If You Scan Something, Set It Free: The Surprising Places We Find Our Digital Objects Online

An image from the Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music makes an appearance on “Gregg’s Blogg” at http://www.harpguitars.net.

For the parents among our readership, you well know that stepping back and letting your child experience life on their own – from their first unaided steps to the day they walk the stage at graduation – is one of the toughest things you have to master. And even though you know it’s part of their healthy development, you can’t help but feel a mix of bittersweet emotions when you see them take that next step on their own.

We experience something akin to this when we take a look around the Web to see where our digital collections objects are showing up online. The usual suspects turn up pretty frequently – Flickr, Pinterest and the like – but every now and then we see references to our materials in some pretty interesting places. So we thought we’d present a few examples to you here, in no particular order, of places you can see the results of our hard work presented by people all across the Internet’s spectrum of sites.

War of the Rebellion Atlas plate on a French language site registered in Djibouti

War of the Rebellion Atlas plate on a curated set of American Civil War images amalgamated by Photoree

Article on the Browning Letters Project from PublicLibraries.com

Wikipedia entry for Pat Neff featuring image from 1933 “Roundup”

An image from the Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music on a blog dedicated to “the harp guitar”

And these examples are just a smattering. Many of the images and references back to our collections stem from the major publicity we received from two viral stories related to our work that came out last year. One was the major media coverage related to the Valentine’s Day unveiling of the Browning Letters Project, and the other was our blog post from August, “So We Can Throw These Out Now, Right?” What We Learned from Microfilming Newspapers and How It Shapes Our Digitization Strategy.

One issue with the widespread proliferation of our materials does arise, however. Many of the references to our Digital Collections homepage link back to an old URL. We used contentdm.baylor.edu prior to an update to our content management system, CONTENTdm, which we implemented a couple of years ago. That means anything that was blogged about, posted to Flickr or referenced in some other way using a link from the old contentdm.baylor.edu address won’t work correctly today. Instead, it will redirect users to our homepage, where they’ll have to carry out their search again. We’ve added information about this issue to our Digital Collections homepage, and so far we’ve not received any negative feedback regarding these now-unavailable links.

So if you’re out scouring the fringes of the Internet one day and happen to come across a reference to our digital collections in a fun or unexpected place, drop us an email and tell us about it. Because if there’s one thing parents everywhere enjoy without question, it’s seeing their babies making a difference in the world.

“The Path of Good Intentions is a Steep Learning Curve” – An Update from Zada Law

 

“Nashville, Tenn., from the South-East, Showing the State Capitol” from the “War of the Rebellion Atlas,” Series I. Vol. XLIX

Longtime readers of this blog may remember a post we wrote about a researcher at Middle Tennessee State University named Zada Law and her work to use GIS (Geographic Information System) data and our historic War of the Rebellion Atlas collection to map the Federal defenses of Nashville, Tennessee. Zada sent us an update via email recently, and it is a study in the nature of research in the digital humanities: a rollercoaster ride of progress, setbacks, new systems and the unending pursuit of new scholarship.

Initial Progress, Potential Setback, A New Idea

Zada reports that she went immediately to work georeferencing the maps at a large scale – 1 to 2500, for example. She eventually settled on putting them at the same scale they were published at: a scale of 1 to 25000. But as that process was wrapping up, she met someone at a conference who had already digitized the Nashville defenses. Zada says she “felt ‘lower than a duck’s instep’ (as my Dad would say).” But further discussions revealed the other researcher hadn’t pegged their data to known locations as Zada was doing, so her initial work wasn’t a lost cause. In reality, her discussion with her fellow researcher led to an exchange of data and the idea of producing a white paper dealing with best practices in “georeferencing historic maps and digitizing historic cultural landscape features.”

Computers and Software: Everyone’s Favorite Hassle

After connecting the digitized lines from the Atlas images to known entrenchment spots, Zada began to use LiDAR datasets (of enhanced elevation data) to look for entrenchment “signatures.” In her words: “Similar signatures = potential entrenchments = new conservation opportunities.” It seemed great progress was being made.

That’s when Zada had her “Aaaaccckkk!!” moment: realizing that the terabytes’ worth of LiDAR data she was attempting to manipulate in her GIS software was putting severe strain on her computers, which were “pretty darn good” at processing otherwise. She refocused her attention on how to best manipulate LiDAR data and had been making more progress when frustration came again, this time in the form of a software update that required “new licenses, new installations, new webinars for learning the new functionality, and doing a bunch of tutorials,” none of which addressed historic cultural landscape features.

In short: the technology Zada requires to do her research seemed to be conspiring against her.

Optimism Prevails

Despite these challenges, Zada remains optimistic about her research agenda. She said in her email, “But, I’m making progress. I’ve got new computers and new 3D data skills.  All these take time working thru bureaucracy.  I’ve also obtained LiDAR datasets for my AOI [area of interest] from two different years so I can compare changes and what might have been lost. My goal is to identify signatures of earthworks in LiDAR . Like I said at the beginning of this email, it’s been a steeper learning curve than I thought – but I’ll persevere!”

And that is the nature of working with digital assets in a scholarly setting. Progress followed by setbacks spurs a new idea and a change of direction. Software makes things easier, then more complicated, then easier again. It all costs money, time and effort, but ultimately, it may lead to the discovery of something thought lost since 1865 – or something unknown entirely until dogged persistence reveals it to the world.

We appreciate Zada’s willingness to share her challenges and breakthroughs with us in such an honest fashion, and we look forward to her continued success in her research. We will pass along any further updates we receive on her work with the hopes of being able to help her celebrate a discovery that benefits Civil War and geography scholars around the world.

Sources Consulted:

Email from Zada Law to Eric Ames, November 30, 2012

“War of the Rebellion Atlas Puts DPG on the Map in Tennessee.” DPG Digital Collections blog post, January 22, 2012

“War of the Rebellion Atlas” Puts DPG on the Map in Tennessee

The Digitization Projects Group’s efforts to put the War of the Rebellion Atlas online have once again led to an exciting collaboration, this time with Zada Law, Director of the Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). Law will be utilizing high-resolution copies of several Atlas maps of the Nashville area to see if defensive earthworks built around the city by Federal forces might still be discoverable today, almost 150 years after the war ended.

Law, a PhD candidate at MTSU, plans to overlay the Atlas images with “modern high resolution orthographic aerial images,” she told me via email. Using records from the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and enhanced elevation (LiDAR) datasets, she hopes to locate “previously unrecorded extant earthwork sections or identify where archaeological traces of entrenchments may still remain.” (1)

Defenses of Nashville, Tenn. from the War of the Rebellion Atlas

Before she located the Atlas using a simple Google search, Law was relying on hard copies of the Atlas and other records to conduct her research. That all changed when she found our Digital Collections.

“Finding Baylor’s freely accessible high resolution image of an original copy of the War of the Rebellion Atlas plus searchable metadata was the tipping point for me to finally proceed beyond the dreaming phase,” Law said. “And, as GIS becomes an accepted part of scholarly research in the humanities, I’m certain the need for access to digital copies of original maps will increase.”

The metadata Law refers to is the cataloged information that accompanies each image in our digital Atlas, including information like city names, names of battle participants, descriptions of geographic formations and more. This is the fully-searchable information that makes finding specific locations or persons in our Atlas much faster than using traditional printed indices and page-by-page searching available elsewhere.

In addition to her work on the Federal defenses of Nashville, Law shared access to the Atlas collection to Dr. Wayne Moore of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Moore is heading up a project called the Tennessee Civil War GIS Project, where he and his team are working to “inventory and describe the geospatial data points for approximately 700 Tennessee Civil War military engagements” throughout the state. “Having the Atlas’ maps available online and searchable and ‘zoomable’ through your website will improve our workflow and will be less tedious that looking at hard copies of the maps with a magnifying glass,” Law said.

Finally, Law hopes to use an image of the area around Murfreesboro – specifically a location called Fortress Rosecrans – to search for the location of a nearby contraband camp. “Contraband” during the Civil War referred to Confederate-owned slaves who sought protection in Federal camps or who lived in areas that fell under Federal control. The public history program at MTSU is documenting a “rural post-emancipation African American community that likely had former residents of that camp,” Law said, and the maps provided by Baylor could help them in their work.

Topographical Sketch of Fortress Rosecrans from the War of the Rebellion Atlas

We’ll keep you posted on how Law’s research goes, and we wish her and her colleagues all the best in their efforts. We’re happy to be collaborators in this important work, and we look forward to seeing where it leads as the Civil War Sesquicentennial continues through 2015.

(1) Excerpts from email from Zada Law, received 1/5/2012

Visit the Texas Collection online at http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas for more priceless Texana.

Semper (Hi-) Fi: Marine Corps Command and Staff College Utilizes High-Resolution Images from Digitization Projects Group for Officer Training

In June of this year, Lt. Col. Shawn Callahan of the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College contacted the Digitization Projects Group with an exciting request. As part of his planning for a major training course for officers from all branches of the United States military, Callahan was trying to find maps of the 1862 Peninsular Campaign, which had been led by U.S. Gen. George B. McClellan against the Army of Northern Virginia, led by Gen. Robert E. Lee. A Google search led him to our Digital Collections, which includes a fully searchable, freely accessible copy of the “War of the Rebellion Atlas,” the definitive source for maps related to the U.S. Civil War.

Callahan’s idea was to use primary resources derived from the campaign – particularly maps – to pose this problem to his students: based only on the information available to McClellan at the time, how would you have planned and conducted this campaign?

After finding what he needed in our “War of the Rebellion Atlas” collection, Callahan contacted the DPG to request high-resolution versions of the maps that he could then print out and provide as reference materials for his students. Of course, we were eager to help and readily provided Callahan with the maps he requested. Digital Collections Consultant Eric Ames also worked to identify other maps that embraced the time, place, and force outlays related to the campaign, ultimately providing 30 images to Callahan for use in the course.

The training was held in late September, with members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and international officers from 28 nations participating. These photos show the officers consulting large-format printouts of the maps as they formulated their strategy for the Peninsular Campaign.

(1)

We received a letter of appreciation from Col. Royal P. Mortenson, Director of the College, expressing his thanks for providing access to the high-res files, as well as our efforts to support “an educational initiative which has sharpened our military leaders and will help maximize their contributions to our national defense.” He went on to say, “Your efforts to coordinate access to Baylor University’s digital archives for the Command and Staff College faculty were instrumental to the success of this exercise.” (2)

From everyone at the DPG – and on behalf of our colleagues at the Texas Collection, where the pristine original copy of the “Atlas” is preserved – we want to thank the fine men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps for allowing us to participate in this exercise, and we are proud of the opportunity to help support their efforts to keep our country safe.

Semper Fi, and Sic ‘Em, Bears!

You can view the entire “War of the Rebellion Atlas” in our Digital Collections, located at http://contentdm.baylor.edu.

(1) Photos courtesy Lt. Col. Shawn Callahan
(2) Letter from Col. Royal P. Mortenson to Eric S. Ames, 10/7/2011