Project Reflection: stereomap

Instead of boring you with every inane detail of my project, this post will weave a narrative of the most important trials, tribulations, and things I learned from constructing my project: stereomap, a site devoted to geocoding animated stereographs.


Trial 1: Overcoming a Dead End

Many (or should I say the few?) of you who read this blog outside of the students in the class might be thinking “hey, isn’t that the guy that was doing that project of mapping unbuilt spaces in Washington, D.C.?” Yes, you are right, it was me but shortly into starting the project I discovered a number of distressing details that made me switch my topic. First, it turns out the Histories of the National Mall site is in the process of doing a number of explorations on my very subject and will be releasing them sometime soon. To make matters worse, I learned the National Building Museum did an exhibit called “Unbuilt Washington” in 2011 and created an online map for it detailing the unbuilt spaces. My exact project idea! This was my lowest point in this process, I had no clue where to go from here.


Enter: the Stereograminator

Having attended a MITH digital dialogue earlier this year, I learned about the Stereogranimator, a tool from NYPL labs for animating stereographs and it came back to me when I was racking my brain for a new project idea. In an “MTV Cops” moment I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if you could take these animated stereograms and map them in the style of HistoryPin?” These images typically feature a distinct location and could benefit from the context of geographic space. I chose NYC for the ease of using the over 3,000 stereographs focused on the city and held by the NYPL. With my crisis averted by deciding to create a map and website to fulfill this project idea, I started figuring out the logistics of its implementation.

Trial 2: You Can Map GIFs, Right?

While there is a glut of mapping software out there, few handle animated GIFs well in their information boxes, often cutting off images, making them static again, or not displaying the images at all. Finding a tool that overcame these challenges became my top priority in making this project feasible. Along with my main goal, I hoped to find an easy-to-use, mobile friendly, free, and still decently attractive interface. Looking through many map options (Google My Maps, Mapbox, OpenStreetMap, CartoDB, WorldMap, Scribble Maps, and on and on), I finally found one that actually would work: ZeeMaps. While not gaining full points on the attractive interface scale, this site fulfilled the rest of my requirements mentioned above. In finding the right mapping service, I learned a lot about evaluation of digital tools, compromise, and to understand practical limitations. With this crucial element decided, I started building the map and the website to host it.

stereomap in action, GIFception!
Trial 3: Building Diversity

As I began constructing my site and its elements, I started to learn more about the collections themselves. It was difficult to create a diverse mix of selected points due to the biases towards certain subjects and areas. If historians were to look at the collection as a documentary example of the late 19th to early 20th century, then it could summed up as a white man wearing a bowler hat in lower Manhattan.

While lower Manhattan was a cultural center then as it is today, the collection overlooks important segments of the Black population in Harlem and other parts of the city. Even in stereographs focused outside of New York City where Blacks are subjects, they are depicted in racist ways as minstrel characters. Women and the lower classes were also seldom depicted other than to emphasize their need of saving from destitution. These characteristics made it difficult for me to create a wide ranging selection of subjects, however, it drove home the point of the photographers’ biases and the frequent inadequacy of the documentary record.

Trial 4: Becoming a Bot

As I was building, I also was promoting the site at the same time. Taking an idea from the Trevor Owens, I decided to “curate in the open” and publicly share each image I made and considered using as I went. This was both to generate interest and to aggregate all the links to use in the project. I chose Twitter as my main sharing platform because I already had an account (although not too many followers) and all my tweets were open to the public. Overall, judging from my Twitter analytics, my tweets were mainly seen by my followers but some of them did seem interested. Some of them seemed disturbed:

He’s normally a nice guy.

I realized that Twitter may not have been the best platform for this part of my project. In sending out multiple tweets in rapid succession, it seemed to my followers that I was becoming a bot, taking over their timelines like the bots of conviction we read about earlier this semester. Certainly some were alright with this, but I’m sure many did not appreciate having these images forced upon them. Perhaps a more image focused site like tumblr would have served this purpose better. Whether or not I chose the right social media platform, I do believe the effort was worthwhile and drew more attention to my project than simply keeping it behind closed doors until a big reveal in the end.


From all my trials I learned how to weigh options, choose between resources, and create a deliverable product. In the end, I overcame my trials and created a usable website that met the goals I set when beginning this journey. Thank you, dear reader, for following along with me throughout the semester and in this post. I hope you take a look at the site and send me your thoughts.


Final Reflection: Middlesex County Oral History Project



This semester I used the content management service Omeka to build an oral history archive of Middlesex County, Virginia. The idea for the project began in 2014 when I was home for Christmas. My mother saved an article from our county’s newspaper about a group of University of Florida undergraduates who did field recordings of Middlesex residents. After speaking with a local museum employee, I learned that there were no plans to make the recordings available online. My goal for the Middlesex County Oral History Project was to make these recordings accessible, and to encourage residents to engage with their own history by directly submitting stories, photographs, and comments of their own. Hopefully, as the collection builds, a larger picture of our community will emerge from these micro stories that will prove valuable for residents.

After speaking with the director of the University of Florida program as well as Middlesex Museum staff, I created a project proposal for the scope of LBSC 708D. Below is a comparison of promised deliverables vs. what actually happened by the project’s deadline:


After learning that the UF field recordings would not be available until June, the immediate need became creating content and access. I conducted an additional oral history using the iphone app “Call Recorder” and created Youtube videos (at Trevor’s suggestion) to engage site visitors in interviews that were in some cases over an hour long.


Friends and family involved in user testing had many helpful suggestions, such as changing the homepage layout, the order of item pages, reporting broken links, reporting item submission bugs, and in general telling me if something “looked weird”.

Although I was happy with the site’s development, my worry was that Middlesex residents wouldn’t submit oral histories either because it was too time consuming or seemed too intimidating. I also knew that I needed more content to encourage people to submit, but the very act of interviewing people gave the oral histories a professionalism that seemed unapproachable. Fortunately I had the pleasure of hearing Todd Wemmer, a Communications professor at Endicott College, discuss his project Photos Die at the 2015 Personal Digital Archiving Conference. wemmer

After setting up a voicemail service through Skype, Wemmer encouraged users to call and leave a short oral history that he would later capture and share through Soundcloud. So far his strategy has been successful, especially with elderly storytellers who are not familiar with digital environments. By adopting Wemmer’s idea as an additional method of storytelling, my hope is to appeal to a wider group of Middlesex County residents on their own terms.

Although I’ve completed this project for the scope of our class, the long-term success of the project will be based on the number of site visits and the amount of content submitted. This summer, I plan to begin a promotional campaign for the site, including a write-up in local newspaper The Southside Sentinel and public presentations at both county libraries. I will also promote the site to teachers at Middlesex High School who might be interested in teaching a unit on oral histories.


Although I’m enthusiastic about the potential of this online archive and have spent many hours on its development, the website’s appearance seems simple and sparse. I’m eager to start promoting the project, collecting content, and improving the archive’s value for community members.

Vicky_Rex Project Review


Vicky_Rex was a roller coaster. I wanted to explore a historical persona in depth and learn what made her tick; I wanted to understand her in the context of my modern life. I think I accomplished that. I had not originally planned to study such an important historical figure, but Queen Victoria worked for the project, especially as so much about her later life is generally known. The early influences that we explored through the videos with the contextualization provided by the associated WordPress blog show clearly how she was shaped. In her later life, Victoria was famous for not permitting the Prince of Wales to participate in any business of state; a point of view that’s much more understandable – however much one may agree with it or not – when one understand how those nearest to her spent her entire youth and adolescence trying to take her power away from her both directly through regency and indirectly through marriage and manipulation. Though I had no affection for her prior to this project, I have developed a lot of respect for Queen Victoria.

I am quite pleased with how the videos turned out. I had no experience in film or editing before – just a lot of theater experience. I learned to use a lot of different editing platforms and how to correct for the poor microphone as I was filming on the camera that came attached to my laptop. I do wish I’d been able to turn off the brightness auto-correct, but this affected the final product less than the low recording volume. In addition, since Vicky would not have had experience with these technical aspects, my own learning curve would likely have matched hers. I think the costuming and scene decisions I made worked well for the project. Likewise the specific language choices worked well to create the impression of someone out of sync with her peer group.

The key frustration was the lack of feedback. I had hoped that my early viewers would provide comments so that I had an idea of how to develop the project as it went forward. Also, I would have liked to incorporate more comments, to develop a back and forth communication with people watching. One of my viewers did mention that she was afraid to comment on the videos themselves because she didn’t want to make all her details available on YouTube, but she asked me several questions expanding from the videos on exactly the way I’d hoped.

All in all, I’m really pleased with the effort and the results and I hope to be able to come back to Vicky as she matures. I think it would be especially interesting to cover the first few years of her reign from the coronation through the birth of the Prince of Wales, which would cover the scandals of the years before she married, the struggle to form a partnership with the Prince Consort, and her reconciliation with her mother following the birth of the Princess Royal.

Videos Here