By Annie Carey Rogers
Tucked off the main streets of Gainesville, Florida, the Historic Haile Homestead was built for the Haile family in the 1850s by enslaved labourers. Local historians and docents of the Haile Homestead deduce that the matron, Serena Haile, began writing on the walls of her family home during financial hardship and limited paper supplies. As this became common practice, family members followed suit. The Homestead is truly a window into nineteenth-century Southern living. Graffiti ranges from accounts of hard times in the brutal Florida weather to gossip and party songs in the late 1910s, and the cultural value of this house is undeniable. A desire to share this space with a wider audience motivated the design of a digital resource.
I questioned, does creating an interactive digital resource enhance the digital born experience better than a traditional digitised archive? The materiality of the space created a unique challenge, there was more to the content of the house than what the graffiti said. By taking the value of spatial context, I utilised digital humanities and historical bibliography concepts to create a digital resource.
In order to properly incorporate this type of visual experience, a variety of technologies were essential to creating this resource. These are the tools that were available to me without incurring larger expenses than appropriate for this level of research. As the recipient of the John Campbell Trust travel bursary, my travel expense to Gainesville, Florida were covered. This allowed me to complete this research to the best possible extent with the best possible equipment available to me.
The initial sweep of the room consists of a 360-degree image taken with Google Street View, a free application for mobile devices. The application stitches together a dozen or so photos into a large static image, as can be seen in the 360 capture of the nursery below.
With a DJI Gimbal to stabilise my iPhone 6, the quality of the photos is high enough to upload into a free (with premium options available) web based 360-degree tour software called Roundme. This software allows the user to upload a series of 360-degree images and converts them into a virtual experience with a variety of features. A screenshot of the tour can be seen below.
Once the images were uploaded into the software, I was able to add points of interest that allowed the user to access images of the graffiti on the walls of the house (see below). These images were taken with a Canon 7D camera on the TV setting in order to shoot in low light.
Once created, the virtual tour needed a website to be accessible. Using Omeka’s free cloud-based platform, Omeka.net, I made a simple webpage to incorporate the tour, some information on the project, and metadata (see screenshot below). The website can be found at hailewritings.omeka.net.
Through the process of collecting the images, the initial research question was answered: a digital resource of this style has a great deal of value that a traditional static digital archive cannot deliver.
However, the unintentional realisations came from the process itself. Methodically photographing and 360-scanning the writings of the house became the most valuable experience in understanding the structure and the nature of the graffiti. Like cataloguing a rare book, the process sounds straight forward: author, publication, number of pages. However, in practice, the process of cataloguing, and in this case capturing images, brings a deeper understanding of what this space means and how it contains a collective narrative.
As with all projects, there is room for improvement and development. Handwriting recognition software and multispectral imaging techniques would be a major step in unlocking faded and hard to decipher writings. A complete transcription of the writing would enable this 360-degree technique to be applied throughout the whole house. The next step after technological improvements would include user studies to incorporate into further developments. In my preliminary research, similar projects with graffiti in historically significant structures are plentiful, and they would all benefit from enhancing their digital experiences in this way.
A rewarding and enjoyable experience, creating a 360 tour of the Historic Haile Homestead combined my interests in digital humanities, history, and library and information studies. The website can be found at this address: hailewritings.omeka.net