Julie’s San Francisco: Project Reflection

The Project

As you all know, I’ve been working this semester to create a place-based tour for the American Girl Julie doll and books in San Francisco a la Felicity and Colonial Williamsburg. The purpose was to create a tour aimed at 8-10 year olds (and their parent or chaperone) that took the history in the Julie books and brought them to life through various San Francisco locations—a deep dive into 1970s San Francisco, so to say, for kids who love Julie Albright and American Girl (of which I promise exist). While this project did not go exactly the way I originally planned, I am pleased with the final product.

A quick overview of the tour:

  • 10 stops
  • 4 modes of transportation
  • 3 museums

Brochure: I intend to contact the three museums on the tour route, the American Girl store in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Public Library about displaying this brochure and/or publicizing this tour to their audiences.

PDF/Paper Format: This has all of the HistoryPin text, locations for each stop, and additional information about the tour for people who like something more physical or find HistoryPin unwieldy (which I completely understand). The one thing that is lost in this version is the photographs for each pin, especially the ones that use HistoryPin’s layering function.

The Tour: The HistoryPin tour in its full glory.

Poster: For reference’s sake.

Struggles

I had two main struggles with this project:

  1. Fitting the history I wanted to tell to specific places in San Francisco
  2. Working with History-Pin, which is (surprisingly) not user-friendly

Julie’s story takes place in 1974 San Francisco. There is a lot happening in San Francisco in the 1970s—environmental movement, women’s movement, disability movement, gay rights movement. However, few of these movements have tangible places connected to them that work as a tour’s or educational material’s focal point.

So what I did instead is take these themes and connect with them with San Francisco’s longer history or take specific locations within the Julie books and discuss the history of that location. This approach left me with three main themes for the tour: Preserving Culture (Chinatown), Fighting for Equality, and Protecting the Environment. All three of these topics could easily be expanded into their own tour.

One particular history that I wish I could have included in greater detail on the tour was the women’s rights movement, both because it was an extremely important movement in the 1970s, but also because the Julie (and American Girl in general) books are all about female empowerment. However, there were essentially no tangible sites in San Francisco today that I could tie any part of the women’s movement. One way I could have included this history is by layering images of past marches and rallies on modern-day locations, but I did not think that would make for a worthwhile tour for 8-12 years olds and I also could not access any relevant historical photos without paying a fee.

In terms of HistoryPin, the site is surprisingly frustrating. My main frustration is that the individual pins do not actually include the pin’s address—it only shows the pin on an embedded map. This makes it hard to actually take the tour. Other than this, I have a lot of smaller frustrations that are not worth delving into in this post, though if anyone knows how to choose or remove the tour’s header image, please let me know! For some reason HistoryPin has decided to put blown-up text from my About section as that image. Despite my many frustrations, I still think HistoryPin is the best platform for my tour.

I think if I were to return to this project or if I was to do it again, I would make multiple different tours based on themes, rather than one tour. This would allow me to delve into some of the nuances of these histories that I did not have the space to do justice; it would also give each tour more of a thesis than currently exists for my tour.

I’ll likely go back and make edits to the tour when I have time, so please feel free to send me any comments or suggestions you may have to improve the tour!

What I Learned

I think my takeaways from this project and this entire semester are essentially the same: digital history projects take a lot more time and investment than they initially seem to take and no tool is perfect, but digital history is all about making the tools that exist work to fit your needs.

I leave this class knowing I have the ability to learn the skills to do whatever digital history projects my future path may require and also some key questions to consider when deciding whether or not to do a digital history project and what format that project will take, primarily the question of what will the project look like longterm after no one is actively working on it.

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