All posts by Katie Jakovich

The new Architecture Exhibits site on Omeka!

On Omeka: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Hello y’all!  Katie (2.2) here.  I admit that Battle Hall Highlights has not been quite as active on the blog front from the Library compared to other years – apologies for that, but it was for a very good reason!  The University of Texas at Austin Libraries have been working on implementing Omeka as a platform for publishing digital collections and exhibits from UT institutions.  Our own Katie Pierce Meyer (the Librarian here at the Architecture and Planning Library) was instrumental in bringing Omeka to UT, and APL is proud to now have three exhibits available via Omeka.  As GRA for the Library, I spent the majority of my semester migrating content from our website, which was housed and designed via Drupal 6, to UT’s Omeka.  The three exhibits on Omeka now are “Our Landmark Library: Battle Hall at 100,” “Their Maya Story: George and Gerrie Andrews,” and “Eugene George: Architect, Scholar, Educator, Photographer.”  Each exhibit posed unique challenges in migrating the content, and have provided invaluable experience in creating exhibits via Omeka.

So, what is Omeka?  It is a free, open-source platform for publishing digital collections and exhibits.  Developed and updated by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, Omeka has several iterations (Omeka S, Omeka.net, and Omeka Classic), but originally started out as a platform designed for small institutions with limited resources.

The Administrator view of Omeka.org.
The Administrator view of Omeka.org.

Omeka is meant to be easy to use and simple to upkeep, especially for those with limited technological know-how (e.g., me).  So, with some persistent encouragement from Katie Pierce Mayer, UT eventually decided to install Omeka as a platform for the UT Libraries to upload digital collections and exhibits.  So only our three exhibits, and one about South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books, are available via Omeka.  There are various reasons Omeka has not gained traction: it is necessary to first have a digital collection about which to build an exhibit which takes a great deal of time, it has been time consuming to try to coordinate with the UT Data Asset Management System (DAM) to develop a metadata standard, and, simply, Omeka is not perfect.

Omeka's Exhibit Builder from the Administrator view.
Omeka’s Exhibit Builder from the Administrator view.

Where other exhibit builders (such as Scalar) are more image-focused, Omeka is quite metadata-heavy.  This is evident in the limited theme options (basically, themes are the design layout, or style, of the exhibit) currently available on UT’s Omeka, which tend to be text-based with smaller images.  Hopefully, as more institutions digitize items and see the existing exhibits on Omeka, the site will grow in popularity as a platform for UT’s Libraries to share more of their unique collections.

The former UT Omeka homepage on Omeka.org.
The former UT Omeka homepage on Omeka.org.

In late December of 2017 to early January of 2018, all Omeka content was migrated from Omeka.org to Omeka.net.  What the Libraries and the IT team decided to do was host content via Omeka servers rather than host it themselves.  This created the opportunity for each institution to have their own independent Omeka site that they control.  When we worked in Omeka.org (the homepage of which is pictured below), everything was in the same bucket, so to speak.  At that point, two of our exhibits were completed, and the Architecture Library and the South Asian Pop Culture Collection were the primary users of Omeka.  Now, the South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books has its own site, and we have our own website now (which you can see here: http://utlibrariesarchitecture.omeka.net/) that we can customize to fit our needs as an institution.  The site is still a work in progress, as we are working on adding more content, but we now have three exhibits (all discussed thoroughly below) publicly available for everyone to enjoy and explore!

Battle Hall at 100: Our Landmark Library

Pros: Learned how to import items one at a time

Cons: Took three to four months to complete, took a while to standardize metadata (had to go back and change early entries), and there was a lot of trial and error (in both uploading items and in building the exhibit and making it look well-done)

Theme: Thanks, Roy (the fullsize image display is rather small, as are the thumbnails, menus are confusing because Omeka menu is on left and exhibit menu is on right of the text, and the metadata page is text-heavy with a thumbnail image at the very bottom, nice galleries of images, though)

Our Landmark Library Exhibit as built in Omeka.
Our Landmark Library Exhibit built in Omeka in 2017, migrated from Drupal 6.

The first of the three exhibits I migrated was Our Landmark Library: Battle Hall at 100.  This one was migrated “by hand,” if you will, meaning I moved each item individually, entering in the metadata and adding the image files myself.  The main takeaway?  This method of importing items is slow.  Containing approximately 140 items, there was a lot of trial and error (mainly human error) in migrating Our Landmark Library.  Namely, it took time to find the best standard  for the metadata, because I wanted to be sure to include all the information included in the old exhibit on Drupal.  Eventually, I found a standard, wrote it down, and followed it for the remainder of the items, before going back and changing the ones I had already uploaded.  So uploading the items was the first phase of this project.  The second phase was reconstructing the exhibit in Omeka.  I

The Battle Hall at 100 Exhibit as built in Drupal 6 on our legacy site.
The Battle Hall at 100 Exhibit as built in Drupal 6 on our legacy site.

wanted to maintain the original order of the exhibit, which was simple enough.  The hardest part of building the exhibit was putting together the galleries, which were pretty big in this exhibit.  Formatting the exhibit to have a nice flow to it (no big gaps or spaces between what are called “blocks” on Omeka, a means of separating and formatting parts of a page), keeping the images in the correct order, and writing captions for each image was not challenging so much as time-consuming.  Even though this exhibit took a long time to complete because of the method of uploading each image myself, I am glad I had the experience.  I became intimately familiar with how Omeka works, and the rhythm you can get into when uploading every item and formatting an exhibit.  I definitely have a great appreciation for how long building a digital collection can take.  I did not have to digitize any of the items or create original content for the exhibit, but it still took a long time to move everything.  If it took three, almost four, months for me to migrate an exhibit of only 140 items, I can only imagine how long it would take for large collections. for the metadata, because I wanted to be sure to include all the information included in the old exhibit on Drupal.  Eventually, I found a standard, wrote it down, and followed it for the remainder of the items, before going back and changing the ones I had already uploaded.  So uploading the items was the first phase of this project.  The second phase was reconstructing the exhibit in Omeka.  I wanted to maintain the original order of the exhibit, which was simple enough.  The hardest

The new exhibit on Omeka!
An example of a gallery built in Omeka!

part of building the exhibit was putting together the galleries, which were pretty big in this exhibit.  Formatting the exhibit to have a nice flow to it (no big gaps or spaces between what are called “blocks” on Omeka, a means of separating and formatting parts of a page), keeping the images in the correct order, and writing captions for each image was not challenging so much as time-consuming.  Even though this exhibit took a long time to complete because of the method of uploading each image myself, I am glad I had the experience.  I became intimately familiar with how Omeka works, and the rhythm you can get into when uploading every item and formatting an exhibit.  I definitely have a great appreciation for how long building a digital collection can take.  I did not have to digitize any of the items or create original content for the exhibit, but it still took a long time to move everything.  If it took three, almost four, months for me to migrate an exhibit of only 140 items, I can only imagine how long it would take for large collections.

Their Maya Story: George and Gerrie Andrews

Pros: Quick with CSV import, less trial and error, building the exhibit only took two days; Easy metadata standardization when done in Excel ahead of time

Cons: Figuring out the CSV import (must be done very quickly or it has to be started all over again); Mapping elements (sometimes difficult to match column headings with element names for DublinCore metadata)

Theme: Neatscape (nice display of the images,  and large, easy-to-read text, the menu at the bottom is the only downside, only available in Omeka.org); Big Picture (current display in Omeka.net, large image display, allows easy navigation between items in galleries and between pages in the exhibit)

Their Maya Story Exhibit on Omeka.
Their Maya Story Exhibit on Omeka.

After (finally) finishing the Battle Hall at 100 exhibit, I moved on to the George and Gerrie Andrews exhibit, Their Maya Story.  This exhibit Katie Pierce Meyer and I imported into Omeka via a CSV (Comma Separated Value) file that had been generously created for us.  When importing a CSV file, you choose “elements” of metadata that align with the columns in the file (e.g. the “Title” column matches to the “Title” element in Dublin Core, or the “Geographical Location” column might match to the “Spatial Location” element); it is important to note that not all column headings have a corresponding element to match to, so it helps think about this somewhat beforehand.  After a mishap during which Katie and I took too long matching columns to elements, we successfully uploaded all 116 items to Omeka in less than two minutes, complete with metadata and attached image files.  I then began to build the exhibit in Omeka.  I again wanted to be faithful to the original exhibit.  I wanted to try a different theme this time, so I chose the theme called “Neatscape,” which does not permit any customization or changes to the display the way some other themes do.   The only

The original Their Maya Story Exhibit in Drupal 6.
The original Their Maya Story Exhibit in Drupal 6.

problem I have with Neatscape as a theme is that the menu for the exhibit is at the very bottom of the page, so you have to scroll through the whole page in order to reach the menu.  One of the perks of Omeka is that it allows users to change themes without changing the content or layout of the

Metadata display in Drupal 6.
Metadata display in Drupal 6.

existing content of the exhibit.  We decided to go with Neatscape so that we have an example of what it looks like as an exhibit, though we may change it in the future if we find a theme that works well for our content.  A major asset of Neatscape is that the metadata pages for individual items does include a small thumbnail immediately to the right at the top of the page, meaning that (unlike in the Thanks, Roy theme in the Battle Hall at 100 exhibit) users do not have to scroll all the way down the page to see only a small thumbnail image that, when clicked on, then leads to a larger image.  Building the exhibit was much the same as before, only this took merely two days, between using the CSV import and having had the experience of building an exhibit.  It is amazing how much time the CSV import cut out, so I definitely learned that it is necessary to have all the metadata standardized in a CSV file in order to make the process much easier and more enjoyable.

The image and metadata display in the Big Picture Theme used for the Andrews Exhibit.
The image and metadata display in the Big Picture Theme used for the Andrews Exhibit.

After the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, the Neatscape theme was no longer an option, so I chose to use the Big Picture theme, which emphasizes images.  The thumbnails for the galleries are large, and the images displayed when a user clicks on an item is larger than any of the other themes.  We still have not figured out how to add zoom functionality to our exhibits.  That is a task that the Library’s new Digital Initiatives GRA, Zach, is going to be working on in the coming months.  So the Andrews exhibit required a little bit of tweaking after the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, but we wound up with a better outcome because of it.  The Big Picture theme is currently my favorite among the three I have tried so far because of the large image display, which is preferable for some of the items we might include in future digitization efforts.

Eugene George

Pros: More theme options because of the move to Omeka.net, quick because of CSV import, nice to have the exhibit ready to go whenever the CSV file was done so that all that remained was to add images and galleries; took only one day to complete the exhibit

Cons: Harder to build an exhibit without the images ready to go in, quite a bit of wait time due to the migration of all Omeka content from UT’s servers to Omeka.net

Theme: The Daily (there is a nice menu that scrolls down alongside the content to navigate between pages, large text, large image display)

Eugene George Exhibit built in Omeka in 2018.
Eugene George Exhibit built in Omeka in 2018.

This exhibit about Eugene George was done in a slightly different order from the others: instead of importing the items and then building the exhibit, I built the exhibit first since our CSV file was not ready to import.  So I copied over all the text from the exhibit, and created blocks of text and galleries to mimic the original order of the exhibit.  We had to wait on the CSV import until after the migration from Omeka.org to Omeka.net, which took longer than expected, but in early February, we received the go-ahead to import items into the new site.  Katie, Zach, and I sat together and worked on standardizing the metadata in the CSV file before importing it into Omeka, which mostly consists of renaming columns and copying

The original Eugene George Exhibit built in Drupal 6.
The original Eugene George Exhibit built in Drupal 6.

over the desired metadata content.  After several failed attempts at importing the CSV file, we realized that because our website is now a legacy site (http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/apl) that the links included to connect the JPEG images with their respective metadata would not work.  So, we changed those links to include “legacy” before the link, and

Metadata display in the Eugene George Exhibit, which used the theme The Daily.
Metadata display in the Eugene George Exhibit, which used the theme The Daily.

the CSV import worked perfectly!  With those items now in Omeka.net, I was able to add them into the pre-built exhibit.  I then went back and made sure that the galleries and text looked nice, made the necessary edits, and the exhibit was ready to go!  For this one, I chose The Daily as the theme.  Overall, the theme looks nice, with large text, large image display within the exhibit.  The menu that scrolls along beside the content allows for quick and easy navigation among the pages of the exhibit.  The pages where item metadata is displayed are less text-heavy than in the Thanks, Roy theme used for the Battle Hall exhibit (and feature the image at the top of the page instead of a thumbnail at the bottom), but the image displayed is not as large as that in the Andrews exhibit.

By the time I built the Eugene George exhibit, I had a far greater understanding of how Omeka works and how long it might take.  With the CSV import and the exhibit pre-built, this exhibit took only one day to complete.  This means that just one day of intensive work is needed to build an exhibit when the CSV import is used to add the items, versus nearly four months doing an item-by-item import for the Battle Hall exhibit.  It is easier to build the exhibit as you go, as I did with the Andrews exhibit, rather than having it already built.  I found it far easier to make changes as I went along building the Andrews exhibit than to have to go back afterwards as I did with Eugene George.

Conclusion

In spite of my limited technological expertise and lack of knowledge about Omeka, I found the platform very easy to use.  Exhibits and importing items (whether individually or via CSV file) takes time and patience.  For collections less than 50 items, importing items one-by-one is fine, but for larger collections, the CSV import saves a great deal of time.  It is intensive to create a CSV file with all the pertinent metadata, but it is preferable to having to individually import 200 items and type in metadata for each.  With a CSV file, the standardization is done before the items ever make it into Omeka.

In terms of Omeka.org versus Omeka.net, in terms of the Administrator side of things, not much has changed.  However, it is nice to have our own site to manage and customize.  Since the change to Omeka.net, we have been able to play with the website and are working toward making it exactly what we want.  It is still a work in progress, but it looks pretty sharp!  The ability to manage our own content, look, and navigation is something we never could have achieved through Omeka.org.  Once the Libraries adds links to the UT Libraries website to reach all of the Omeka sites (the South Asian Popular and Pulp Fiction Books site, the Benson’s site), it will allow users to easily access the incredible digital collections that are forming on Omeka.  Additionally, Omeka.net provides more options in terms of themes than Omeka.org.  Though some do not translate between the two, the increased options have allowed us to try different themes for each exhibit to see what is the best display and format for Architectural exhibits.  Hopefully Zach or someone with more technical coding expertise can find a way to add zoom functionality to our images, something that will increase the usability of our items.

The new Architecture Exhibits site on Omeka!
The new Architecture Exhibits site on Omeka!

Overall, working with Omeka was an enriching experience for me.  Coming from a library/archives background, getting to do a project like this was incredibly rewarding.  With a free platform like Omeka, anything is possible.  Even a relative luddite like myself can use it to build digital collections.  For the most part, I am handing off the reigns of digital projects to Zach, but I’m proud of the work I have done on these three collections.  They are not perfect, but I learned so much about building digital collections from the experience of migrating this content.  And currently the Architecture and Planning Library is paving the way for other UT institutions in using Omeka as an exhibit platform, about which we are extremely excited.  Please explore our Omeka site and enjoy the exhibits as much as I enjoyed building  them!  Signing off for now, your Friendly Neighborhood Omeka Semi-Guru.

Friday Finds: The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement - CoverGillian Naylor’s 1971 book The Arts and Crafts Movement: A Study of Its Sources, Ideals and Influence on Design Theory explores theory and purposes of the Arts and Crafts movement.  According to Naylor, “its motivations were social and moral, and its aesthetic values derived from the conviction that society produces the art and architecture it deserves” (pg. 7).  This is, in part, what Naylor seeks to understand.  By placing the Arts and Crafts movement in its historical context, as well as demonstrating how the movement fits in the larger field of design.

Starting from Britain and moving into other European countries and the United States, the Arts and Crafts movement had a profound influence on design.  The movement encouraged the consideration of society in design, as architecture and popular designs are the product of the society in which they are created.  Also, one aspect of the movement encouraged the making of products by hand, rather than by machine.  This was most particular to Britain, where there “was the conviction that industrialization had brought with the total destruction of ‘purpose, sense and life'” (pg. 8).   So the encouragement of handmade products became a major aspect of the Arts and Crafts Movement.  Taking the reader through the history of the movement, and even the figures and events which led to the movement, from Pugin and Ruskin to William Morris to the guilds, so that Naylor concurrently provides a history of design.  She explores design and the changes in trends through the designs and lives of the major figures who made the Arts and Crafts Movement possible.

In fact, The Arts and Crafts Movement is considered one of the early seminal texts  on the history of design.  Published in 1971, the book was written in the midst of a challenging time in Naylor’s career, as she sought to shift from writing popular magazine articles to more scholarly endeavors.  Naylor became one of the first female writers at Design magazine in 1957, run by the Council for Industrial Design (COID).  As such, such was assigned pieces related to “women’s interests.”  Through this position and the pieces she wrote for Design, Naylor gained expertise in the field of design and design history.  After giving birth to her son (having a child, her contract with Design dictated, meant she had to resign her position), she did some freelance writing for Design, but ultimately focused on writing scholarly works on the history of design and architecture, eventually becoming a professor of the subject.  At a time when women were still forced to leave their jobs after becoming mothers, Naylor managed to continue to pursue her passion for design history and become one of the foremost experts on the topic, writing several texts which remain some of the most influential in the field of design, including The Arts and Crafts Movement (Pavitt, Jane. “Gillian Naylor (1931-2014).” Journal of Design History, Volume 27, Issue 2.  2014.).

Arguably, the life of Gillian Naylor was just as fascinating and important as the book she wrote is influential.  Not only did she write one of the defining texts of design history, but she also wrote two major books about the Bauhaus (The Bauhaus in 1968 and The Bauhaus Reassessed in 1985).  Naylor serves as a reminder of the many challenges and hurdles women faced in building careers as recently as the 1960s.  She was relegated to “women’s topics” as a writer at Design and yet went on to become one of the most respected scholars on design history in Britain.  A member of a panel which awarded Naylor an honorary doctorate in 1987 noted that, “‘If Sir Nikolaus Pevsner is the father of design history, then Gillian Naylor is its favorite aunt.'”  Examining the career of Gillian Naylor, though, it is clear that she is far more than a favorite aunt of design history.  As an art historian, especially of architecture, Sir Nikolaus The Arts and Crafts MovementPevsner is a critical figure in developing the line of scholarship through which the history of architecture and design is viewed.  But, Sir Nikolaus had little to do with design history, specifically; he certainly does not deserve the label of “father.”  In truth, Naylor is more the mother of the history of design than anything else, and displayed a true and rare passion for the subject.  It would have been easier for her to find another job with a magazine that did not require her to resign once she became a mother, but instead she chose to continue writing about design history.  That kind of love for the history of design and perseverance through challenges warrants a far higher honor than the label as the “favorite aunt” would suggest.

Friday Finds: The Romance of London

Romance of London CoverGordon Home’s The Romance of London highlights “how many of these architectural links with the centuries long past still exist in London” in hopes of encouraging citizens to care about the futures of these historic places (pg. 2).   Published in 1910, The Romance of London includes illustrations of the iconic buildings around London and seeks to tell the story of the city through these buildings.

Home explores early London (namely as it was under the Romans and the Saxons), the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Guildhall, and other landmarks.  The chapters on each structure are short histories that help to contextualize the buildings, though Home includes little about their contemporary (in 1910) uses. In the case of the Tower of London, one of the most famous buildings in the city, there is only a brief mention at the end of the chapter of how the building has served many purposes, as a “castle, a royal palace, and a prison, and is now an arsenal and one of the most popular show-places in London” (pg. 17).  Home spends a great deal of time exploring London’s churches, including Westminster Abbey (which constitutes the longest chapter in the book), St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the chapter on “Some Old London Churches.”  Together, the three emphasize the role of the Church, both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, in London’s history.  As the center of politics in England, London was also the seat of power for religious figures in the nation.  Home discusses the construction of Westminster, particularly; with its Gothic architecture and long history, Westminster remains the most prominent church in the city, host to the coronation of every monarch since 1066, royal weddings, and other major British events.  Where Westminster Abbey is distinctly Gothic, St. Paul’s Cathedral is Roman and Corinthian in style, though the original St. Paul’s (destroyed in the fire of 1666) was also Gothic.  The new St. Paul’s contains elements of Gothic and Roman architecture, thereby paying homage to England’s history as a Roman occupied territory and the popularity and frequency of Gothic architecture in England.  The golden dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral remains an iconic part of London’s skyline as a representation of a blend of much of England’s past.

When the book was published in 1910, England had just come through a major constitutional crisis, leading to a sudden general election early in the year.  There was a desire to restore regular order to the nation, and London most particularly, as the seat of government.  After such a tumultuous moment in Britain’s history, it is understandable that Home would wish to look back on the monuments to British greatness in one of the world’s most splendid cities.  And yet this ignores the majority of Londoners’ experience.  Most of the city’s inhabitants did not enjoy the benefits of London’s palaces, or have the privilege of moving among the most elite of British society who would have been at Westminster Abbey for the  coronation of a new monarch.  In truth, many of London’s citizens lived a very different life from the world portrayed by Home; there were no castles or royal jewels or grand Elizabethan Halls in their lives.  To them, London was teeming with carts and carriages, grime, and suffragette protests, a social context which is ignored in The Romance of London.  Much of what Home espouses as London was inaccessible to the average citizen in the city.Romance of London Page

The Romance of London portrays only specific parts of the history of the city.   Home is true to the title of his book: it is little more than a romanticized history of London and its buildings.  London is undoubtedly a romantic city, full of cobblestone streets, stone buildings, and tributes to the grandness of the British.  Humans have a tendency to record in history that which is favorable to themselves, often to the detriment of the average person.  Those ordinary stories, equally as valuable as those Home tells about Kings and Templars and religious leaders, are hidden or ignored.  This is not at all unusual, but nonetheless lamentable.  London’s history is partially written in its famous buildings, and though Home briefly mentions the Italian and English workers who built Westminster Abbey, they possess rich stories of their own that are not told.  Likely, those stories are lost forever, and the architectural history of these buildings is the poorer for it.  For all the wealth of Britain’s social elite and the richness of London’s past, Home’s telling of its history ignores the average Londoner, whose experience of London was not the romantic, idealized version of he portrays.

Friday Finds: War Memorials

War MemorialsPublished in 1946, Arnold Whittick’s War Memorials  explores War Memorials around the world, both ancient and new.  Only a year after the end of World War II, Whittick’s book is timely and explores a relevant

Whittick examines locations, dedications, sentiments, and materials appropriate for war memorials.  Particularly interesting are his chapters on the spirit and convincing expression of memorials.  Whittick notes, “the principal purpose of a memorial is to stir remembrance…with a particular sentiment…it is important, therefore, to determine clearly what sentiment it is desired to express” (pg. 6).  What follows is a list of the kinds of sentiments memorials create: “the memorial which expresses mainly death, sorrow, and mourning,; the memorial which expresses religious belief…; the memorial which expresses mainly triumph and victory; and the memorial which expresses mainly the spirit of life” (pg. 6). Whittick then provides a detailed description with examples of such memorials.  In this sense, the book is highly formulaic, introducing the subject of each chapter briefly before laying out the types of memorials and the expected details of each.  There are specific instructions about choosing locations and materials, even which materials Whittick deems most appropriate for war memorials based on his study of existing ones.  Whittick clearly did tedious, exhaustive research on his subject in order to write War Memorials in a way that makes it a true guidepost for building a meaningful memorial.

War Memorials is noticeably devoid of emotion.  Whittick brings a logical and distant tone to a highly emotional subject. Memorials are intended to elicit emotional or sentimental responses, to remind the living of what happened in a particular place.  There is something to be said for this tone: it provides clear direction on how to create a meaningful, appropriate war memorial, something hard to achieve when emotions play too big a part. Whittick also mentions numerous exemplary memorials, even pictures of them.  As a manual for designing a war memorial, War Memorials effective exactly because of its tone.  But for the reader expecting a sentimental examination of memorials, Whittick’s approach is a surprise.  Yet the time of publication could be partially responsible for this tone.  Published immediately following World War II, there were many countries facing decisions about how to memorialize the war and those who fought and died in it.  It could have been interesting, too, if Whittick had included something on appropriate memorials for such a horrific even as the Holocaust.  He distinguishes war memorials from other kinds of memorials (which would include memorials remembering genocide), and yet the Holocaust is inseparably tied into World War II, so it would have been a pertinent and important topic for him to discuss in the book.  What is the appropriate way, the best materials to memorialize a genocide? With time having passed, and powerful memorials having been built now, it is easier to imagine the answers, but only a year after World War II came to an end and the atrocities committed by the Nazis were still coming to light, it is understandable that Whittick would deem it beyond the scope of the book.

Overall, War Memorials is a guide for how to create a memorial. Whittick’s tone and attention to detail is what makes it a successful guide.  Looking through the photos included in the book of the memorials Whittick deems appropriate, the wide variety of styles, inscriptions, and materials becomes clear.  But of course, certain memorials stay with the beholder more than others.  Many are in the same style and materials and they are not memorable because of it.  At a certain point, the columns, the carvings, and the arches all begin to look the same, and they are less memorable for it.  For all the detail and complexity that Whittick suggests in a memorial, he ultimately promotes a status quo instead of thinking creatively.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., simply bears the names of the soldiers who died in the Vietnam War in black granite. It compellingly portrays the significance of what it memorializes, but with a simplicity that Whittick never recommends.  Albert Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  Memorials like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial point to the truth in Einstein’s quote: the memorial is simple, but if it were any simpler, the poignancy would be lost.  The list of names on the Vietnam Memorial is so simple, but extremely powerful.  Having the actual names of people who died in Vietnam etched into black granite permanently, where you can see the rows and rows of names, humanizes war in a way that most carvings or statues or arches cannot.  Now, in spite of Whittick’s research and directions, those individuals are going to be remembered forever in a memorial unadorned by anything but the names of their brothers in arms.

New Book: Resilience and Adaptability

Berger, Markus, and Liliane Wong, editors. Resilience and Adaptability. Vol. 5,  Rhode Island School of Design, 2014. Interventions/Adaptive Use.

In Volume 5, Resilience and Adaptability, of the periodical Interventions/Adaptive Use, published by the Rhode Island School of Design, editors Markus Berger and Liliane Wong bring together a series of essays suggesting “that from the perspective of design, resilience has to be a central concern of the future of material making but it can also open up more creative ways of thinking about world making” (pg. 4).  Because the natural world evolves so much, the editors argue, the built world must be resilient and adaptable to survive.

Featuring articles on a wide range of places and topics, Resilience and Adaptability pulls together somewhat disparate threads to create a cohesive compilation that argues for building long-lasting, sustainable structures.  For example, Iris Mach’s article “Japan’s Architectural Genome: Destruction as a Chance for Renewal” explores how “Japan has developed  a building culture that embraces, rather than shuns, decay and destruction as an integral part of its system” (pg. 26).  Additionally, Japan has always been open to adopting foreign expertise and technology into their own practices, meaning that the country consistently uses the most cutting-edge building technology.  Through this state of mind, Japan has become a fine example of the resilience and adaptability the editors argue for.  Another article, “Lessons From Queensland For Viable Futures” by Naomi Hay and Tony Fry, discusses how Australian architects are adapting buildings for a changing climate. With the weather in Queensland changing drastically in recent years due to climate change, architects and other design experts are “pre-empting and designing for future risk as an opportunity for redirective development strategy, as well as one that can build a culture of resilience and adaptability” (pg. 64).  Due to Queensland architects’ forward thinking, Queensland and Australia are beginning to think more long term about the effects of climate change and how to better plan for the dramatic weather changes to come.

“Japan’s Architectural Genome” and “Lessons From Queensland For Viable Futures” are just two of the articles in Resilience and Adaptability – there are numerous others that argue the importance of the two titular features in architecture and design.  The book as a whole creates a sense of urgency about looking more towards the future of building and potential future needs, and less about simply the needs of the present.  Resilience and Adaptability also makes an important point about the lack of permanency of architecture. Almost everything manmade will eventually crumble to dust, especially if what humans build is not meant to last for years or is not cared for.  With drastic changes coming in the Earth’s climate, and continuous new advancements in building technology and practices, it is more important than ever that architects look to the past, present, and future in their work.  Combining the history and examples of long-lasting structures, the needs of the present, and anticipating the needs of the future will allow architects and their buildings to be more resilient than ever.

New Book: Tastemaker

Penick, Monica. Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home. New Haven, Yale University Press, 2017.

TastemakerNew to the Library this week is Monica Penick’s new book, Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home.  Penick explores the impact of Elizabeth Gordon on the changing tastes and ideas in American design during the decades following World War II through her editorship of the monthly magazine House Beautiful.

Elizabeth Gordon gained fame (or infamy, depending on who you ask) with the publication of her 1953 editorial “The Threat to the Next America.”  A short piece, the essay exemplified the essence of the Cold War: Gordon accused major institutions of promoting “bad modern,” a “‘totalitarian’ design promoted as the International Style,” while Gordon herself pushed for “‘good modern’…a line of ‘home-grown,’ ‘democratic’ design called the American Style” (pg. 1). Even buildings could not escape the dichotomy shaping up between communism and democracy.  With these few pages, Gordon brought about “the ultimate architectural conflict of the decade” (pg. 1). What Penick does so successfully in this book is explore how Gordon used House Beautiful as almost a form of propaganda to advance her “American Style” and promote architects she felt embodied that style, such as Frank Lloyd Wright.   Gordon managed to tie the American Style to the nation’s fate.  Penick uncovers Gordon’s somewhat repressive childhood, her time at the University of Chicago, and her ambition, which led her to defy her family’s wishes and move to New York to become a reporter, believing it to be a career that would “constantly expand her knowledge, and that of others” (pg. 5).  Her doggedness and her passionate beliefs led her to become an unstoppable force in journalism when she started House Beautiful.  As editor, she carefully crafted a narrative and built alliances with architects like Frank Lloyd Wright to build the case for the American Style.

Elizabeth Gordon’s “The Threat to the Next America” essay remained controversial for years after its publication, so much so that it overshadowed her rather remarkable career and achievements.  In Tastemaker: Elizabeth Gordon, House Beautiful, and the Postwar American Home, Monica Penick recognizes these achievements.  Gordon’s strong-willed, dominating personality shines in the book, as well as her apt leadership of a major architectural and design magazine, House Beautiful.  For decades, Elizabeth Gordon has been remembered as the woman who ignited a vicious debate over the future of the American home and the role of architecture in ensuring American dominance in the Cold War. This earned her both severe criticism and adulation.  But Penick’s book restores personality and humanity to Gordon, demonstrating the depth and contributions of a woman who has long been reduced to the words she once wrote on a few pages of paper.

Come by the Library to see what else is new this week!

New Book: Garden Legacy

Christovich, Mary Louise Mossy, and Roulhac Bunkley Toledano. Garden Legacy. New Orleans, The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2016.

Garden Legacy - CoverMary Louise Mossy Christovich and Roulhac Bunkley Toledano explore New Orleans’ French gardens in Garden Legacy. Christovich and Toledano discuss “the history of settlement, battles with the natural world, plant exchanges, politics, [and] economics…all [of which are]…pertinent to understanding a forgotten world of New Orleans gardens and landscape design” (pg. 8).  Making use of archival drawings and other primary sources, the authors discover and embrace the essential Frenchness of New Orleans culture and the importance of gardens in the city’s history.

Garden Legacy uses records and documents in The Historic New Orleans Collection to piece together the gardens around New Orleans and provide detailed descriptions.  Christovich and Toledano use specific mansions, properties, and plantations as examples that together illuminate what these gardens would have looked like.  For example, in the case of the Lombard Plantation, a drawing by Joseph Antoine Pueyo, a well-known artist, “captured the essence of a petit early nineteenth-century French landscape” through his drawing of the Lombard plantation (pg. 141).  In the drawing are fruit trees, crepe myrtles, evergreens, and unknown flowers that are visible in many drawings of the era and seem to be typical of French gardens.  In the architectural plans, the gardens are not visible, so the authors used the drawings to create a fuller image of the Lombard Plantation.  The property is still in existence and has gone through a major restoration to preserve the house and to recreate the gardens as best as possible.  These gardens were meant display the wealth of the plantation owners, much like the home they built, and to represent their French roots.  Additionally, the the garden featured berry bushes, sixteen different kinds, in fact.  There were “citrus and pomegranates…, muscadine grapes, along with raspberries and blackberries…in front of the kitchen house,” providing easy access (pg. 141).  Every example in Garden Legacy, of which there are many, features similar fascinating information about properties in and around New Orleans.

Christovich and Toledano have successfully made a strong case for the importance of French gardens in early New Orleans.  Garden Legacy is truly exemplary historical work because of the authors’ significant efforts in carefully researching the gardens, sometimes having to use numerous sources to recreate gardens in a meaningful way.  The French remain well-known for their gardens – the gardens at Versailles are a major attraction when tourists visit the palace – but New Orleans, despite its French roots, is not associated in any way with beautiful gardens.  Garden Legacy changes that.  While New Orleans is today a city filled with diverse influences and a great deal of cultural mixing, early New Orleans was distinctly French.  These gardens demonstrate how some aspects of French influence were retained while others, such as the gardens, were quickly forgotten. As one of the most famous and important cities in the American South, New Orleans is a city of music, food, tradition, and culture. Christovich and Toledano have recovered an essential part of its early French culture by examining the city’s lost French gardens, capturing the essential Frenchness of a city of many cultures.

Friday Finds: Glimpses of California and The Missions

Glimpses of California - CoverGlimpses of California & The Missions by Helen Hunt Jackson, published originally in 1883, explores the California Mission system, paying particular attention to the history and current status of Native Americans in the Missions, and contemporary life in the state. Jackson provides a thorough recounting of the history of the Missions mixed with the stories and conversations she heard along her journey through California.

Jackson focuses on Father Junipero Serra, the condition of Mission Indians, Los Angeles, outdoor industries, and includes a short chapter on her visit to Oregon.  Throughout Glimpses of California & The Missions are drawings by Henry Sandham, which portray the scenery and the people they came across, as well as historical figures like Father Junipero.  Jackson devotes a great deal of the book to describing the unfair and, she argues, illegal treatment of Native Americans, especially in regards to the ownership of their land.  She describes one case where Temecula Indians were anxious “as to the title to their lands…all that was in existence to show that they had any was the protecting clause in an old Mexican grant” (pg. 116).  After years of uncertainty and arguments, the case went to court.  The Temecula “appealed to the Catholic bishop to help them…but the scheme had been too skillfully plotted” (pg. 116).  When the Sheriffs arrived to forcibly remove the Indians from the land, Jackson notes that “the Indians’ first impulse was as determined as it could have been if they had been white, to resist the outrage,” but that this was an unacceptable response and would likely lead to violence (pg. 119).  So, the Temecula did not resist, but instead staged a sit-in of sorts: they refused to resist the Sheriff, but also refused to help them.  Interestingly, Jackson openly delineates the racial prejudice involved in this treatment, a fact which was widely known but rarely acknowledged.  In sum, Glimpses of California & The Missions provides valuable insight into the state of California and its history, with Jackson additionally using the book to advocate for Native Americans.

Just as notable as the book itself is Glimpses of California - Imagethe life of its author, Helen Hunt Jackson.  A well-known author of the Nineteenth Century, Jackson’s most famous work remains her novel, Ramona, a fictionalized telling of Native American life in the 1800s, focusing on United States government’s poor treatment of Native Americans and the racial prejudice faced by mixed race individuals.  Jackson also wrote A Century of Dishonor, a carefully researched book which revealed how the federal government reneged on treaties and promises made with tribes.  She became a leading advocate for better treatment of Native Americans, and was even hired by the Interior Department to visit Missions in California and write a report on the conditions of the “Mission Indians” who lived there, a trip which inspired Glimpses of California & The Missions.  This book was written somewhat concurrently with Ramona and the two books make similar arguments about the poor treatment of Native Americans, but are entirely different genres.  Yet Ramona was far more widely read than Glimpses of California & The Missions, and the novel has drawn comparisons with Harriet Beacher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin for its use of fiction to portray harsh realities and unveil injustices.

In essence, Glimpses of California & The Missions is a scholarly attempt, through some primary sources, some oral histories, and Jackson’s own eyewitness account, to draw attention to the treatment of Native Americans. But where Glimpses of California failed to capture the public’s attention, Ramona succeeded beyond even Jackson’s expectations: there have been more than 300 printings since the book’s original publication in 1884, and five feature film adaptations.  Embedded within Ramona‘s pages, amongst the romance and tragedy of its eponymous heroine’s story is Jackson’s political, radical (for the time) message.  Although racism remains a persistent problem to this day on many Native American reservations, Jackson singlehandedly revealed the dishonorable conduct of the federal government towards Native Americans, creating an outrage that forced the government to change its practices.  Jackson, Glimpses of California & The MissionsRamona, and A Century of Dishonor provide an important lesson in activism and demonstrate the power of books in enacting change.  Activists (primarily men, it is important to note) had tried for years to draw attention to the struggles of Native Americans across the country, but ultimately, it was Helen Hunt Jackson and her pen that held the United States government to task and began a process towards justice.

New Book: Gentrifier

Schlichtman, John Joe, et al. Gentrifier. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2017.

GentrifierJohn Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch, and Marc Lamont Hill’s book, Gentrifier, explores the complex issue of gentrification from the perspective of the “gentrifier.”  The authors identify themselves as gentrifiers, “middle-class people who moved into disinvested neighborhoods in a period during which a critical mass of other middle-class people did the same, thereby exerting economic, political, and social pressures upon the existing community” (pg. 4).

The personal narratives of the authors adds greatly to the effectiveness of the book.  Schlichtman, Patch, and Hill seek to understand the underlying causes behind gentrification, finding race, economic disparity, and overall cultural tensions to be dominating factors.  And though they provide no long-term solutions, they do “illuminate the place we strongly believe it must begin” (pg. 202).  They acknowledge the complexity of gentrification and its factors, but advocate a simple start to a solution: engagement and cross-cultural interaction.   Coming from the perspective of those who have moved en masse to up-and-coming neighborhoods, Schlichtman, Patch, and Hill sympathize with the “discontent” of those whose neighborhoods have been “invaded” by people like the authors (pg. 108).  Overall, Gentrifiers provides fascinating insights into gentrification from all perspectives, as well as identifying several important causes, if no solutions.  It succeeds in making the reader thinking about the issue more deeply, and the engagement they strongly advocate is certainly an excellent beginning step in finding a solution.

Recently, “gentrification” has become something of a cultural and political buzzword.  Politicians, architects, builders, city planners, and communities use it to oversimplify a complicated issue with matters of race, gender, and economic inequality at play, to only scratch the surface.  “Revitalization” is another common buzzword.  It is exciting when a neighborhood is “revitalized,” because it means better homes, better schools, better investment in the area as a whole.  But “revitalization” is arguably just a synonym for “gentrification,” just with a positive spin that avoids that dreaded g-word.  Revitalization is defined as “the action of imbuing something with new life and vitality” (according to Google Dictionary).  This implies that the life and vitality before was inconsequential.  And therein is the rub: how can you claim to care about a community while pushing out its residents?  Why does revitalizing a community have to mean bringing in a new, richer, and (most likely) whiter community instead of catering to the existing community?  For example, in Memphis, Tennessee, an old art deco Sears Crosstown building has sat empty for decades after numerous businesses tried to do something with the massive building.  Finally, it was purchased by developers who wished to see the building in use again.  Over the course of the project, the developers have remained aware of the looming danger of gentrification of the Crosstown neighborhood surrounding the building, especially after watching the process occur in the nearby Cooper Young District of the city.  Still, despite all this awareness, the cost of living (especially the price of homes) in the Crosstown area have risen, and the Sears building is not even open.  The process of gentrification has begun, though it is not as pervasive as what was seen in the Cooper Young project – yet.

Such failed or failing instances raise questions about the probability of revitalization without gentrification.  Gentrifier adds to this narrative with a surprisingly optimistic thesis and an important perspective that leaves the reader cautiously hopeful, because they better understand the complexity of the underlying causes of gentrification and the difficulty of finding solutions.  Still, come August 19, 2017, Sears Crosstown, now known as Crosstown Concourse, will be bustling with Memphians eating MemPops popsicles, drinking craft beer, and shopping at the numerous businesses in the gigantic renovated atrium.  Down the block from Crosstown, other Memphians will be packing up the house they have called home for 30 years, because the building down the street (which had sat empty longer than they had lived there) has made it impossible to stay.

Friday Finds: Founders and Frontiersmen

Robert G. Ferris’ 1967 book Founders and Frontiersmen: Historic Places Commemorating Early Nationhood and the Westward Movement, 1783-1828 explores the early years of the United States, providing a history and analysis of how more can Founders and Frontiersmenbe learned about the men and the nation from the architecture.  Ferris seeks to provide a survey of historic sites in the U.S., and hopes “that citizens will use the volumes in this series to seek out and visit sites of interest to them” in order to help encourage preservation (Pg. xii).

Ferris begins the book by providing historical context to better understand the sites he uses as examples in the second part of the book.  The historical overview is crucial for making readers understand why the sites Ferris discusses are important and worthy of preservation.  The vast majority of the book is spent on the sites themselves, with some attention to what is learned from each one and how it contributes to American history, as in the case of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in Maryland.  Ferris gives a broad and short description of the history, as well as explaining the park itself and the surrounding area.  Interestingly, Ferris leaves out some important elements from the story of Harpers Ferry: he denounces John Brown as only a man “who conceived himself as an instrument of providence…[and] led a violent raid on the town that helped goad the Nation closer to civil war” (Pg. 162).  While what Ferris said isn’t untrue, it leaves out important parts of the story.  John Brown did believe he was given divine permission to murder, specifically he believed it was time to bring the struggles over slavery to a head. Brown was, in fact, a fierce abolitionist who then turned to murder to try to achieve his goals.  There are some instances like this throughout Founders and Frontiersmen, where Ferris provides his own interpretation without presenting the full story.  This is less surprising, especially in the case of Harpers Ferry, when considering the book was published at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and fear of similar violence over race reached a zenith.  But overall, Ferris’ overviews are useful and provide that information which best adds to his argument for preservation.

Founders and Frontiersmen makes a compelling argument for the importance of these historic places, and thereby argues effectively for their continued preservation.  Ferris provides a fantastic overview, showing that the early United States was chaotic – a young nation finding its way in an experimental form of government, freshly broken away from the superpower of the day.  Many colonists fought for independence and the promise of a greater destiny in the American Revolution.  Ferris explains how that destiny then translated into the idea of Manifest Destiny: the notion that the United States was meant to expand westward.  But despite all this spirit and belief in American greatness, some of the architecture, particularly that of the capital city, is inspired by foreign buildings, a fact which Ferris hints at but never fully states. Greek elements are clear in the Capitol building, as well as in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  Yet there are uniquely American elements to each building, too.  The octagonal shape of Monticello  is distinctive and representative of Jefferson’s own tastes.  How did Americans go about adapting and developing their own architectural styles? Did the idea of Manifest Destiny aid in this? What role did climate, materials, and social needs play in developing frontier architecture?  Ferris never satisfactorily answers these questions, and he never fully admits that Americans have a habit of borrowing and building upon the work of others.  The idea of democracy itself was originally Greek, but the Founding Fathers adapted it to a new situation; the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution borrowed ideas from British philosophers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes.  But in spite of this, no one would say that the Constitution or the Declaration are anything but American documents.

In the popular musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton says at one point, “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot.”  Though Hamilton is a piece of historical fiction intended for Broadway, there is some truth to this statement. The Founding Fathers and the frontiersmen had to be, if not young, then at least “scrappy” and “hungry.”  These were men who took on the British army and (after many losses) won and then built a nation.  Frontiersmen faced harrowing experiences themselves while seeking to fulfill the idea of Manifest Destiny – starvation, an unyielding geography and climate, or Native Americans who were understandably mistrustful of Americans – yet they kept moving West until they hit the Pacific Ocean.  The early United States took elements of other nations’ architecture, culture, philosophy, and made it their own, so much so that now democracy, the Capitol, and the frontier house are strongly associated with the narrative of the United States. The Founding Fathers and the frontiersmen refused to throw away their shot: they adapted and created buildings, governments, and ways of thinking about American destiny that, though perhaps not entirely American in origin, are now closely intertwined with the American consciousness.  Today, Americans are known for their creativity, tenacity, and innovation, in part because of United States history and belief in itself; contemporary generations have shown themselves to be just as scrappy, just as hungry, and just as unwilling to throw away their shot at shaping the American narrative, landscape, and destiny as those who came before.