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.


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.

Digital Project Draft: Julie’s San Francisco

My original goal for this project was to create a place-based historical experience for the Julie American Girl doll character and books, much like Colonial Williamsburg serves for Felicity. While I still like this concept, the execution has been more difficult than expected.

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, I’ve switched to telling the histories I can with the places mentioned in the books and in places that have similar themes to the books. I am still working on putting all of my pins together—the research and photo finding process has taken longer than expected—but I do have a handful of pins uploaded at the moment. These give a sense of the type of narrative I am writing for each pin.

One thing I am struggling with is how to tie the tour together with a cohesive idea. At the moment it is just a scattering of history that relates to some aspect of the Julie books. This might be the end result, but I think the tour would be more meaningful if it had an overarching thesis of some sort.

One thing that I am considering is developing mini-tours under the overarching Julie tour, specifically one for Chinatown and one for the environmental movement since these are the areas in which I have the most content. However, this would further exacerbate that lack of focus for the remaining pins, so that is to be determined.

The two below pins/topic areas are ones that I want to include, but am currently struggling to find an angle/location. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for them:

  • Haight Street—Julie lives on this street and it is an iconic San Francisco landmark, but I’m really not sure how to approach it. Haight Street was the center of the 1960s Hippie & Free Love movement, which is great and all, but that focuses the narrative on sex and drugs and I don’t think I can do those topics justice in the space that I have.
  • Feminism—feminism and women’s equality is a major theme in the books and an important part of 1970s history; however, there is absolutely no good event or landmark or museum in San Francisco to use as an entry point/place

What’s Next?

  1. Add more pins to the tour and continue to edit the existing pins.
    • Please let me know if you have ideas on titling the pins. I have a mix of things at the moment.
    • Sometimes I struggle with what date to use both because some of my pins span decades of history and because HistoryPin does not allow circa dates. Any thoughts would be appreciated (ex. Ghirardelli and Science for the Future).
  2. Develop an order and overarching narrative for the tour.
  3. Perhaps create supplementary material for the tour. (This seems unlikely given my time constraints, but it could be good to have a lesson plan type document outlining how to use the tour in a classroom and/or as a girl scout activity. It would also be useful to create a marketing flyer/brochure.)

The tour itself.

The Bracero History Archive

The Bracero History Archive (BHA), part of the Bracero History Project, is a “collaborative, bilingual, online archive documenting the Bracero Program, which brought Mexican guest workers to the United States between 1942 and 1964” (NEH Funded Grants).

The BHA functions primarily as a digital repository for oral histories, artifacts, and archival materials, as well as a community collecting initiative. The homepage directs visitors to explore the archive (in Spanish or English) and the mission statement emphasizes the collection and dissemination aspect of the project.

“The Bracero History Archive collects and makes available the oral histories and artifacts pertaining to the Bracero program, a guest worker initiative that spanned the years 1942-1964. Millions of Mexican agricultural workers crossed the border under the program to work in more than half of the states in America.”

The BHA is a multi-organization initiative with many moving parts. It was created by and is currently run by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Brown University, and The Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas at El Paso; the National Endowment for the Humanities funds the project.

There is little discussion on the website on where the collections are sourced from; visitors must click on individual records to view their source. One thing to note when exploring the collection, materials are listed in reverse chronological order from when they were posted. This means that user-posted materials are the first that visitors will see. This information is also not clear on the website. I only found out after watching the introduction to the archive video tutorial.

Note the green bar at the top of the record that states that the item was user-contributed.
For non-user-generated items, the source is found in the metadata. This item was contributed by NMAH.

When the BHA launched in 2007, visitors could add their own historical content to the archive. This part of the project appears to have been removed or gone defunct around 2017. The website still provides resources on how to add content to the project and guides on how to collect materials and conduct oral histories. It is unclear why this part of the project no longer functions and whether it is temporary or permanent.

In addition to the digital archive, the BHA provides three lesson plans on the Bracero Program for K-12 teachers that use the BHA’s collections, as well as a two-part bibliography. The first part of the bibliography is a selection of resources on bracero history; the second part is a full BHA research bibliography. Interestingly, the bibliography does not include the National Museum of American History’s (NMAH) online exhibit about the Bracero Program, which ran as a traveling exhibit on the Bracero Program from 2009-2017. Despite both the exhibit and the BHA being part of the Bracero History Project, there is no mention of the online exhibit anywhere on the BHA. The exhibit did not use source material from the BHA, but it does link to the BHA for further visitor exploration and contribution.

The project’s original collaborative collecting initiative has led to a few problems. First, items uploaded by users lack much of the basic metadata and the metadata that does exist is not “quality” metadata, meaning that it is not consistent, which makes the archive less searchable and sensible. Although the BHA does provide metadata and uploading guides, these guides are inevitably not followed to the letter of the guide, especially since users were inputting the data rather than choosing from a pre-selected drop-down menu.  Second, most user-generated oral histories were uploaded with no transcript or description of the oral history, which forces visitors to listen to entire oral histories for the content. There is also no way to know whether an oral history has a transcription without clicking on the individual oral history record and then clicking on “Switch to Full View”.

The project was initially created with an aim to be bilingual, with content available in both Spanish and English. When visitors first view the site, they are immediately given the option to view the site in Spanish. Although I do not speak Spanish, I chose the Spanish option to see if I could get a sense of how well the website achieves its bilingual goal. My conclusion: not too well. The History, Resources, and Partners pages are entirely in English and the About page is two tiny paragraphs rather than thirteen full-length paragraphs. To the BHA’s credit, the teaching resources and collection material uploaded by “project historians” do seem to be available in full in Spanish, but I’d need a bilingual person to confirm.

In terms of user-generated content and the language barrier, many oral histories are done in Spanish, as one would expect, but the lack of any metadata (and particularly a transcription) makes it almost impossible for non-Spanish speakers to learn from these oral histories (the same goes for English oral histories for non-English speakers). There is no great solution to this problem, but it is worth considering.

For a more in-depth discussion of the BHA and some of its pitfalls, I highly recommend reading the following two articles. I included snippets of the discussions and arguments from the articles, but not everything.

Facilitating History: The Bracero History Archive

Omeka, Collecting, & Crowdsourcing

Questions to consider:

  • Do you have any ideas on how to avoid some of the pitfalls the BHA faced as a community collecting initiative?
  • Do you think the website achieves its goal to document the Bracero Program?
  • Do you think there is enough information about where the materials are sourced from?
  • How would you improve the BHA?

Digital Project Proposal: American Girl


I may not be where I am in life if not for American Girl dolls. I was introduced to American Girl dolls at a very young age and they are a largely responsible for my interest in history. Through American Girl dolls and their accompanying stories, I got to learn about history and culture in a fun, interesting, and relatable context. The history was written both for me and featured a girl like me (girl, aged 7-12). As we learned in Rosenzweig and Thelen’s The Presence of the Past, history has more meaning and impact when it relates personally, which is what makes American Girl dolls so effective. Although they are fictional, they are personal and therefore create a connection to history.

With this project I want to expand the historical reach of American Girl dolls. I will create historical content that adds more depth and context to the history in the dolls’ books, while still creating historical content specifically for upper elementary aged children.


Girls, aged 8-12. A periphery audience is their parents since parental interest and participation is integral to involving children.

The Project, Itself

I will create a historical tour of San Francisco using the sites and events in Julie Albright’s and Ivy Ling’s stories. Julie and Ivy’s stories are set in 1974-1975 San Francisco and involve the feminist, environmental, and disability rights movements. Ivy’s story also delves into the history of Chinese-Americans in San Francisco.

My aim for this tour is that it can be used solely as a digital resource as well as a resource for exploring the physical place.

Comparison to Other Projects

There are multiple historical sites and museums that use(d) American Girl dolls as a bridge to the history. In 2011, the National Museum of American History offered a self-guided tour called Addy’s World, which allowed “children, ages 8 to 13, to explore the museum and see what life would have been like for the fictional character Addy Walker, a nine-year-old American girl who was born into slavery and escapes to freedom with her mother during the Civil War.” The tour takes artifacts on display in the museum and contextualizes them from Addy’s perspective and makes meaning based on Addy’s story.

Outreach and Publicity

I would hopefully partner with different organizations to get the word out about this resource. In a perfect world, I would collaborate directly with American Girl to publish this resource. Their support and publicity resources would both validate the project and help it reach a wide audience. In a less perfect world, I would work with San Francisco organizations to promote the resource. The specific organizations will depend on what histories I decide to highlight on the tour, but one that stands out at the moment is the San Francisco Public Library. I could possibly try to work with schools, but working with K-12 organizations is always particularly difficult due to various bureaucratic factors.

I’d also create a social media presence. Possibly creating a hashtag for the tour that users can tweet photos of themselves at the different stopping points with or without their own American Girl doll.


A successful project is one that is used. I will hopefully get social media response to the tour, which will indicate use. I may build the tour using Historypin. If this is the case, Historypin allows engagement directly on the site through comments and it shows how views each pin has received, both of which would be incredibly useful to understanding engagement with the tour.

Print Project Proposal: Virtual Tours

The majority of historic sites and museums make meaning through physical space and objects. The rise of digital tools have enabled institutions that are traditionally so grounded in their built environment to expand their reach beyond their physical boundaries. While digital archives have been a relatively easy and common way to increase a historic sites’ reach and accessibility, digital archives to not address the importance of place for institutions like Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon, which makes meaning through George Washington’s house and grounds, is using digital tools to increase accessibility to audiences who cannot travel to Mount Vernon itself. Mount Vernon has built a virtual tour for students and other audiences who cannot visit Mount Vernon to learn about George Washington and his home. The website calls the virtual tour “the second best way to visit Mount Vernon.”

This project will analyze how Mount Vernon—an institution that primarily makes meaning through physical space—uses the virtual tour to make meaning digitally. I will explore what narratives Mount Vernon chose to include and highlight in the virtual tour and how those narratives and interpretations differ—or do not differ—from those on the physical tour. It is possible (and likely) more people will interact with the virtual tour of Mount Vernon than with the actual grounds and interpreters at Mount Vernon. Therefore, it is necessary to understand and think critically about how a space is interpreted virtually versus physically, and how audiences respond and engage with each—as a substitute for the other? In addition to?

As a point of comparison, I will analyze Mount Vernon’s virtual tour against Monticello’s virtual tour. Both Mount Vernon and Monticello are historic homes and grounds (on which enslaved people lived and worked) of founding fathers (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, respectfully) where meaning is made using the built environment. Since both sites have similar audiences, underlying narratives, and financial resources, a comparison of their virtual tours will allow for a more in depth analysis of how these two institutions use virtual technology from an interpretive standpoint, rather than from a pure image and fact standpoint. I also intend to analyze who their intended audiences are, and if different, how do different intended audiences affect the tour itself and how the tour is marketed.

Virtual tours are a great way to increase a historical sites’ accessibility, but it is not enough to increase accessibility for the sake of accessibility. It is important to understand what impact a digital tool, like a virtual tour, has on an institution’s narrative and interpretation, as well as audience engagement.