Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Proposal for a regional digitization project, part 2

Yesterday I began thinking about a regional digitization project using Harrisburg, PA as my example. The questions I asked were:
  • How can you take the history of a place, digitize it, and display it in a way that makes the history visible?
  • Who would contribute?
  • What would be the benefits?
  • And how would you overcome the obstacles?
First, let's think about how you take the history of a place, digitize it, and display it in a way that makes the history visible. Of course, the question to be asked is what type of materials could be digitized? Let's not think narrowly. We could digitize:
  • Paintings and drawings of historic figures and events
  • Photographs
  • Photos of historic sites
  • Video of a walking tour of historic Harrisburg
  • Historic documents, letters, journals and diaries
  • Documents that would help to trace the history of the area
  • Information on early settlers as well as the Native People who lived in that region
  • Birth, death and census records
  • Old newspapers
  • Radio broadcasts or other audio that ties into Harrisburg's history
  • Etc.
Once digitized (notice that I'm not yet discussing the "how"), I would propose that the materials be made available on the Internet as "exhibits" (think of walking through a museum), illustrated stories, annotated maps, and a searchable database.

Exhibits -- An exhibit is focused around a specific subject. Imagine walking virtually through exhibits that talk about different aspects of Harrisburg's history? These could be multimedia online exhibits that combine visuals and audio. As if you were on a moving sidewalk, the exhibit would pass in front of you at a comfortable pace, with the option for you to stop, go back, and continue on.

Exhibits would be of interest to casual users of the site, as well as people who are more visual. Since people would "see" the history, these might be useful to those who want to be able to connect the history to what exists in Harrisburg today. (I'm thinking specifically of connecting historic photos or photos of historic buildings with current physical locations.)

Illustrated Stories -- While an exhibit is more visual, these would be primarily text with illustrations and some audio. In fact, you could have an audio version of the stories! The stories would allow for more facts and details to be communicated. They would be useful to those who are doing research or interested in more indepth information.

Annotated Maps -- The Harrisburg government web site does have PDF maps that show the locations of historic sites, but you cannot click on the map to get more details or see photos. It is those features that I see connected to these annotated maps. Imagine a map -- like those you see in the current mapping programs (e.g., Google Earth) -- where you can see an overview map, zoom in to see details, then click on specific locations to see photos or drawing, read documents associated with the location, and hear audio (old audio as well as new audio that perhaps give little-known facts).

For example, on the annotated map, let's say that you could have it highlight all of the locations where there have been governor mansions, then you could click on each location to see photos and other details. Imagine, too, that you could then follow a link to obtain information on the governors who lived in a specific location, and then follow additional links to find out about this history of their eras.

Maps can be very important because then you can see (visualize) how close things were. With some topographic detail, you could start to think about the problems of traversing the hills around Harrisburg and the impact that had on industry and the area's expansion. Maps that showed population density for specific eras would also be useful in understanding how the area grew and changed.

[As you can tell, using maps as a basis for displaying digitized materials/history really excites me.]

Finally, all of the digitized content and textual information would be searchable through a database. This means the creation of metadata and the use of a content management system. The database needs to be searchable in ways that make sense to end-users (not in ways that only make sense to use). It should have excellent help features and some ready-made search on hot topics.

Yes, this would be a huge project...and obviously, a collaborative project. Who would contribute to it? What obstacles would they have to overcome? some point...what technologies will be needed?

I'll write more on this tomorrow...

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