Lab 3: City Witness

Part I

What are the two spatial arguments being made?

My Dear Nelly: This project uses the letters that Hotchkiss wrote to his daughter, Nelly, to signal location and movements of Hotchkiss during the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg. This creates a correlation between location and rhetoric within the letters. This project attempts to narrate a historical event through a visual and interactive medium.

Gemini over Baja California Sur: This project looks at two types of satellite images that interact with each other. The author of the project is interested in the similarities and differences between the Gemini photographs and modern satellite imagery of the same locations.

What features, display techniques, or visualizations advance these spatial arguments?

My Dear Nelly: The project uses a map in the background. Letters are placed on top of the map and the user can select on the letter. The user is able to select numbers which represent the historical context behind the story of Hotchkiss. This historical context is marked by the numbers. Within the letters, the names of locations are circled and arrows indicate the location of the indicated place on the map. For example, when he references his home, an arrow points to where his house is in relation to Fredericksburg. Furthermore, There is a timeline included at the bottom. This timeline enables the user to see when the events happened.

Gemini over Baja California Sur: On the bottom, there is a current satellite image map of Baja California Sur, and on top of the map are two photographs taken from Gemini 5 and 11. Each photo was taken in 1965.

What might you have done differently to strengthen the argument(s)?

My Dear Nelly: The project is very confusing when the user first opens the website. We cannot imagine our parents or grandparents having patience to figure out this website. We barely had enough patience to explore it. We kept finding new features. The front-end development is not incredibly user friendly. That being said, we can imagine that learning like this in high school would be enjoyable. It would be enjoyable after we learn all the features.

Gemini over Baja California Sur: The creator of the project outlines his goals for the project well and creates a clear project; however, he could have gone into more depth in terms of the information that he is depicting. There could be more zooming features and more interactivity that deepens the level of information being put forth.  


Part II

What are the two spatial arguments being made?

City Witness: ‘City Witness’ uses medieval testimonies, along with other documentary and archaeological evidence, to investigate questions of locations and perspectives within medieval Swansea. Specifically, the event investigated is an interrogation of nine witnesses about an event they had seen in Swansea, 17 years earlier. This project aims to make medieval Swansea visible to observers today. Wartime bombing and later re-development of the city center have hidden the traces of the medieval urban lay-out and its buildings in Swansea. This project specifically tries to further the understanding of medieval Swansea to reinforce the connection between the modern city and its medieval stature.

Beijing of Dreams: ‘Beijing of Dreams’ attempts to help people remember the charm, beauty and magnificence of Old Beijing. The goal of the project is for Beijing to not be forgotten. Furthermore, the creators wish for the ancient walls and gates to be recreated so that visitors can see how beautiful Beijing once was.

What features, display techniques, or visualizations advance these spatial arguments?

City Witness: This project furthers society’s understanding of medieval Swansea by connecting GIS mapping and 3D digital visualization, with the perspectives experienced by the medieval witnesses within the city. The map shows the topography and landscape features of Swansea. Also, there are many added features to the project. For example, users can play a game that helps develop one’s understanding of medieval Swansea history. Also, there are different types of tours that one can participate in that helps connect medieval Swansea to present day Swansea.

Beijing of Dreams: This project is extremely user friendly. It only takes a minute to realize all of the specifics of the project. The interactive map allows users to select certain gates, walls and corners to look at. If one is interested, he or she may select the feature. Once selected, an old photo representing the feature will display. In some cases, there are slideshows of images if there are many photos or drawings representing a feature of the old city. Additionally, if one is not interested in the interactive map, they can select the categorical feature (ie. gate, wall, corner, miscellaneous, all images, old map) that they want to exclusively look at. Within these categories the specific feature is listed. All images are scanned. Additionally, the project is funded by The History of Chinese Science and Culture Foundation.

What might you have done differently to strengthen the argument(s)?

City Witness: John Baggeham’s account has 12 parts to it in many different locations. It is very frustrating to keep clicking the zoom in, and the zoom out in order to continue the story-line. I [Harris] gave up halfway through the story line because of how tedious it was. I think users should be able to click on the map, but also a timeline explaining all of the events would make the stories more accessible and efficient for users.

Beijing of Dreams: This project could have used more of a comparison between Old Beijing and New Beijing. The City Witness project does a great job of connecting Old Swansea with New Swansea and the Beijing of Dreams could strengthen the argument with a connection between the Old and New City.

Hypercities vs. Neatline: What are the major differences between these two platforms/tools? Compare and contrast these two platforms/tools? What makes these better platforms/tools for making spatial arguments?

Neatline presents an interactive environment that enhances a narrative by embedding it within its geographical space and time period. Hypercities are less linear but draw information from multimedia, social media, archival maps, and hypertext to document the past or make future projections. In this way it can explore a historical narrative. These platforms are appropriate for making spatial arguments because of the effective way they overlay information with the geospatial environment. Hypercities gather information from a greater variety of media but Neatline presents a linear narrative that is usually very easy to navigate.



Part III

Our reflection tackles three questions: 1) How understandable is each project? 2) How applicable to education is each project? 3) How do the visuals succeed in addressing the purpose?

While briefly exploring City Witness (CW) and Beijing of Dreams (BD), is it easy to tell that each archive has different informational complexity. While CW has a vast amount of information with many additional links to click on under each tab, BD is much more simple in terms of the volume of information. In BD, there are no additional links to more information under each tab. Therefore, the volume and the simplicity of the information on BD makes it extremely understandable. Within a few minutes, the viewer can understand what the website is about.  Additionally, the content on BD is primarily visual, therefore the viewer is not overwhelmed by long texts. On the other hand, CW is a much more dynamic and intricate project; however, the volume of information can be overwhelming for the viewer to understand, and the project is more difficult to navigate. [EW]

One would think that the more understandable the project is, the more useful it can be as an educational tool. In the case of CW and BD, both are educational projects. However, CW is the more effective educational project because it presents more of a variety of information. For CW, the objective is to teach a medieval story through an interactive map. This is demonstrated through the ability to change the opacity of the medieval map that is juxtaposed on top of a current day map of Swansea. This project is applicable to medieval education by drawing a connection between present day and medieval Swansea. Beijing of Dreams, on the other hand, is less applicable to an educational setting. The user lacks the opportunity to interact. In some sections, it merely mimics a powerpoint slideshow with different images. The project lacks informational depth, which makes it less conducive to an educational environment. [HP]

BD’s interactive map is successful in helping the user understand Old Beijing. It succeeds because it includes a complete layout of the city which displays buildings of interest as a hyperlink that brings the user to a photo gallery of the building. This makes the site approachable and simple to navigate. While CW presents more information, the visuals do not contribute to the purpose as efficiently as those in BD. An interactive map is present, but it requires boxes to be checked in order to further specify what information is presented. This hinders the readability of the site and makes it difficult for the user to derive a greater understanding of the subject material. However, it does help to bridge medieval Swansea with present-day Swansea. The map includes an ability to change the opacity as a means of overlaying a map of old Swansea on top of modern Swansea to observe the urban development, as well as bring the past to life by drawing attention to historical buildings that are present in both maps. Additionally, other visuals that contribute to addressing the purpose are also present, such as animations and a game which help to improve the site’s readability. [MH]


Created by Michael Hoffman, Harris Pollack and Electra Washburn