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