Farewell Dumbarton Oaks!

Alexis Del Vecchio, August 6, 2012

It’s been a productive summer for the shared GLS interns, although I’m sad to see everyone leave (including myself!)! Last Wednesday Siobhan Aitchison, Robin Abad and I gave presentations on our research topics from the summer to the GLS and garden departments, as well as the interns and a number of librarians. While Robin completed his own course of study on the Washington Triangle Parks, Siobhan and I both looked into areas of the garden; Siobhan excavated the kitchen garden site and ultimately built a 3-d model based on her research (seen in another post) while I looked at both the historical evolution of the Arbor Terrace as well as the Pre-Bliss property at large. The culmination of this work can be seen in our website www.planetable.org/omeka (note: the site is still under construction) where we constructed a number of web-based “exhibits” to showcase these topics. In the image below you can see a screen shot of the website’s home page.

GLS Intern Website Homepage

As the “GIS” specific intern, the web-based application of my research was meant to build on work from previous summer interns. Three years ago the inaugural GIS intern, Justin Scherma, worked with Paul Cote, GIS Specialist from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, to assemble a Dumbarton Oaks Geo-Database from various digital and analog sources. Information reconciled into a single file includes the James Berrell survey from 1922 as well as recent CAD drawings from Landscape Architect James Urban and Civil Engineer Wiles Mensch. These files were compiled to create a single source for geo-referenced information about the garden, such as utility lines, contours, and material edges.

Dumbarton Oaks Geo-database

The following year David Wooden added trees to the database as geo-referenced points. Each tree is linked with tabular information that captures both physical and maintenance characteristics. Charlie Howe, the most recent GIS intern, created a detailed guide to updating the tree inventory as well as diagrams that chart accessibility and historical cut and fill in the garden.

My goals for the summer were to enhance the historical component of the geo-database while also making the information that we’ve collected over the past four summers accessible to a wider audience.  Paul Cote, with input from the Gail Griffin, John Beardsley and librarians at D.O., determined the best means for public interface would be through an Omeka site. Omeka is an open-share software developed at George Mason University to house digital collections. The software is relatively easy to use (and fortunately makes itself open and easy to hack!) to create exhibits culled from two-dimensional representations of the host organization’s materials.

Arbor Terrace Exhibit on Omeka

Hundreds of libraries, historical societies, collectors, municipalities and other agencies have created their own Omeka Sites. We also wanted to curate exhibits with a geo-referenced component. Luckily the internship coincided with the release of the neatline plug-in from the UVA Scholar’s Lab. http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/scholarslab/  Neatline allowed us to layer images and their associated metadata over geo-referenced maps, thus creating stories that integrated images and text within a spatial context.

this exhibit charts the pre-Bliss history of Dumbarton Oaks

I produced the final iteration of the arbor terrace and Dumbarton Oaks exhibits on Google Earth. Unlike the standard Omeka or neatline exhibit, Google Earth allows us to view two-dimensional images in 3-d. Thus photographs of Dumbarton Oaks in 1894 can be paired with images taken in 2012 from the same vantage point, creating a before and after effect. Because Google Earth can reference images located on your hard drive instead of a web server, we avoided the numerous issues that dogged the neatline production process. Moreover, the kml code that places photographs and image overlays at specific coordinates can be zipped with images into a .kmz file, allowing us to preserve an in-tact package that does not rely on an outside server to work. Omeka, (and the associated neatline) by contrast, will only persist if the servers on which they are housed are maintained.

Ultimately, we found that each service created a unique viewing experience with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The two other GLS interns and I are currently preparing our sites and content for public viewing so that one day our work might be available to any web or actual visitor to Dumbarton Oaks! We hope that you’ll check back in and visit our sites in the near future! www.planetable.org/omeka

Thanks for reading everyone, and good luck in future endeavors!

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