A few weeks ago in my Digital History class, we were fortunate enough to have guest speaker Mark Tovey come in and teach us a bit about how to digitally reconstruct historic buildings and locations. Specifically, I was excited to find out that the architectural plans that I found at the County of Oxford Archives pertaining to the old County of Oxford Jail would be of a HUGE benefit for me.
In the digital history class we are working on individual projects pertaining to historic buildings and/or sites. We are expected to use new digital formats and digitize the building the best we can. I have decided to create an interactive timeline using the program Capzles for the first half of the project. For the second I intend to learn how to use Sketch-Up through the numerous instructional Youtube videos that I have come across and then digitally reconstruct the building and create a virtual tour. A tall order I know, but I think that the jail is incredibly important as one of the Woodstock Court House Square buildings and through my research I have found newspaper articles pertaining to the “Save the Jail” campaign. The jail was slated for demolition but the people of Woodstock would not allow that to happen. I will go into detail about the “Save the Jail” campaign in my project.
In order to digitize my building I need the architectural drawings which I have access to at the County of Oxford Archives. I have found not only the elevation drawings, but also the plans for the ground, first, and second floors. I also have section drawings and aerial views which will make it easier to recreate the building inside and out. I will be able to import the drawings into Sketch-Up and then recreate the building according to the measurements and specifications on the drawings.
Below are a few of the drawings I have access to:
For those of you reading this and have no idea what HGIS is, I didn’t really know either until today. I knew that the acronym stood for Historical Geographic Information Systems and I knew it had to do with mapping the past, but I didn’t realize how difficult yet interesting it would be!
In my Digital History class we participated in a workshop by Don Lafreniere, who provided us with a quick yet in-depth overview of HGIS and how it can aid in historical research. He guided us through a hands-on exercise using the program ArcGIS. Lafreniere led us through a set of VERY well laid out instructions that were incredibly helpful. If you need an instructional guide created, he is your man! The point of the exercise was to acquaint us with the different capabilities of HGIS and allow us to get somewhat familiar with a very new program.
I was incredibly skeptical at first, especially since I had not had the best of luck with the MapTiler application last week. My skepticism soon waned as Lafreniere explained just how this type of program could aid in historical research. “A geographical information system (gis) allows researchers to methodically and efficiently organize and analyze spatially referenced data, and to identify and visualize spatial patterns and processes” (Dwelling Places and Social Spaces: Revealing the Environments of Urban Workers in Victoria Using Historical giS by Patrick A. Dunae, Donald J. Lafreniere, Jason A. Gilliland, and John S. Lutz).
This type of digital history is so interesting and there is so much that can be done. HGIS is time-consuming, but once you have a workable base in your system, it seems as though it would be rather straight forward to change the parameters and look for different trends.
Lafreniere suggested that you can use Excel spreadsheets and import them into the program to set the social environment of the particular location during various points in time. This can be done using the information found in census data and city directories which would provide names, occupations, ethnic and religious backgrounds. This information would allow the researcher to map for changes in occupations in a particular location in an industrialized city. Or how religious practice has changed or stayed the same in areas surrounding places of worship in a particular town. This is very helpful for visual learners like myself, because you can actually see spatially how places and areas have changed or have not changed overtime. There are exponential possibilities for the use of the data, it is almost a bit ridiculous.
Even though my skills do not lie in the digital world, I believe that if I could watch some instructional videos, listen to Don Lafreniere talk for another 10 hours, and play around with ArcGIS, eventually I would get the hang of the program. Once I am able to use this type of analysis for my own work, I most definitely will. It may just take a little bit of practice.
As a person that does not like being forced to get the new-fangled item on the market, I decided to download the old version of MapTiler from their website because I didn’t believe their warning: “the old deprecated and unsupported version”. This backfired as when I attempted to follow the steps in the program, Google Chrome wouldn’t allow it. Here are some screen shots of my multiple failed attempts:
Finally I gave up and downloaded the new version. Everything worked first try which I was surprised about. Pleasantly surprised of course. Here are the final products:
I think I may be able to use this software to layer blueprints and architectural drawings of the County of Oxford Jail that I am focusing on for my Digital History project. I may just need to watch some YouTube videos and/or ask someone for help before I fully understand what this software can do to help me.
Finally, something related to technology that excites me! After I watched this video, I felt like I should be innovating and creating like the people at Google have over the last 12-ish years. Of course I will never be a tech analyst or a computer programmer, but the idea that you can keep building on what you already have and keep making it better and better struck a chord with me. I think being part of the Public History program at Western is allowing me to build on my limited skill set and give me the confidence with various different mediums that I did not possess before. Only being a month into classes, I feel like I have learned more than I ever could have expected to learn in such a short period of time. Being able to try new things and experiment without a penalty has allowed me to feel more comfortable trying different computer programs and apps. We are asked to ‘play’ with different computer programs, sites, and applications for our Digital History class each week, most of the things we have tried so far like Google Ngram, Serendip-o-matic, the Wayback Machine and even RSS feeds I had never dabbled with before. It is difficult to describe in words the feeling of being so excited to just experience more all the time but also scared that you won’t remember everything you are having the opportunity learn. For some strange reason, maybe it was the background music of the video or the fact that I was so happy for the people in the video that got to be a part of the innovations that Google Maps has produced, I want to do more. I want to get better at the things I can already do and master those things that I was far too nervous to try in the past. There is so much more for me to discover!