As a student, I’ve spent the previous two years working on a geospatial project that centered on the battlefield architecture, specifically the monuments and statues at Gettysburg National Military Park. Though the topic of the statues and their presence was controversial, the project is meant as a cataloging of cultural significance. I believe that, while the United States’ cultural landscape may change, it’s important to maintain an evolving catalog of geographic data for future analysis. While I don’t take a stance on the topic of removing the statues themselves, I believe the hasty deconstruction of these monuments removes the opportunity for archivists to preserve important geospatial information.
For example, while I worked on this study, I discovered that the equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee had been placed to face the field where Union General George Meade’s statue stood. While impossible to observe from a first-person perspective, it’s this level of architectural intricacy that’s lost when this information isn’t kept.
The main visual portion of this study was centered on a design process called photo manipulation – or artistic renderings created from reference photography. That being the case, I dedicated the first year of this project to capturing these statues through photographs. As I took these reference pictures that I would utilize later on, I gathered their coordinates through the ArcGIS Collector application – I also kept a running tally of the monuments’ inscriptions, as well as any other notable information regarding them.
It’s this in person aspect that provided a connectivity to the project that I couldn’t get by viewing these locales through the steady view of an online map. Mobile mapping applications serve as way for individuals to engage with their environments without necessitating great expenditures on more professionalized surveying technology. It also allows for a landscape’s cultural geographic data to be preserved far more easily, by giving more people the capability of doing so.
Once I assembled all the components of this study, I came to the conclusion that preserving data for future access is dependent on the availability of the data that’s being preserved to begin with. Creating a study solely meant for profit – like placing it behind a paywall – wasn’t reflective of the initial goal of my study. That being said, I intended to print the study as an art book in a 25 copy, limited issue run – donating them to local libraries in Pennsylvania.
However, as I continued to work on that possibility, there was another aspect of preservation through the library system that I felt was far more accessible. While taking library science courses for my bachelor’s degree, I enrolled in a class that centered on digital archiving, or digitization. Though a somewhat contested methodology – it occurred to me that this avenue was, at its core, the most equalizing way that preserved geographic data could be provided to the public. As increasingly more individuals obtain technology that allows them to easily access digitized content, the more inconvenient physical materials became. Especially so for those without public transportation.
Deciding on that new route, I assembled the study into a digital book using Adobe InDesign. While hosting the file on my site, I’m able to allow anyone who wants to access that information to download, archive, and distribute it as needed. Though not a traditional method, I believe it’s important to reach a level that allows the most accessibility for the greatest amount of people. While there’s certainly room for argument on behalf of those who spend large amounts of time investing in academic research, I don’t feel that there should be economic or educational barriers to accessing history, culture or geographic data.
Overall, I hope more volunteers – students or otherwise – will invest time in documenting cultural landscapes. All communities deserve to view a progressive, complete timeline of their geographic history, regardless of political debate.
For those interested in reading or downloading the complete study, visit this page.