through the book title. The slide show continues and begins with the first book on October 12th, 1901 being, “Uncle Remus.” An image of an illustration within the book is placed next to a short paragraph that explains President Theodore Roosevelts connection to the book being a duty as a father. This slide show goes on and proceeds in this arrangement through the timeline of his first term. Looking at the timeline, which is placed above the slide show, the user can interact with it. The user is allowed to skip around the timeline and choose which book they would like to learn more about and the books relationship to the former president. On the left-hand side of the timeline, each book is placed in a group of themes. These themes include, Father, President, Intellectual, Historian, and Outdoorsman.

Some points that do need to be addressed are the user interaction with the themes and the number of books on the timeline. The timeline could be improved by allowing the user to choose one of the assortments of themes to look at only a certain range of books. This is an organizational suggestion that could make it easier for the user to understand the concept. The other quick concern is that there is no scroll bar to move through the timeline making it harder to see the full scope of it. There are a good number of books on the timeline, but it does seem contradicting when the introduction explains that Theodore Roosevelt would at many times read a book a day. This timeline only places a handful of books a month, this may just be due to lack of resources. One may not be able to know each, and every book read by Theodore Roosevelt during this time. Overall this digital project is very exciting, and I believe is the best way to show this type of research. This research is made to best be done as a digital project. https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1XxQsrOujJ-jtnzdjaF15oXhvXN4pJUurFnxf8_Xsc6w&font=Default&lang=en&timenav_position=top&initial_zoom=2&height=650

Refusing to Forget

John Cadena

Refusing to Forget. https://refusingtoforget.org. Created by Sonia Hernandez, Trinidad Gonzales, John Moran Gonzalez, Benjamin Johnson, and Monica Munoz Martinez, Reviewed Feb. 2019.

Refusing to Forget is a digital platform documenting one of the most prolific, racist, and genocidal times in the history of America. This platform brings to light the deliberate behavior of the Texas Rangers along with other early settlers along the Texas Mexico border, and how they all but decimated the Mexican population. During a time when most of the land north of the border was occupied and controlled by white men in the area, South Texas, specifically along the border, was owned and controlled primarily by the Mexican population. In an attempt to gain control over this land, Refusing to Forget records how the Texas Rangers as well as the local population, began to brutally murder Mexican nationals in the area. Only after significant pleading to government officials and the mass exodus of others were members of this community able to regain a sense of constraint over the behaviors of which were occurring.      

In remembrance of this massacre, Refusing to Forget has collaborated with the Texas State Bullock Museum in Austin Texas to produce an exhibit displaying personal artifact belonging to Mexicans involved in this bloody part of America’s history. Here, visitors to the site are able to preview the exhibition as well as view a short film of the exhibit and events which they represent.     

As part of this effort, Refusing to Forget dedicates a part of this site to bring awareness to the efforts to create historical makers to remember these events. To date, several have been approved though only one in Cameron County has been erected. Of the areas of focus on this site, I particularly enjoyed coming across this one. As a native of Texas, I can say with a level of certainty that Texans pay more attention to their monuments than they do the occasional history presentation. For this reason, it brings me a renewed level of comfort to know this history is being remembered in this way.     

In reviewing this site, specifically, when reviewing the section titled “Conference,” I was reminded of how relevant this project is even today, as this section discussed a recent conference on this topic. Unfortunately for me, this conference had just past a few weeks prior. Without a doubt, this is an area of study I plan to follow and with luck will attend the next conference. 

For the more technological visitor, Refusing to Forget offers a few other options to utilize in learning about this critical part of history. Under the “Media” tab, viewers have the choice of listening to the podcast The Borderlands War 1915-1920 or watching the documentary Border Bandits. Both incredibly informative in telling this story of discriminative actions by the Texas Rangers towards Mexicans in south Texas. For those interested, Refusing to Forget also offers plenty of resources for visitors to read on this topic. In coming across this section, it surprised me because I didn’t expect there to be so many materials available. It is of great importance that in a time when racial discrimination is returning to this country, sites like this exist to remind Americans of where we have been?

Norbert “Geremy” Landin

Photo courtesy of Michael Quintanilla

My name is Norbert Geremy Landin but I tend to go by Geremy. I love photography and more specifically, I love photographing cultural events that encompass Latin-American life, love, and opportunity. Preservation of a culture that could truly never be lost is the reason why I do what I do and hope to continue to do as my life unfolds.

6 Degrees of Francis Bacon: A Review

Warren, Christopher, Daniel Shore, Jessica Otis, Scott Weingart, and John Ladd. Six Degrees of Francis Bacon. Accessed February 23, 2019. http://www.sixdegreesoffrancisbacon.com.

The website Six Degrees of Francis Bacon an attempt to link the English philosopher and public official Francis Bacon to his contemporaries, who lived during the Elizabethan era. Bacon sits in the center of what is a visual who’s who of the period. Names range from important to the lesser-known. This site is a great starting point for research on the era, and it is a great example of what crowd sourcing can do as the public contributes data for the site. The visual connections could aid a researcher in noticing a relationship they may have missed. The public has the ability to add new people to the web and expand the connections of the people already there.

While Queen Elizabeth would seem to be the obvious choice for a project like this, Francis Bacon is an excellent choice. Not only is it a parody of the Six Degrees of Keven Bacon game, but Sir Bacon had many spheres of influence during his life. He was a philosopher, scientist, and he served as Queen Elizabeth’s Lord High Chancellor. This gives him contacts with many types of people during his life who operated in many different spheres.

The website is easy to use, and after interacting with it for a bit of time it becomes easier to understand. A tutorial takes you through all the site’s features in a few minutes for those who would like a systematic guide. The data is displayed as a three-dimensional web that can be manipulated by clicking and dragging . Sir Bacon sits in the middle and different strands connect him to various people of the time. Although the site bears his name, researchers can make any name the focus of a smaller web with just a click. Although the name does mention six degrees this is somewhat misleading as only two levels of connections are available. Another feature is the ability to view groups of people. For instance, the researcher can click on one of the metadata boxes at the bottom of the page and call up all the philosophers in the web. There are almost 75 categories to activate. When viewing a person’s web, the boxes at the bottom light up to signal that members of those professions are present. To meet the needs of researchers who require more information about the people in the web, a box to the left provides links to three different research sites where more information is available.

The audience for this website may vary greatly. The connection to six degrees of Keven Bacon may attract casual web surfers. They may not stay for long though because the site is limited for that use. Researchers of the Elizabethan Age of England will get the most out of this site. Being able to see connections or looking for new relationships is what this site does best. Causal history buffs might get something out of this site too. They would be the target audience if the connections ran deeper. It is feasible that a casual history buff could spend hours seeing who claims a connection to Francis Bacon and wind up exploring those connections for hours. Maybe they will expand the Bacon web in the future.

The website makes for an interesting research tool. Both researchers and casual users would be able to get something out of a visit to this site. The lack of depth is a bit disappointing. The two levels of connections are a limit to both research and fun, but again, maybe the future will allow for expansion into a site worthy of its name.

Digital Review: Nevada Test Site Oral History Project


Nevada Test Site: Oral History Project. Unlv. Southern Nevada: The Boomtown Years Mining. Accessed February 25, 2019. http://digital.library.unlv.edu/ntsohp/.

This website is a collection of stories about the nuclear testing that was done in the Nevada desert north of Las Vegas. Over 1000 nuclear detonations were initiated at the test site between its opening in 1951 and 1992 when the United States finally ended nuclear weapons testing. The website has collected 335 hours of recordings from many different people connected to the site both directly and indirectly. There are stories told by people who were in the military that were in charge of operations at the site.  Contributions from physicists, other scientists, and engineers who worked on developing and building the nuclear devices that were being tested and the experiments that recorded data about their effectiveness. There are even stories from people who tried promoting peace by protesting the activities taking place at the test site. Native Americans lend their voices also to tell the story of how the desert is a sacred place to their tribes. 

The home page is well organized and easy to navigate.  There are links below the header that will take researchers to a timeline, the collection of stories, or maps of the relevant areas.  The timeline covers the entire Manhattan Project and it designates what events took place at the Nevada Test Site.  Clicking on an event on the timeline will take the researcher to interviews that talk about that time.  This is a very convenient search feature.  Going to the link Community of Voices gives the researcher access to all the interviews that the site has collected.  There is a search feature but no explanation on the metadata.  The search can be done by person or key word or phrase. 

The interviews are all recorded video.  The people telling their stories can be seen talking and giving their recount of events.  There are a wide range of perspectives to choose from.  The military people and scientists who were working inside the test site give researchers a feel for their work and conditions, while protesters and peace activists tell the tales of how they tried to stop the experiments that were designed to build bigger and better weapons.  The Natives American recount how the land is sacred to them and how this military base has affected their people by cutting them off from the land of their ancestors.  The stories go beyond the Manhattan project and the Cold War.  They talk about how lives were changed by the work done at the test site. 

This is a great website to use for research on the Cold War.  The ability to search by event, date, or key word is extremely useful.  This would be a great start to uncover primary accounts of the development of the American nuclear program.  It is also very helpful if doing Native American studies or research on the peace movement that went on during the Cold War.  The stories are easy to access and they are well documented.  This would be a useful site to even the casual user who just wanted to learn more about the era. 

A Review of the Shelf Life Community Story Project

Shelf Life Community Story Project, https://www.shelflifestories.com/. Created by Mayowa Aina, Jill Freidberg, Domonique Meeks, Inye Wokoma, Carina del Rosario, Henry Luke. Reviewed on March 4th, 2019 by Gabriel Cohen.

Introduction

The Shelf Life Community Story Project is a community driven website developed at the grassroots level to share the stories of Seattle’s Central District community. The Central District, commonly referred to as the ‘CD’ was undergoing a transformation as one of the core elements of the community, the local Red Apple grocery store was being shut down. At face value this may seem a common and natural development as neighborhoods change and grow throughout the years. However, the loss of the Red Apple had massive implications for the CD community. The store was a central location of the CD community – a place where people would work and shop, but also meet and socialize. The loss of this forum dealt a harsh blow to the community’s morale, and became a part of the ongoing process of gentrification that disrupts and displaces communities. Shelf Life is part of a community effort to ensure that the stories and experiences of this community don’t expire along with the Red Apple. The loss of the Red Apple, deemed so important to the character of the CD community means that the community itself is different.

Presentation

The website is easy to navigate, and is simple and aesthetically pleasing. The presence of a simple, clean interface and a layout emphasizing photography is undoubtedly inviting to visitors. There is minimal navigation necessary – the organization of the website requires only one to two different clicks or keystrokes to engage in its content, which is something that other public history projects should take note of and incorporate into their own sites. Aside from these photos there is simply a well designed cover photo and what appears to be their mission statement, “Amplifying community voices, learning from neighborhood stories, and interrupting narratives of erasure in Seattle’s Central District.” Their website reflects their mission through its simple and appealing design, but also provides the opportunity to learn more for those who are interested.

Audience

The website uses the voices of the community rather than their own to tell their story. Undoubtedly, this would be very appealing to the CD community and to other communities interested in finding a way to tell their story. Pages dedicated to sharing news of events and developments in the project also serve as an ongoing history of shelf life, and a resource for would-be community organizers that are looking for a place to begin on their own projects.

Content

The main content of Shelf Life are its oral histories accompanied by fantastic photography. The content is divided into specific pages that share the story of an individual from the community. These story pages require you to access each individually, but that is a great source of the site’s appeal. By hovering over a story page, visitors will see a caption that is just intriguing enough and just vague enough to encourage them to delve deeper and read that particular story. Once accessed, the story page consists of a photograph and a brief oral history of the individual’s relationship to the CD community. The voice of the interviewer is completely absent – all focus is on the individual being interviewed and their story. In this way, the organization of content of Shelf Life compliments the goal of the project designers: to give a voice to a community undergoing great change and in danger of irreversible and unwanted transformation.

Developers

The group that brought Shelf Life to us is a very diverse group. Their commonality is that they call the CD, Seattle or at Washington state home. The diversity of the Shelf Life development team is undoubtedly of great benefit. The team possesses individuals with different strengths, ranging from researching to storytelling to photography and even data analytics. More importantly, Shelf Life benefits from the input of people of vastly different life experiences. For a project that is all about finding an outlet for the voices of the CD community and incorporating historical context and visual storytelling methods in the process, this diversity of talent and experiences is critical.

Conclusion

Shelf Life isn’t overly ambitious. It seeks to do a very specific task and do it well: share the personal experiences of the CD community. The value of Shelf Life is in this simplicity. In the process of engaging in community driven storytelling, they accomplish their goals of granting longevity and relevance to communities undergoing change in the face of urban gentrification. Moreover, the experiences of the CD as it undergoes this transformation can serve as valuable historical information for communities that undergo similar experiences in the future. The type of personalized, visual storytelling Shelf Life shares is of great benefit to local communities, public and local historians and even as a memoir of communities fundamentally altered or lost to ubran development.