Time Crunched Again

Once again, I find myself with scant time to organize my thoughts.  Nevertheless, here are a few.

On Booker

I very much enjoyed this article for a variety of reasons.  First, I know the area in question somewhat but had no idea about its environmental history as a salt production center.  It was easy enough to relate this to experiences that I do have, however, as I’ve twice visited places in Scotland with a similar history.  Still, I am conscious of a significant difference between where I’ve been and the Bay Area…

In Scotland, salt making was not uncommon in Fife, but St. Monans had a certain claim to fame.  It is, by all accounts, a lovely village.

Unlike the Bay Area, the environmental history of St. Monans is fairly obvious.  Today, you need not go far to see evidence that this is a fishing village.  The boats make it pretty clear what most locals do for a living.

If you’re still having a rough time, the harbor is rather revealing.

If you wander north, just out of town, the area’s other histories come into play.

There’e the lido, for example.  Lidos were salt water swimming pools that were insanely popular during the 1920s and 1930s.  There were diving and swimming competitions and dreams of tourism wealth.  Towns such as St. Monans invested significant time and effort into building them with the fantasy that people would come from far and wide, bringing plenty of money along with them.  Even if that didn’t happen, town officials were pretty certain that their constituents would be happy.

In recent years, they’ve fallen to ruin and only a handful of active lidos still exist.  As a consequence, the observant visitor to many a Scottish village can now read that past into the landscape.  Here are three shots of the St. Monans lido.  [Visitors to the more famous St. Andrews up the coast ought also to spot one or two… especially since there were three constructed.]

Just north of the ruined lido comes the visible remains of salt production, now signed with instructional panels explaining the story.  Water pumped up by windmill, boiled off in heated pan houses, and the salt then salvaged and sold.

If you look at the landscape, that story is visible if you know what to look for.

First, the windmill.

Then the pan houses…

… with more or less visible remnants.

St. Monans is a relatively poor place.  There are retirees, fishermen, and probably a few who commute to jobs in St. Andrews, Edinburgh, or one of the other larger towns in the area.  Walkers visit here.  Perhaps a few people looking for their roots.  It is not a tourism mecca.  There’s no cause for massive development.  It is a sleepy place.

San Francisco is a different animal and simply reading the past into the available landscape is far from easy.  Matthew Booker certainly does a nice job of describing how an environmental historian goes about trying to see the past.  Historians must do this all the time.  They must use imagination, fueled by available sources, to try to understand what happened and why.

The article did not strike me as terribly “digital” in nature aside from the use of maps and other imagery which appears computer generated.  Fair enough.  Images are useful.  [Though I cannot see any particular value in the word mashup.  Perhaps one of my peers in the seminar can explain its utility.]

On myHistro

While I think that maps are vital historical tools.  I’m unimpressed by this site.  Fine for contemporary stuff.  Certainly great for feeding a culture of narcissism: “It is for everyone who wants to be known and remembered.” Okay for a genealogist (who tends to function on a rather ahistorical level, few actually probing into their family stories very deeply to understand context or broader implications).  Not so useful for serious history.

Why?  Think about the examples above.  St. Monans has changed little by comparison to San Francisco but that does not mean that it has not changed a lot.  There is a housing estate above the old lido.  The old industrial space is now best suited to dog walkers and recreationalists.  If you want to do serious history, you need maps showing these transformations.  You cannot simply graft a timeline onto a contemporary map.  

On Infogram

It is often rather expensive to generate images that illustrate scholarly work.  While I’ve not spent a lot of time with this site (I did not want to sign up, free or no), but it does look like it will generate a range of different charts, graphs, and even rather generic maps.  I can certain imagine using these to illustrate demographic or economic trends, etc., etc.  Will keep this site very much in mind for the moment when I need such images and am willing to sign up.

Computerside Companion

Time.  There isn’t enough of it.

This week our task was to read a book chapter by Carole Palmer and to look through an Omeka exhibit.  Perhaps because I’m buried in a host of tasks, I confess that I do not have much to say in this blog post, but here are a couple of thoughts.

First, as regards Palmer, it may be true that relatively few libraries point the way toward digital exhibits, but at least a few have done for quite some time.  When The Nationalism Project was new, it was quickly integrated into the substantial index of online web resources maintained by the British Library.  It is a shame that more libraries have not followed suit, though in a world of contracting resources for anything and everything that actually matters… I guess I’m not shocked.

I actually looked at three separate Omeka-based sites.  The first must be a marketing tool for the University of North Dakota.  It consists of short interviews with a long list of graduate students enrolled in various programs.  When I first clicked on the site my assumption was that it would offer at least some insight into the graduate experience.  Instead it was a nicely indexed series of happy stories.  Amazing that there are so many such tales.  Most people I know were not exactly so cheerful about the great struggle.  I moved on.

The next exhibit that I explored promised to survey Gilded Age art galleries, clubs, and associations.  Above all, it is a collection of old museum catalogues—again, nicely catalogued using Dublin Core (which I had not seen before this, and will look forward to reading about later on in the term).  Not a bad site, but not terribly robust either.  The fact is that it does not really provide much in the way of narrative and so does not resemble what I’m hoping to do in my class.

The last exhibit that I had a gander at is entitled The Land of Penn and Plenty: Bringing History to the Table.  This one is a mix of short articles and indexed objects.  The content is quite interesting, the images evokative, and the overall sensation while surfing somewhat closer to an old-school museum.  Although the site stands as a very nice example of a “thematic research collect,” it lacks the sort of coherent narrative that I hope my students will create in the planned youth culture course.

Before my last (not even remotely deep… must begin grading my next class) thoughts, I also wanted to check out the Bolles Collection on the History of London—largely because I teach a course on the topic and thought it would be nice to see what they’ve got.  While not quite as extensive as I had hoped, the collection does contain quite a number of texts and images relating to the history of London.  I’m definitely filing this one away and will return when I have time… which I’m quickly running out of now.

So, last thoughts.  More and more I think that what I want my students to do is to create an online history magazine with scholarly pretentions.  As such, it will be possible to utilize images, video, sound, and text to create a comparatively robust collection of materials that will hopefully prove interesting to readers.  Such a format will also invite continual expansion with time, thus rendering it a useful foundation for many future editions of the class.

Right, must grade…

But first… as the winter drags on, and on, and on, and on, and on… I’ve been thinking a lot about Mexico.  Warm…

But cannot shake the reality that it always feels cold…




The assignment for this week’s class was to set up a blog in order to test out the design possibilities in WordPress.  Due to events beyond my control, the free site that was to be set up did not materialize.  Consequently, I tried to establish my own WordPress account.

The idea was simply to develop a proof-of-concept.  The resulting site was not to be the final product to be used in class because that, evidently needs to be on the UNE server.  All of the more interesting templates are rather pricey… and I ain’t gonna pay out of pocket for a proof-of-concept.

I tried to soldier on using what was supposed to be a free template, only to find that even the free template had loads of hidden charges associated.  In addition, it would not do what I wanted it to.  The template shows nice images associated with short teaser paragraphs that ought to attract readers to click (I intended for them to go to another blog site with stories specific to the section topic (“pre-1945,” for example). The text appears but not images and I cannot find anyplace in the various controls that allows for me to alter the setting.  In addition, very often when I attempt to make a change the site tries to charge me.

At this stage, I’m frustrated and need to move on to other tasks.  Grumble…

Here’s what I have so far… hopefully I’ll be able to move ahead with a more functional account in the near future.