By Erich Kesse, University of Florida
This is how I usually begin. Kind'a boring isn't it? Nonetheless, these
are the project's objectives:
To create an historic atlas of Florida;
To link historical resources to that atlas, providing new geo-
temporal methods of discovery;
To construct learning modules that would acquaint K-12 students
with these methods.
Ephemeral Cities is a technology project rather than a collection building
I would ask you just for a moment to close your eyes and envision
"Florida". What is it? What kind of picture have you formed? Some of
you, particularly those of you from southern Georgia have pictured
swamps or mangroves.
SErich Kesse, University of Florida
And, for some of you, visions of gators are dancing in your heads. Still
others of you, have formed visions of mermaids! (It helps to have eaten
little and been at the bottle early for this neat trick to work.) At least, it
works well for many a college student visiting the Sunshine State on
Spring Break. But, most of you have conjured up deep and fading
memories of Florida vacations. ... Some cut short by hurricane.
We Floridians are confounded daily by visions of Florida, well-
surpassing this brief survey. History hasn't been kind to us, either.
Florida had been Spanish, French, Spanish, British, and, Spanish again
before becoming a U.S. territory. Between times, we maintained
multiple personalities. Even today, we wave supplemental heritage
banners including the State's winter-highway flag.
And, with 9 of 10 of us from some place else, the question arises: "Who
are WE?" Just this past weekend, I was mistaken for a German: "What
makes you think I'm German?" I asked. "Well", responded the AIITel
clerk, looking at my name, "you've got an accent!" Determined not to
say a word, at the Latin market next door, I collected groceries, in
silence. So, what do you think the clerk asks? "6De d6nde es usted?
2 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
6Brasil? she inquired! "Where AM I?" I thought. The trouble is, most
of us don't know what Florida is.
We, Floridians like to think ourselves as part of the United States and at
one with the American South. To ensure that our vision is shared, we
share our digital content with AmericanSouth.ORG
(http://www.americansouth.org/) in numbers as great as those of
Georgia or North Carolina. Yet, we know that may a southerner doesn't
accept us as kin. "Damn, Yankees!" We hear it all the time. Why, I
even heard it just yesterday as I drove myself to the airport.
But, while Atlanta may be the capital of the new South. Miami, if you
haven't heard, is the capital both of the Caribbean and of Latin America.
It's enough to make one's head spin! ... even without the tea-cups of
When we looked at Florida through the eyes of AmericanSouth.ORG,
we saw that there was no wholly there there. Ephemeral Cities is our
attempt to anchor our communities in place, and, to demonstrate a
geographic proto-type for understanding Florida. But, we also took note
of Kate Nevin's' observation that AmericanSouth.ORG was, yet, too
much the reservation of southern universities.
Erich Kesse, University of Florida
Florida's digital collaborative, PALMM (http://palmm.fcla.edu/), had
purposefully begun as an effort of the state universities. We, first, would
get our bearings, build the infrastructure of collaboration among
ourselves, then turn it loose in such a way as each university would build
partnerships within its region, ... each partnership, deepening the local
representation in PALMM Collections. Ephemeral Cities marks the time
when that time had come.
When I moved to Florida, an elderly gentleman would grab me on my
nightly walks around the neighborhood that once had been the
University of Florida's campus. He would hold me by the elbow and
guide me from block to block as though I might have been naughty child.
In front of each house, he'd shuffle to a stop. "Miss Emma lived here
when I was a boy," he might say. "She was an upright woman. 'would
boll-up peas she, herself, had planted." He'd gather-up a breath as if
tasting history. "Don't ya know, her husband, Jimmie, was a no account
..." And, of course, I didn't know.
The marvel of those walks, night after night traveling the same blocks,
was that the stories were never the same, never repeated. Each night,
he would bring the neighborhood's characters back to life in a sequence
spread like peanut butter over time.
I hope you'll forgive me if I don't detail the importance of Miss Emma or
No Account Jimmie in the limited time I have available today. We
believe that the common characters of history may have something to
tell us. Think of their stories as street-theater that how might a playbill
put it is "A STORY FOR OUR TIME!"
President B enters a grocery store, encounters clerk C. A few short
words later maybe about the price of milk or barcode scanners and
4 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
history has changed, forever. I assume that you all recall the story of
the first President Bush's campaign foray into a supermarket. The event
is recorded in newspapers and even in books but, wouldn't it be
interesting to compare, say, the President's letters to the First Lady on
the day's events with the clerk's and the bag-boy's diary recollections of
It doesn't take much research in a University Library to realize that the
history of a place, and of a people in that place requires searching
beyond University collections, and deep searches into the text of
documents. No one cultural institution holds everything that we might
want to reference or know.
In fact, Ephemeral Cities recognizes that the history it seeks to uncover,
in many cases, is not held by any cultural institution. So, it lends an ear
to the community, and calls out: "Become a part of history !" "Make
history, your story !" Or, to borrow a turn of phrase from Monty Python:
"Bring out your dead !" Remember, the man in the cart is not quite dead
I like to tell the story of Mary Todd Lincoln. In 1868, Mrs. Lincoln's maid,
Elizabeth Keckley wrote a tell-all tale of life in the Lincoln Whitehouse.
Appropriately entitled, Behind the Scenes, it is virtually the only such
published account. By contrast, a contemporary presidency will
generate at least two purportedly intimate accounts. And, recent
presidencies have generated far more than that!
The title among those digitized by the University of North Carolina -
Chapel Hill exposes a vindictive, mean-spirited woman. History
remembers her so, rather than as the tragic figure later cut for Mrs.
5 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
Obscure, even today, among the archival collections of Transylvania
University, alma mater of Todd men, letters of a younger Mrs. Lincoln
under-pin the rage of a woman all but abandoned. They lend reasons to
Mrs. Lincoln's apparent irrational fits of anger. And rationale for
partnerships among archives, libraries and museums.
One assumes that the price of milk will remain a constant of historical
price comparisons, a surrogate for the economic health of the nation.
But, who will long remember, much less understand, the importance of a
barcode scanner in presidential politics without museums preserving
and interpreting the artifact.
Ephemeral Cities postulates that uncovering this hidden history can lead
to a sea-change in our understanding of history.
History, for too long, has been capitalized rarely socialized. Politics
aside It really does "take a village", as Hillary Rodham Clinton put it, to
revive a community's long past sense of itself.
More importantly, Ephemeral Cities Suggests that, by bringing together
a whole communities' resources, we can SEE change. And, if we can
see it, we can understand it.
Mom Im L
So, here's a graphic example. Ephemeral Cities will repurpose the
historic Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Florida, making use of their
wealth of detail and accuracy. Scanned earlier, and digitally restored to
their as published state, we've subsequently geo-rectified the maps, so
we could use known earth coordinates. As a means of laying one map
Here, new uses changed the character of Tampa. This block near the
waterfront went from shopping district to after-hours entertainment
6 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
center, as transportation took more goods inland and as more goods
took more men to handle and deliver them. Following Geo-rectification,
buildings are indexed both graphically and textually.
Graphical indexing placement of the red dot associates relatively
precise longitude and latitude with the building. Textual indexing
records street location, building number and name and any other
Textual indexing becomes the base of a gazetteer or place-name
authority file that will be augmented subsequently with information from
city directories, land ownership files, and other information sources, all
to facilitate discovery.
So, here's the concept in action. (N.B. This is still a demonstration,
representative of the web-site still under construction.) The user has
zoomed into a location of interest on a period Sanborn map : here,
Gainesville, 1884. The user may either point and click, or, construct a
particular search strategy; here, by building Information.
In this case, the user has decided to search "Building Use" for "Cigar
7 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
The cigar factory in this block is identified by a red dot. If the user so
desired, all of the cigar factories in Gainesville, or, in any or all of the
target cities could be seen.
Clicking on a red dot (or, on any building) displays all of the known
information about that building's use and occupants at that approximate
time in history. Advanced queries will allow searches of building uses
and occupants over time. As we've already seen, this information is
extracted from name-rich resources.
When the user clicks on an alternate use say, Grocery red dots
indicate the location of other grocers. My favorite proximity study is that
of schools to churches to saloons and their impact on public morality.
8 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
By clicking the red dot of any of these locations, information about that
location is displayed. Clicking either a use or an occupant's name
launches a query against targeted collections. Retrieval lists, sorted by
holding institution, display a thumbnail together with brief descriptive
information. A selection invokes a new browser window to display the
selected resource, within the holding library's web space.
Let's briefly look into the future. If we assume that the society of the
future, as it is today, is mobile. We can assume that information itself
will be mobile. Here, I envision a future of aware personal devices that
deliver information in what I'll call "touring mode." In this future, time
travel, in a sense becomes possible.
This information collection strategy, by the way, works well for a small
community of targeted web-sites but does not scale-up well. We hope
to see our other methods the concept of geo-temporal searching, for
example, adopted by what are known as OAI Harvesters, such as
AmericanSouth.ORG. A harvester is a tool that, like Google, goes out
and collects this information in advance. But for the moment, harvesters
collect only information about Internet resources. They don't collect or
9 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
mirror or duplicate the actual resource as they would need to, to find
information from within document texts.
Ephemeral Cities partnerships are structured as originally envisioned by
PALMM (the Florida digital cooperative) in hub and spoke fashion.
Expensive and highly skilled activity is centralized; all else is distributed.
The hubs of this pilot project are Gainesville, in north Florida; Key West,
in south Florida, and Tampa, in mid-Florida. These cities were chosen,
first, for their willingness to participate in a project with several significant
technical challenges; ... as for the depth of their local-history collections,
each representing a different state of Florida; ... and for the strength of
their digitization programs.
The Gainesville partnership brings together several strong local-history
collections, all but one with a history of digitization. The Key West
partnership likewise brings together strong local-history collections, -
and again all but one with a history of digitization. The Tampa
partnership brings together strong local-history AND museum
collections, as well as a demonstrated commitment to distance learning.
10 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
The project also draws on the PALMM collections and the contributions
of institutions across the state.
We're confident of success. And, many of our partners outside this
project have begun digitizing local- and regional histories.
____ _=_ PROCESSING
Now, let's look at variations on the hub and spokes. This model of
imaging is typical of PALMM. Small institutions scan; feed to hubs that
manage the images created, which feed to a central archive. This
model emphasizes preservation while, at the same time, moving more
complex and more expensive tasks up the line.
11 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
11 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
This text processing model demonstrates additional centralization. All
page images pictures of pages are sent to the University of
Florida, which will return searchable text versions to those web servers
capable of searching document texts. In this case, the Prime
Recognition software being used for text conversion is extremely
expensive to license and maintain.
The query model demonstrates, by far, the most centralization.
model gives the Internet user one-stop-shopping, as it were.
The EpC [Epoc] Server does the labor of searching multiple sites and
returns a unified list of resources to the user.
Quickly, targeted materials include: archives, monographs and
pamphlets, -- which, I should note, include oral history transcripts; maps
and plans, photographs and postcards, serials, and especially,
newspapers, and, finally, artifacts and specimens.
12 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
i% ARJ TliAACTDOW
miMrT aPr Owr
lu rO r;T
Regarding specimens: You may not know that train transportation was
King in Florida during this Project's target period. A motto of Florida's
economy could then and might still be: "Tourists in! Vegetables out!"
Having seen the demo, some of you are probably wondering "Isn't
there tons of labor involved?" "How do they do that?" I have the
proto-typically Florida answer: Mermaids! For those of you who
recognize the second question: "How do they do that?" from the Britta
TV ad featuring children, you know that there are boat-loads of
unemployed mermaids. Specifically, the mermaids known as:
M er ai sI a I n
Erich Kesse, University of Florida
New methods and programming will arise from the project's murky deep
and we hope will be adopted in other states to build the national
map. Our faith in automation is boundless.
We've made the following assumptions:
Everything can be fixed in place and time,and,
Semantic Processes can be applied to automate this work
I should make clear, here, that our users are (anticipated to be) historians,
genealogists and students, ... but also naturalists, real estate agents,
land developers and certainly, not last and not least, tourists on
"voyages out of the ordinary!"
14 Erich Kesse, University of Florida
If you would like more information on the technologies we employ, these
links should be helpful. You can also find an elaborated workflow of
some of the text-processing applications at this location:
The Florida partners invite you to join us in reviving other Ephemeral
'Kate Nevins is SOLINET's Executive Director. Her observation was voiced at an American South planning
meeting (Atlanta 2003).
15 Erich Kesse, University of Florida