Pictures and Conversation
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?’
Pictures and conversations have been dominating my thoughts on digital projects over the past few weeks, thanks to my work in a digital humanities class. Just as Alice astutely noted, most in the work done in my particular field of history is heavily textual, analytic, and descriptive. While within the discipline of history a book full of text without pictures is the norm, on the other hand a wall of text on a web site is a daunting thing to present to a site visitor, if by daunting you mean a sure fire way to make people click away. Over the course of the last few blog posts I laid out the vision for my project and my ideas to make each part work within a whole. Now, I’ll be working through the implementation of these concepts although not without a little more philosophizing on the idea I am trying to project through my site. In my related digital humanities course I have begun to question the textual dominance of digital projects and have been asking myself how to bend images and nontextual sources towards creating a conversation between the material and a site visitor. History prides itself on writing–a lot of writing. If I’m going to be mining cliches, if a picture if worth a thousand words, a 360 image should worth at least be a novella. Now my dilemma is a practical one: how to incorporate these concepts and images into a digital project?
As the cultural legacy of the Games is half of the equation for my project, I am intent on using nontextual sources, beginning with the 1965 documentary Tokyo Olympiad and the 1966 Cary Grant film Walk, Don’t Run which is set in Tokyo during the Games. Studio Ghibli’s 2011 From Up on Poppy Hill takes place in 1963 Yokohama and the runup to the Games is an integral part of the plot. The seminal 1988 anime Akira is an essential addition, as the film predicted the 2020 Games and despite the post-apocalyptic themes of a devastated Tokyo, it has found its way into the official Olympic marketing campaign. The 2011 anime series Showa Monogatari depicts the everyday life of a Tokyo family during the Games.
How have I put this all together? As I stated in my previous post, I decided to start with a map. A map was essential to the project as my vision of Olympic Tokyo was predicated around a sense of spatial continuity and in a sense, discontinuity. While I have dwelled on the cultural impact of the Games, the urban transformation of Tokyo is equally as important to what I am trying to say about 1964. If I am to draw once again from the well of popular culture, Tokyo itself is a major figure in the Games and the way the Games have been memorialized. The city was rebuilt around the Games, with the construction forever altering the character of Japan’s capital. More than any other city, Tokyo becomes part of of the ebb and flow of daily life, pervading every moment–although this perception is also in no small part related to my own experiences living in Tokyo. I cheerfully admit bias in this matter.
A map is the first visual indicator that my site is attempting to create a spatial outline of the past upon the present for the visitor, connecting the dots of a faraway city known for its confusing layout. I could not count on any great familiarity with Tokyo on the part of a visitor, so a map was essential to put the pieces together. Ultimately I went with Mapbox and coded a map for the landing page, just under the introductory text. I had toyed with the idea of having the map be the entirety of the landing page, but I was dissuaded by our fearless CHI leader. Just as a wall of text would prove daunting, a map without context, unfamiliar names on a distant landscape, would be equally daunting to a visitor. I coded on-click popups, and from the popup, visitors can click a link to go directly to the page associated with the venue. A final element will be the placement of a small image, the same image that identifies the venue in the menu under the map.
Incorporating the 360 visuals I took while in Tokyo has proven to be an easier task, although some of the functionality I was hoping for remains elusive. For the moment, I am relying on the external photo hosting site Flickr, which provides native 360 support. At times the implementation is slightly wonky, as the photo doesn’t always load in 360, although I am unsure if that is due to a conflict with the Bootstrap code. I would prefer to find an option to host 360 images from within the site itself but my exploration of the available addons has hit snags–and by snags I mean they are not free. Additionally, I would like to annotate the images so viewers can further explore the venues from within the images instead of referring to the text and going back to look at the image, further speaking to my initial design concept. Scene VR by Knightlab offers the option to create stories out of a series of linked 360 images but does not have the annotation feature. However, I’m still intent on using 360 video, although it has been suggested that lower-bandwidth users may benefit from a virtual tour put together through something like Scene VR rather than a Youtube video.
My current task is to write the informational text, as despite my deep desire to create a Star Trek like visual interface, as text remains an integral part of digital projects at this stage of our digital evolution. This is where my project intersects with traditional historical research. Like all Olympics, both the 1940 and 1964 Olympics created official reports in English. It is exceptional that the 1940 Games have a report, as those Games never took place. Additionally, other researchers have written about the Tokyo Games, providing a wealth of commentary. I will also be delving into the popular media of the day, looking at stories about the Games in Life and Time as well as Japanese publications. As I am trying to keep the focus on the impact on Japan rather than an externalized image of the Tokyo Games as provided by Western media, I am looking to limit the Anglophone sources to images and background support material.