Digital Project Reflection: Augmented Reality Poster Set

Evolution

My understanding of Augmented Reality (AR) and its affordances has evolved as a direct result of this project and some of the excellent conversations we had during our class sessions. When I proposed an AR poster set earlier in the semester, I knew that AR could be used to deliver digital content that a user would not otherwise access through the physical, printed version of a poster set. While my work this semester has confirmed this understanding, it has also broadened my ideas about the type of digital content that AR is advantageously positioned to deliver.

In the early stages of my project, I was focused on adapting digital content from a USHMM online exhibition and designing an AR experience that could serve as a digital, English-language extension of the exhibition’s related poster set. Beyond this original intent, a survey of all available resources related to the poster set led me to explore AR as a tool for inclusive design and accessibility. The USHMM poster set I used is available in 10 languages, including English and Spanish. The availability of translated content presented an opportunity to experiment with another compelling affordance of AR: unobtrusively providing translated text for users who would prefer to experience interpretive content in a language other than English.

Products

Prototypes

In the end, I did create a prototype version of an English-language extension for the poster set centered on the Nazi regime’s use of propaganda. The prototype uses image-recognition to connect users with contextualized primary source materials related to individual posters in the set. Through AR, users can examine digital surrogates of Nazi propaganda posters overlaid with contextualizing text that explains the techniques that Nazi propagandists used to communicate their message.

In creating the English-language extension prototype, I encountered a few minor problems when I added text overlays that I created using the graphics editor PIXLR Pro to an AR experience in HP Reveal Studio. Some text overlays would appear blurry and therefore illegible when an AR experience was triggered through the HP Reveal mobile phone app. Through a frustrating cycle of trial and error, I learned that any text overlays that I wanted to be legible in the HP Reveal AR output on a mobile device needed to be created using at least 50-point font.

I also created a prototype AR experience that overlays all text on the English-language posters with Spanish text. The process that I refined during this project can easily be used to create AR translation experiences for the 8 additional languages in which the poster set is already available.

I was fortunate to produce two functional prototypes at the draft stage of this project, and the demo videos that I created at that point in the process remain the best representation of the prototypes in action, short of filming actual users testing them (which I was excited that some of you were able to do during our in-class poster session).


This video is a screen recording of my phone screen as I used the HP Reveal app to scan printed posters and overlay digital images and English-language captions.
This video is a screen recording of my phone screen as I used the HP Reveal app to scan printed posters and overlay digital Spanish-language labels.

Evaluation Plan

As we learned from reading about IDEO’s iterative, human-centered design approach, involving users in the design process by engaging them in an ongoing dialogue, testing prototypes with them, and listening to and acting on their feedback will result in better, more effective products. In order to move beyond the prototypes I created for this project, I hope to engage USHMM visitors in an iterative, human-centered design process in the coming months.

Here is a PDF version of my evaluation plan:

Project Poster

Here is my project poster, which presents a succinct overview of the backround for this project, and my methods, prototypes, and ideas for future directions:

“Lord Peter’s England,” and reflections thereupon

Bedraggled in appearance and crestfallen in aspect, I amble pathetically o’er the finish line of this particular semester, proffering a website and my reflections on the creation of same. My consolation in this is that my two favorite Lord Peter Wimsey books, Murder Must Advertise and Gaudy Night sit on my bedside table, ready to be read and mined for the historical insights they offer on, respectively, the role of advertising in the rise of a consumer culture in the early 20th century and the cultural attitudes surrounding women’s role in academia during the same time period. Yes, heartened by the promise of free time, I eagerly look forward to writing more for Lord Peter’s England: Britain Between the Wars; for now, I will reflect on the process of creating the website as it presently stands.

Project goals

My central task in creating my website was to use the Lord Peter Wimsey novels as a window into the cultural history of Britain during the interbellum years. My goals for the site were and are as follows:

  • First and foremost: to interpret historical lessons about the social, cultural, political, and economic situation in Britain between World War I and World War II, as seen through the Lord Peter Wimsey novels
  • To model historical literary analysis and to show the site’s visitors how period literature can serve as a primary source for understanding history
  • To promote the Lord Peter Wimsey books in general, as they are very good and deserve to be read more widely in the modern era, but their online footprint is at this point very minor

As this project is ongoing, I don’t feel it appropriate to evaluate how well these goals have been achieved at this time; I am still in the process of achieving them. However, I have so far engaged in historical interpretation of the reintroduction of shell-shocked soldiers into society following the Great War and how that reintroduction varied in difficulty across socioeconomic lines, as well as of the ways in which the world had changed (and had not changed) for women during the same period. To the ends of the second goal, a page on the site, “Reading Literature for Historical Content,” contains an explicit discussion and modeling of historical literary analysis, and each post models more of the same. And as for the third, I have linked to the full texts of each Lord Peter Wimsey novel as they are available online and hope to implicitly make the case through each post on the site that the books are worthy of continued readership.

Writing a post for Lord Peter’s England

It’s taken a few outings of writing content for the blog for me to determine exactly how I plan to carry on with it; what follows is an outline of the formula as it stands.

Determining a topic

Naturally, I have read all the Lord Peter Wimsey books before, and the first step in writing about any of them involves thinking back to my cherished memories of each one and considering what historical topic looms largest in the book.

Reading the book, with attention to the topic

With my subject chosen, I go forward with carefully reading the book anew and looking for that topic. I note when references to the topic appear. Rereading rather than simply thinking back to when a topic came up is helpful for catching, for example, minor instances of social commentary, or throwaway lines that point to a larger truth.

Drawing excerpts from the book

Using the online versions of the book, I find the passages I’d noted while reading and gather them.

Secondary source research

This is one of the major ways in which my approach has changed from the beginning. In my first post, I cited a small number of scholarly journal articles that I had found through AU’s library search portal. However, upon consideration of what we’ve discussed in connection with so many of the readings in this class, I have realized the value of choosing sources that are widely accessible over sources available only to a restricted audience. If a reader with AU’s proxy set up on their computer to allow them access to scholarly journals wishes to look into the secondary sources, they can do so, but anyone who doesn’t have that access is shut off from further reading if I only use these academic sources.

Moving forward, I intend to focus more on the types of sources included in the “Strong Poison and a changing world for women” post: websites from reputable publishers that any reader can access. I’d like to be able to connect people to historical resources they can actually use, thus ensuring that they can engage with additional sources without having to have any special credentials or permissions at all.

Writing and publishing a post

This all gets condensed into a post of about 2,500 words, which I’m increasingly trying to break into digestible pieces with headings and such to facilitate reading. My earliest version of the first post was more along the lines of what I’d submit as an academic essay in its structure and formatting, but from what we’ve read and the resources we’ve viewed in this course, I’m increasingly convinced that this isn’t suitable for a public digital history project. Each post includes a short bibliographical section.

Reflections and Lord Peter’s future

As the above process section would indicate, my thinking on this project has evolved through working on it, and I expect that it will continue to do so as I continue to create posts. We’ve repeatedly discussed throughout this semester the difficulty of deciding when a digital project is “done,” and I now understand completely why that’s the case—once you’ve put something up, it only becomes easier to go, “Well, that’s probably not the best way to do that, is it?” The perpetual editability of a digital project provides the opportunity (both ameliorative and deleterious) to revise one’s approach. I’d like to think I’m at a place now where I’ll just sally forth with the approach I’ve devised, but I imagine I’ll still have some course-correcting to do. I only hope that the mission creep will be minor.

In addition to continuing on with the formula for content posts I’ve been using, I’m planning to incorporate some additional ideas. First, as it was suggested to me at our poster session last week, the opportunities for doing some macroanalysis of the text using Voyant Tools and the like are very promising. The corpus is readily available as the full texts of all books are online, so it’s really just up to me to unlock that potential at any time. Second, I’d like to do a bit more contextual work as well, discussing, for example, what about the cultural situation in Britain led to the rise of the detective novel genre during Dorothy L. Sayers’ time.

There are a lot of great directions in which I can take this project, and I’m excited to keep moving forward with it. I have a long ways to go before I’ll feel comfortable passing this along to the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, but this is something of a passion project for me, so I’m ready to put the work in.

Thanks for a lovely semester, everybody—H.A.G.S., K.I.T., &c.

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.

Topic Modeling Foreign Relations: Final Paper and Reflection

When I embarked on this project, I underestimated how difficult it would be. Learning the program and putting the documents into the necessary format took way more time than I originally expected. As a result, I had to limit the size of my corpus. Instead of looking at an entire decade of foreign policy documents, I focused on the years from 1951 to 1954. One of the benefits of having such a small corpus was that I was intimately familiar with the historical context of the corpus and many of the documents themselves. After generating the results, I was pleased to discover that the model generated many of the topics I expected to see. Rather than being disappointed because it didn’t reveal any new avenues for research, it confirmed for me the efficacy of topic modeling in general. I have a greater desire now that I know the model works to apply it to a much larger corpus.

Despite the small size of my corpus, there were occasions when the results prompted me to investigate something further. A combination of topic modeling and close reading allowed me to explore new avenues. For example, the presence of “tudeh” and the absence of religion prompted me to ask different questions and question current scholarship. While these new directions confirmed, more than challenged, an already held view, it still demonstrates how a topic model can get you to think about a subject in a new way.

This project also gave me the opportunity to make some mistakes and learn from them for future research. I didn’t realize the importance of labeling my documents with the date and document number so that I could map my findings over time. This would have been a really interesting addition to my research. Other scholars who have done such projects, such as Cameron Blevin, David Allen, and Matthew Connelly, discovered some fascinating trends that would not have been obvious through a close reading.

Overall, I would highly recommend people give this program a try. It’s a lot of work, but it really does allow you to see patterns that would otherwise have remained hidden.

Attached you will find my final paper. Enjoy!

Horatio Gates: Atlantic Traveller Reflection

Those who know who Horatio Gates was will know him as the American general who organized the militias at the Siege of Boston into the Continental Army, but would fall out of favor in historical memory as the Revolutionary War came to a close.  My digital history project, Horatio Gates: Atlantic Traveller, is a Story Map that follows Gates between 1750 and 1766 as he and his correspondence travel the Atlantic ocean.

Up until the last stages of this project I titled my Story Map “Horatio Gates Worldwide,” but after a conversation with JONAHESTESS1 I realized the papers on the map only surround the Atlantic ocean, so “worldwide” was not really accurate.  I hope this change brings some clarity to the project by narrowing it from a global to an transAtlantic perspective.

Goals:

“Who is Horatio Gates?”  This was the major question when I presented my poster a week ago.  As a result of this question I realized that bringing light to this mostly forgotten historical figure was one of my main goals from the beginning.  I have been reading Gates’ personal papers since October and I have enjoyed getting to know him through the eyes of his friends and family. This digital project gave me a way to share what I have learned about Gates and give people to opportunity to discover him for themselves.

I also want this project to provide access to these sources for researchers.  By having them online they are more accessible to a wider public. This also makes them available to use as a practice resource for people learning to use primary sources.  By providing notes and transcriptions after the document it gives beginning researchers experience reading and pulling out important material from primary source documents.

At the end of the Story Map I include a few secondary sources.  I provided these to encourage further research about Gates or the time period in which he lived.  These are credible sources that are a good starting point for further research on Gates.

Class Connections:

Many other classmates formatted their projects around mapping.  HSTEIN’s project “Welcome, Darlings, to the Gay Movement” and SJONES’s “Mapping the Track of Serial Killers” also include mapping by tracking people and events.  I feel that my project also aligns with ISAAC MAKOS’ “Washington on the Frontier” not only because they are mapping projects but they also cover a similar time period tracking the movements of a notable American leader.

Personal Reflection:

The most important tip I learned during this process is to be patient with the technology and to work with the platform you are using instead of trying to make it do something it is not designed to do.  I tried a lot of different platforms before using ArcGIS Story Maps and it took longer because I had a particular idea and I tried to find a platform that fit that idea instead of working with available resources.  As a result of switching platforms so many times I had less time to construct the final product so I was rushed in the end. I should have been patient and tried to work with a single platform instead of switching when something did not work the way I wanted it to.  I was very glad to work with ArcGIS because it did exactly what I wanted it to, but other platforms also had possibility if I had given them more time.

Conclusion:

I am very happy with the way Horatio Gates: Atlantic Traveller turned out.  I was able to include the papers I wanted and their transcriptions to make understanding the letters easier.  By using a different color pin I was able to separate information, document and transcribed pins on the map so it is easier to use.  I hope this Story Map will be helpful to a wide variety of people.