Author: Zachary Veith

A Tour of the Historic Wadsworth Homestead

Historical Homestead is an examination of the Wadsworth Homestead and its connection to larger historical contexts through the use of virtual reality technology.

Homepage:

The Samsung 360 camera is use at the Wadsworth Homestead’s Library

The opening page of the site presents a clear, organized format of pictures and text. The first thing one notices when visiting the site is the large circular pictures at the top. This was the original format the virtual reality “photos” came in, direct from the 360° camera’s two curved lenses. I thought this was both a beautiful picture of the inside of the Homestead, as well as a subtle introduction into the virtual reality (VR) process.

In the middle of the page, there is a block of text to provide context about the house and the Wadsworths to the viewer. This was taken from my essay on the house for my Museum Studies class. It introduces briefly the contents of the Homestead and why it is  significant. The ending paragraph is the thesis of the entire site, written below:

 

Through virtual representations of the objects and rooms of the Wadsworth 
Homestead, Historical Homestead aims to illustrate a larger connection between 
the Wadsworth family and Geneseo, American, and global history.

The navigation bar at the top of the homepage was customized for this site. I felt the Omeka terms “collection” and “item” were confusing to use for this project. The items I cataloged for this project were in two groups, “Rooms” (such as the library and the dining room) and “Object” (such as a portrait on the wall of the dining room or a book on the shelf in the library). However, objects and rooms were both technically classified as “items” in Omeka. I thought this would create confusion, since the objects were stored physically in rooms and “item” seems like an odd term for a room. To avoid this issue, I redirected the “Browse Items” and “Browse Objects” tabs towards a “Rooms” page and an “Objects” page, and renamed them accordingly, as you can see below.

The navigation bar for Historical Homestead, located at the top of each page.

This reclassification on the homepage I feel solves the confusion of labeling and provides easier navigation throughout the site.

 

Virtual Tour:

The Piano Room section of the Virtual Tour.

The second link on the navigation bar, “Virtual Tour,” is the heart and soul of the entire project. This is where the aim of the project, illustrating a connection between the Homestead and larger historical events, is presented. As a visitor scrolls down the page, they are taken through a virtual tour of a selection of rooms from the Homestead. The rooms were specifically chosen for their ability to illustrate larger contexts of history.The layout of each section consists of an introduction to the specific room, the VR video-frame, followed by a list of the objects cataloged from that room. Each object is accompanied by a brief description of their significance.

 

The VR video-frames are the most interesting part of the page. Hosted on YouTube, viewers can interact with the video and move the camera up, down, left, and right, as if they were looking around the actual room. Since they are hosted on YouTube, the video time will eventually run out. This is why I made them each one hour long, giving viewers plenty of time to explore without having to restart the video multiple times. The Piano Room’s VR is presented below as an example:

The blue shapes placed around the room are to highlight specific objects. I originally wanted clickable links embedded on the objects, instead of the shapes. Given the time frame of the project and our overall technological understanding, such a feature was out of the realm of possibility. Placing the shapes near the object instead, and using them to reference information below was the solution I felt was best. Each object’s description is accompanied with the link to its unique catalog page, where viewers can read more information about the piece. The brief description given on the Virtual Reality page is to illustrate the larger context in history between this object and the Wadsworths.

Overall, the Virtual Reality page came out wonderfully. There is an easy flow for users, as they scroll down through the rooms, or click to exterior links for more information. By the end of the tour, the reader will understand the larger connections between the Wadsworths and history.

 

Rooms and Objects:

Rooms section, listing the individual room pages.
Objects section, listing the individual object pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final sections of the website present a grouping of all the rooms and a separate grouping of all the objects. These pages serve as catalogs for the items, where viewers can click and read more information about a specific room or object on their specific page. Each room or object page is linked to in the Virtual Tour, but these separate pages listing the items allow for quicker access to more information about the specific item, without the hassle of searching through the Virtual Tour.

Overall:

Historical Homestead, through its simple VR program and site layout, conveys to readers my thesis in an easy to navigate digital world. This is how the project captures elements from both traditional humanities work and digital humanities. Presenting a thesis and supporting that claim through evidence is what traditional historians do. My presentation of the rooms and objects in a virtual environment, while utilizing exterior source links, is the newer digital aspect of humanities work. I think we reached the goal of presenting the Homestead in a thorough manner and illustrating the family’s connection to larger historical events from the foundation of the Genesee Valley Hunt to imperial Japan. This is a much better result than the initial project of simply a VR tour of the Homestead. Using the VR to illustrate the deeper history of the Wadsworth Homestead produced a much better and more engaging project.

Historical Homestead

As the homepage of my Omeka site states, the overall goal of Historical Homestead is to utilize “virtual representations of the objects and rooms of the Wadsworth Homestead” to ” illustrate a larger connection between the Wadsworth family and Geneseo, Livingston County, and American history.” By examining select rooms and objects within the estate, I hope to draw connections from the founding family of Geneseo to larger contexts in history.

Initially, I set out to simply create a virtual representation of the Wadsworth Homestead. I have been conducting research on the remarkable home for my ARTH 288 course, Introduction to Museum Studies, and wanted to do more with this piece. Inspired by the virtual tours I have seen on museum websites like the Frick Collection and the Uffizi Gallery, I wanted to explore this approach with the Homestead. In addition, I wanted to highlight certain objects of the Wadsworths to better tell their story. This is a common aspect in other virtual tours in museums, allowing visitors the opportunity to click and explore more about an object.

The Frick Collection’s virtual tour of the Library. Notice how the desk is highlighted, meaning there is additional information that the user can click on.

After talking with Kirk Anne, we determining that a project like this was possible, both in terms of the technology available and the time constraints. To create a virtual experience, a 360° camera would be necessary to capture the entire room. With those scenes captured, we could upload them and configure their layout to render as virtual rooms.

 

Designing the Site

Busy with weddings and other events, the earliest I was able to get the Homestead free of guests to begin photographing was November 1st. To be able to present something in class the week before, I began work on the Omeka site that is going to host the tour. I decided on an Omeka site, over a WordPress or other digital tools, because it is the best platform to design an exhibition about the rooms and present the 360° photos.

The navigation bar of the website, showing the specific sections on the rooms and objects.

At first, I only did some of the basics, like choose a cover photo and font colors. As I began thinking more about the project, I designed special sections of the website to give direct access to specific rooms or objects quicker. This way, if a viewer wanted to learn more about a specific room or object without having to go through the entire virtual tour, they could easily access everything in these two sections.

Recently, I began experimenting with the HTML of the homepage text, and was able to change several aspects of it successfully.

 

Developing a Theme

Will Wadsworth, current owner and 6th generation of Wadsworth to occupy the Homestead, gives a tour of his family’s home.
Courtesy of WadsworthHomestead.com

During our preliminary talks, Will Wadsworth expressed great interest in the project, with one reservation. The owner of the Homestead was worried that if a virtual tour of his home was published online for the public, tour groups would stop coming and the estate would lose a major source of revenue. I reassured him that nothing would be published publicly without his consent, and began research into the pros and cons of a virtual tour for museums.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find an abundance of literature about the issue. To remedy this situation, I decided to narrow the focus of the site as a means of solving this problem. As a result, the goal of the project has become to illustrate connections between the Wadsworths and larger contexts by highlighting certain rooms in the estate. Through this narrowed lens I am able to leaving other rooms private. So, instead of creating just a “virtual homestead” as initially thought, I would argue this point of a larger connection though highlighting three select rooms and objects. Thus, I can still create a virtual tour of part of the house without feeling like I left certain aspects out, and Will does not feel tours will stop just from this sneak preview of the home. This solution is sufficient to both better arguing my point, while keeping enough of the Homestead away from the public’s screens that there will be no loss of interest to visit.

 

Shooting Begins

On November 1st, Kirk and I met Will at the Homestead to begin photographing. Both Will and I were surprised as to how easy the camera, a Samsung Gear 360, was to use. I simply set it up on a tripod in the middle of a room, moved out of the way (usually behind a door or in another room), and triggered the camera remotely via Kirk’s phone. From his phone, the three of us were able to view the photos in real time, and get a sense of what they would look like rendered on the Omeka site.

The Samsung 360 camera in use at the Wadsworth Homestead’s Library

We photographed every room on the first and second floor, often multiple times and from various view points. By that afternoon, Kirk had uploaded the images and sent them to me for viewing. The photos, as of now, are rendered as these circular photos, resulting from the two lenses of the Samsung camera. Kirk is working now to “bend” them into rectangular panoramas, for better viewing on the Omeka site. This hopefully will be done by this week.

The piano room
The main foyer and grand staircase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional Humanities

Overall, I am pleased with how the project is coming along. The question still remains of whether we are going to put this site publicly on the web. Will Wadsworth wants to use these 360° photographs we have produced to show the estate to wedding planners and potential guests. Kirk Anne will be using these photographs as examples to put forth funding for anther 360° camera. So even if we never go public, I am glad that this project will be used by others outside of my specific aims for it. I wish that I had started photographing earlier, to leave myself more time to fully develop the Omeka site and everything, but I am not too worried. The next step, which is currently underway, is to decide what objects and rooms to highlight. I took note of important pieces, such as the Big Tree painting, a sculpture of Austin Wadsworth’s horse, Persian armor, and James Wadsworth’s Civil War sword, all of which are potential pieces I can use to present the Wadsworths in a wider context of history. Once the images are rendered as panoramas, and easier to view on the Omeka site, then final selections will be made.

Narrowing my focus, from a whole-house virtual experience to using a select number of rooms and objects to illustrate connections, has created a great project and connected my digital work with more traditional humanities work. Like a typical historical essay, I will be arguing a point using historical evidence and facts. The digital twist comes when the viewers of the site are able to interact with the house and historical objects that I use as evidence in my argument. Thus, I am performing traditional humanities work in a digital environment.

A Vision of Britain through Time

Overview:

A Vision of Britain through Time, a digital project based at the University of Portsmouth, aims to illustrate social and geographic changes in Britain’s counties over time by utilizing records and maps. To quote their official mission statement, the project “brings together historical surveys of Britain to create a record of how the country and its localities have changed.” A Vision of Britain was created by Humphrey Southall and the Great Britain Historical Geographical Information System.

Image result for university of portsmouth

Statistical Atlas:

A major aspect of A Vision of Britain is to demonstrate trends in the British populace through charts and tables. This information can be utilized in a number of ways by researchers, for instance in looking to make predictions about a certain facet of society based on its history.

 

Once a location is selected from the Main Page, such as Oxford in the example to the left, a range of topics are presented. Categories such as housing statistics and local industries, drawing their data from census records and local databases, all contain information as far back as 1801.

 

 

From there, a researcher can select a category to dive further into. Following the Oxford example, if one were to click on the “Population” section, a number of statistics and census records would show up. The main feature of these categories are the charts generated automatically based on the information, with data as far back as the 19th century. For example, this graph on the right shows the age and sex structure to age 85 and up for Oxford in 1911.

 

 

These charts on A Vision of Britain were generated using JFreeChart, an open access charting software.

 

Historical Maps:

Another feature of this project is their historical maps section. Researchers are able to interact with a map of Great Britain, composed of dozens of different maps, for an interactive experience spanning centuries.

The interactive map of Great Britain is seen on the right. The maps that make up the whole presentation are listed on the left. Notice that users are able to change time periods from the drop-down menu above.

Since this project is digital the researcher can utilize the information on hundreds of maps placed together to gain a better understanding of a specific area instantly. For example, a researcher can analyze the differences between 19th and 20th century London simply by selecting another map configuration, as seen below.

19th century London
20th century London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The combination of maps is made possible by the Great Britain Historical Geographical Information System and their unique Historical GIS software. In addition, MapServer was used in conjunction with GIS.

 

How This Advances the Humanities:

Courtesy of AVisionofBritain.org

A Vision of Britain is doing traditional humanities work as usual, but with the added element of being digital. Southall and his team are pulling data from primary sources, such as maps and census records, to provide the information on their site. Researchers are thus able to interpret this primary source data to further explore the relationships between people and their environment; in this instance, British citizens and the various localities across the island.

Being a digital project, as opposed to more traditional routes, allows for more interaction on the part of the user. Charts are generated to give them seemingly endless statistics on a range of topics across British society. Not only is the raw data given, but also the sources are listed and instantly accessible, something not possible in articles or books. Additionally, researchers can quickly move between maps across centuries and from different sources to find exactly what they need. When they are done, they have the option to download the maps for future use. In fact, the user can download most of the website’s open access software and content for use on their own personal projects.