Blog Post

HyperCities Explores the Location of Culture and Maps: Invisible Strands of Memory

1. As recipients of the HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media & Learning Competition, what have you accomplished so far?

Winning one of the inaugural "Digital Media and Learning" awards has enabled HyperCities to establish an international network of schools, universities, and community partners interested in exploring the location of culture, focusing on the significance of place, and mapping the invisible strands of memory. We have been inspired by the number of "sibling" projects that we have encountered that link storytelling with place and have established three new partnerships with community groups and universities working in New York, Tel Aviv, and Ollantaytambo, with several others in the works.

Focused on community development and planning in Ollantaytambo, the University of Virginia's Peru Studio recently finished its second collaborative mission and data gathering session in Peru. The highlight of this trip was a presentation to Plan COPESCO, a regional government group that develops infrastructural projects in Cusco and through the Sacred Valley. The team collaborated with COPESCO over the course of the semester to develop several architectural schemes that will assist in protecting the town of Ollantaytambo, a small town in the Sacred Valley. Parts of the presentation and a compilation of architectural proposals will be featured on the HyperCities platform and will provide the basis for several digital media learning projects over the next year.

With USC's digital library, the team successfully piloted a new web-service that allows a HyperCities user to browse a geo-referenced library collection (such as archival photographs or newspapers) by time and space. This is an exciting development for us because it allows HyperCities to realize one of its goals of becoming an interoperable geo-temporal platform in which archives can expose their media items in an integrated context that supports new modes of inquiry, contextualization, and discovery. We are currently working with several other archives and museums to make collections of digital objects available on the HyperCities platform. The beauty of this rich contextualization is that institutions are able to showcase their collections next to content generated by communities in ways that enable the one to enhance the other.

The first "HyperCities" undergraduate courses (Berlin and Los Angeles) were offered at UCLA in the spring, and our team is currently gearing up for future HyperCities courses on Los Angeles, New York, and Tel Aviv. Together, these courses enrolled over 200 students who created more than half of the content used in the courses through their collaboratively produced maps on spatial history. KML files for Berlin are now a permanent part of the repository of media items and can be seen in the course group on HyperCities.

Here are some sample student responses:

• "I was able to really make the city my own and delve deeper into particular areas ... The first time I added and saw my own self-created map on top of the maps from different years, I was absolutely blown away."
• "I discovered an entirely new dimension of technology and learning."
• "I've never learned about history like this. [We] actually have a frame of reference to truly see what we are learning about."
• "Because of the visual associations, I have retained more in this class than any other history class ... I have also created maps for my friends and relatives on Google My Maps."
• "HyperCities provides connections and fluidity, not one-dimensional, detached fragments [as] in a book."

Finally, through our collaboration with Public Matters and the Pilipino Workers' Center (PWC) in Los Angeles, we have begun to develop a sustainable youth media and civic engagement program in Los Angeles' Historic Filipinotown ("P-Town"). As a collaboration between local immigrant youth and UCLA students, the project will use HyperCities to explore and publicly display media content about Historic Filipinotown's history, culture, and significance.

Members of Public Matters and the UCLA team have held weekly planning meetings with the Pilipino Worker’s Center throughout the summer. Here are some of the meeting outcomes and highlights:

o Community Advisory Board: This group consists of key stakeholders in Historic Filipinotown—representatives from community organizations, community scholars, business owners, activists and representatives from media-based fields—along with Asian-American scholars. They will play an active role in project oversight, serve as guest speakers and also connect the project to community development and needs. To date, we have about half of this group committed.
o Relationship with City Councilman Eric Garcetti’s Office: Ryan Carpio, assistant to the Councilman who represents Historic Filipinotown has agreed to serve on the Community Advisory Board and support not only the project but also all public events including the Tactical Sound Garden and P-Town tours.
o Relationship with Belmont High School: Nearby Belmont High School is opening several new “small school” campuses this fall including an arts magnet and a school that includes a focus on civic engagement. We are currently lining up a formal relationship with the school and its students.

2. What do you intend to accomplish over the next three months?

Over the next three months, PWC Youth will begin by mapping and exploring the concept of “spheres of influence.” Where do they feel they are at home in Historic Filipinotown? Where do they feel they have an impact? These questions will be posed to other community residents across ages and occupations, creating a “use map” of the community. As the project grows over the next year, an aim will be to expand Historic Filipinotown’s own sphere of influence in Los Angeles. In the winter quarter, a course on Historic Filipinotown will be offered at UCLA that will form the test-bed for the civic engagement program. Together, PWC Youth and UCLA students will explore the neighborhood’s history. PWC youth will gain skills in the use of digital media and in gathering oral histories through workshops with Public Matters and UCLA faculty. PWC youth will create a rudimentary tour of Historic Filipinotown and its history that they will use to introduce UCLA students to the area. The tours created by PWC youth and the UCLA students will form the basis of a "Tactical Sound Garden" which will open to the public in April.

In terms of technical development, we expect to launch several new features on the HyperCities platform that will further enable participatory learning, discovery, collaboration, and community mapping. The first development is a new mode of browsing and organizing the content of HyperCities that will allow users to create customizable "navigation routes" or "playlists" through a given city using permalinks. The second is the integration of 2D and 3D content for the cities of Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, Rome, Tel Aviv, and Ollantaytambo. Thirdly, we are working on a new "time dial" feature that will allow users to drill down at various levels of granularity, ranging from days, minutes, and seconds to years, decades, and centuries. This will play a critical role in creating family and community genealogies. The current platform is entering a beta-testing mode, and we expect to see a tremendous upswing in content generation for these cities over the next few months. We currently have more than thirty user-generated groups and several hundred registered users; we expect to see these numbers increase substantially over the next three months.

3. Is there anything that you would like assistance with from HASTAC/MacArthur?

The team has been inspired by the number of groups that have contacted us as possible collaborators, and we are excited to grow the project in a number of new directions. We would like some advice about scaling the project and networking with other groups working on similar aspects of community memory and mapping.

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