Over the last few weeks in CHI I have been given the resources to think about what cultural heritage is and why and to what digital methods are applied to the protection, preservation, and/or sharing cultural heritage. Digital (cultural) heritage projects are applied works and the goal or outcome should be stated explicitly. This way it is possible to determine the appropriate methods, audience, partners, tools, and cultural materials (artifacts, book, stories, landscapes, etc.) at the earliest stages of the project design. I am keeping this in mind when I consider my final project – the beginning of an online map that shows changes over time in the Highlands area of Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. To get an idea of the tools I may want to use to do this and consider the technical, ethical, sustainability, and ownership challenges of the project I will explore several established on-line base mapping projects and share my thoughts on those here.

The first of these projects I will explore is the Survey of London’s “Histories of Whitechapel” which is an interactive, online map of the Whitechapel section of London. Each mapped structure, park, or street can be selected to open a short blurb on the history of the site. For me, one of the most interesting features of the Whitechapel map is that visitors can add their own pictural, oral, or written memories of a specific place. The map also includes the option for visitors to navigate to a separate webpage and read a highly historical account of the site, to see additional images, and to view the crowdsourced memories of that place. By changing the basemap visitors can explore how the digitally mapped landscape compares to historical maps of area. The online and community-drive nature of this webmapping project is intriguing to me and is a great example of how one can use digital heritage to share and preserve the memories of a urban environment.

  • A screenshot of the Survey of London's Whitechapel Histories map. Buildings are in orange, parks in green, and streets in purple.
  • A close up view of one of the mapped buildings, the Royal London Hospital. The selected building is in blue and to the right is a box with a history blurb, and options to read more or to contribute to the history of the site.
  • The webpage where visitors can add memories. white text ass: "What would you like to add" and there are three options: "An Image", "Text", or "Audio or Video".
  • The digitally mapped buildings of Whitechapel are overlaid on an 19th century map. Some structures are faded out because they would have been outside of the 18th century bounds of London.

The Histories of Whitechapel map was built using the Leaflets webmapping service, which uses javascript (scary!) to allow developers to create desktop and mobile friendly interactive maps. Leaflets is open source and offers a number of plug-ins to add to and customize the maps developers make. The website offers several tutorials for new developers, all of which indicate the tools and program are highly adaptable and there is capacity to use Leaflets to build something similar, but different from the Whitechapel map. While i have not yet used the program, it certainly seems promising for the work I want to do.

If I were to use Leaflets to create my map of Oak Bluffs i would want to have different features than what is used in Histories of Whitechapel. This is because our goals for creating a public, community-driven interactive map of a historic community are not the same. For instance, it is important that my map shows changes in landownership over time. The Survey of London does show how the area and the city of London grew over time by allowing the user to change the basemap, but the building themselves retain their contemporary shapes and details. Rather than having static features overlaid over various basemaps, I would like for the selectable features to change shape as property boundaries changed over time. A slider that changes every year, five years, decade, etc. would be ideal and decisions on labor time would determine how temporal changes were segmented. The Whitechapel map does not have a feature like this and instead presents a snapshot of the area in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

By pointing out this difference between the Survey of London’s map in how I want to build my map I am not suggesting that the way the Histories of Whitechapel map was made is wrong, but rather that the two projects have different objectives and challenges. Like the Histories of Whitechapel map, I want to allow visitors to add their memories of a specific place to the map and have these publicly available for other visitors to see. My choice to show changes in landownership over time may negatively impact this, by both separating memories by landowner and by creating so many features that it impedes public participation. I will explore these challenges and other interactive webmapping examples in future blogs posts.