History 615

Last week was my week…
December 9, 2010, 3:33 am
Filed under: History 615

This week…not so much.  As much as I’m ready for class to be over, I’m actually kind of glad Dr. Petrik gave us an extra class to sort of review the essays and an extra weekend to touch things up.  Below is the link to the PDF of my final project draft version 2.  It’s definitely not final final material yet.  I’ve made some changes to my layout based on suggestions from class that I’m happy with but honestly I’m not so sure where I stand on my essay.  Disclaimer (it’s like 85-90% finished…there’s still a bit of Latin).  There are typos everywhere (I haven’t proof-read it).  The overall flow and narrative should be there though, so nobody should be clueless as to what I’m talking about.  I tried to finish it but I was getting to a point tonight where anything I was writing just didn’t seem to work…so I stopped.

Comments and constructive criticsm are definitely welcomed, either here or in class.  I don’t want to re-write my entire essay, but I could surely use some help so anything short of telling me to start over is cool.



Final project rough draft
December 2, 2010, 1:08 am
Filed under: History 615

Alright so here is what I have as of tonight for a ROUGH draft of my final project.  As you can see all of the text is Lorem Ipsum as my main focus this week was in getting my maps at least almost done (they still need some work) and getting a layout set.  I’m pretty happy with the way it’s turned out so far…as in I think it at least somewhat resembles something you would find in an atlas..  I’ll comment further probably tomorrow afternoon before class as I should have some free time.  For right now though I’d just like to get these up.  You can view each page by either clicking on the link to open up the PDF or just click on the image to open up a larger one in a new window.

And yes…it is Black and White…and yes…I made it that way on purpose.  So for all you B&W haters out there you’re just going to have to deal.







Alexandria U.S. Post Office and Customs House 1858-Present
November 16, 2010, 1:14 am
Filed under: History 615

First some background info.  I know I’m going to break all kinds of the “rules” that we talked about in class last Thursday with this assignment here, but oh well.  It needs to get done.  I didn’t really have anything related to my final project that I wanted to model, so I decided to go back to old town Alexandria.  I didn’t really have a particular building or neighborhood in mind, but I remembered my girlfriend’s dad had gotten this book as a Xmas gift a few years back.  So I borrowed it from him and flipped through it looking for something interesting to model in Google Sketchup.  I zeroed in on picture ca. 1900 of the U.S. Post Office and Customs House; a sort of unspectacular looking, three-story, stone building.  As I continued flipping through the book, I found the building cited in two other instances, yet in each picture the building looked different.  What I found even more intriguing was that two of the pictures were dated 1900, but in one of those two pictures the building was significantly wider than the other.  So from there I went and looked up the buildings on Sanborn maps and proceeded to reconstruct them in Sketchup…

Ok, so on now to the actual assignment.  I know…Prof. Petrik is probably going to knock me for the excess number of images, but I like it and I think that here it makes sense to show the change in the building(s) over time.  Also, I just realized I could add captions to the images themselves rather than just in the text portion of the post.  Cool stuff.

The Original Alexandria, VA United States Post Office and Customshouse (Built in 1858)

The U.S. Post Office and Customshouse (ca. July 1, 1900) Source: National Archives, RG 121-C, Box 37, Folder A, Print 1. AND http://www.fjc.gov/history/courthouses.nsf/lookup/VA-Alexandria_1858_1_Ref.jpg/$file/VA-Alexandria_1858_1_Ref.jpg

Prior to 1858, U.S. post offices and other federal offices and courts were scattered all throughout Alexandria.  Built in 1858 the Alexandria U.S. Post Office and Customs House consolidated several key federal services offered to the public into one central location.  The first floor served as a post office, the second floor housed the customs offices, and the third was home to the United States Federal District Court in Alexandria.  The fireproof, granite and iron structure was designed by architect Ammi B. Young and was one of a series of U.S. Post Office and Customs Houses built throughout the country during the late 1850’s while Young was serving as the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury.  The architectural design used in the Alexandria building was nearly identical to several other of those buildings (see example below).

The Georgetown U.S. Post Office and Customs House. Source: http://www.nps.gov/history/NR/travel/wash/dc16.htm

As evidenced by the photos below, the building remained a prominent structure near the center of Alexandria throughout the rest of the 1800s.  But Alexandria was growing quickly, and as seen in the screenshot of the model below in Google Earth, had the building remained as is, it would have been dwarfed by the surrounding buildings that would eventually go up around it (assuming the scale of my model and the models in Google Earth are mostly correct).

The caption says "The Post Office and Customs House, on the southwest corner of Prince and St. Asaph streets. (ca. 1900)" Source: Holtz, Rita Williams and Patton, Julie Ballin. Historic Photos of Alexandria. Turner Publishing Co. Nashville, TN, 2008.

Sanborn map of Alexandria, VA (ca. 1902), sheet 12.

The 1858 U.S. Post Office and Customshouse building situated in its actual location, surrounded by present day 3D building models in Google Earth. View is overlooking intersection of Prince and St. Asaph streets. (The current Post Office and Customshouse is directly adjacent to the original building.)

Renovated and Enlarged in 1904

Between 1858 and 1904 the building had been renovated multiple times, at a price of more than several thousands of dollars.  By 1904 it had been determined though that building itself was no longer sufficient in size to fill the needs of its tenants, and it was widened from three, to five bays wide along its side facing St. Asaph Street.  Central heating was installed at the same time, which accounts for the lack of chimneys on the roof which were present in the previous photographs.

The caption says "Alexandrians gather for a photo beside the Customs House and Post Office. Built in 1858, the first floor housed the post office, the second contained the customs offices, and the third a courtroom. (ca. 1900)" The date cited in the caption is more than likely incorrect. The building was not widened until 1904. Source: Holtz, Rita Williams and Patton, Julie Ballin. Historic Photos of Alexandria. Turner Publishing Co. Nashville, TN, 2008.

Sanborn map of Alexandria, VA (ca. 1921), sheet 9.

The U.S. Post Office and Customhouse building (enlarged 1904 building) situated in its actual location, surrounded by present day 3D building models in Google Earth. View is overlooking intersection of Prince and St. Asaph streets.

Present-Day United States Post Office and Customs House (Built in 1930)

No more than two and a half decades later, the city of Alexandria had outgrown the building again.  Rather than expand a second time, the city decided to raze the original building and start from scratch.  Even though the new building remained just three stories high, the overall size of the new building was increased significantly, taking up nearly the entire length of a city block.  The building was constructed of brick rather than granite, as was the previous, and four imposing columns were added above the main entrance.  If King Street is the main east/west thoroughfare in Alexandria, Washington Street is the main north/south thoroughfare (Washington Street is the old town Alexandria section of the GW Memorial Parkway) and the building was rotated so that front now faced Washington Street rather than St. Asaph.  The result was a building not only unique to Alexandria but one that was large enough to support the growing city, and clearly acted as a stronger symbol of power and respect than the one being demolished.  The site of the original building was cleared and paved over and became the back parking lot for the new building.

The caption says "Corner of Prince and Washington streets. The Confederate Monument faces south. Behind the monument rises the U.S. Custom House and Post Office. (1937)" Source: Holtz, Rita Williams and Patton, Julie Ballin. Historic Photos of Alexandria. Turner Publishing Co. Nashville, TN, 2008.

Sanborn map of Alexandria, VA (ca. 1941), sheet 10. Note that the orientation of the map has changed from the previous two Sanborn maps. Washington St. now runs left to right instead of up and down.

The current U.S. Post Office and Customshouse as seen from above the intersection of Prince and Washington St. The original (1904 updated) building can be seen behind the current building in a location that is now a parking lot.

So what is the practical use of an architectural reconstruction like this for history?  I think more than anything else, what I love about this sort of application is that it allows us to place, and visualize buildings or any other objects in places where we cannot otherwise visit, either because it is beyond our means or because they simply no longer exist.  Like NSD, I think when using tools like this we need to take care to make them as accurate as possible.  And as users we need to remember not to take these visualizations at face value, because they are not reality.

Finishing up, and just for fun, here is the location as it stands today.  (Google maps is embedded below, it’s not just an image.)  If you follow Prince St straight ahead a block until it intersects with St. Asaph, you’ll see a fenced in parking lot on your right behind the current U.S. Post Office and Customhouse building.  The parking lot is the site of the original 1858 building.

Additional sources…

Alexandria Archaeology Museum:  Discovering the Decades: 1850’s

Klock, Lowell. Ammi B. Young, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, and His 1858 Alexandria Post Office and Customhouse. The Alexandria Chronicle. Summer 1994, vol. 2, no. 2. 

License Plate Map…
October 27, 2010, 4:11 pm
Filed under: History 615

It’s map/automobile related…so I have to post it, right?

Cartography in the 20th Century
October 27, 2010, 12:21 pm
Filed under: History 615

This week I made a significant effort to do ALL of the assigned readings.  And read it all I did (with the exception of a few pages that I skimmed through in the chapter “Consuming Maps” by Diane Dillon).  As I lay here starting to write at almost 2 AM, I’m struggling to tie all the readings together and come up with something insightful to say.  So in hopes that maybe it’ll help, here’s a sentence or two on each.

Dillon:  Focused on maps as consumer products throughout most of modern history, not just the 20th century.  From personalized atlases to board games, Dillon traces maps in consumer culture from their origins as luxury items all the way to present day “cartifact” novelty items.  In doing so, she also looks at the production and distribution of maps, and how that shaped map consumerism.  I thought the traveling atlas salesman’s pitch was especially interesting.  A map as described by him didn’t have to be a true representation of reality, but the reality that you wanted it to be.

Schulten:  Discussed Fortune magazine’s architect turned cartographer, Richard Edes Harrison and how his maps, published in the 1940’s, revolutionized cartography and the way the American map consuming public understood their location in relation to the rest of the world.  Throwing the Mercator projection out the window, his use of polar projections and the like, emphasized North America and the United States centrality among conflict elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

Akerman:  Analyzes the role of road maps throughout the early and mid 20th century in shaping America’s automobile centric identity and “national motorized space”.

Cloud:  Talks about secret and classified programs during the Cold War and the role they played in geographic and cartographic advancements in America during that period.  Explained how such programs like CORONA were able to “conceal its secret roots as it reveals that secret’s fruits” as he puts it.  The three technologies he focuses on are the World Geodetic System (WGS 84 is the standard reference coordinate system today), photogrammetry, and GIS (originally MGIS).  Interesting, but really technical even for me.

Newberry Library:  Discusses Cold War maps as they appeared in popular magazine or other news publications as propaganda and how they were able to influence and direct popular opinion towards the “red menace”.  Features 7 such maps from Time and Life magazines and splits them up as representations of three general Cold War map propaganda categories; advertising maps, metaphor maps, and redeemable communist maps.

There’s probably lots of directions one could go in making sense of all this.  You could make connections across the readings and consider how much maps in the 20th century were driven by capitalist interests, such as  the case in the Akerman reading of gas stations and other local businesses producing road maps.  I think for me one of the most interesting things about maps in the 20th century is how much they were affected by incredible advancements made in travel and transportation.  Harrison’s decision to map the world in the way that he did was certainly influenced by the rising importance of aviation.

One of the things that really struck me in Akerman’s analysis of 20th century American road maps, was that in a way, the maps themselves not only preceded the American highway system, but essentially established it.  For me this is in a sense the complete opposite of the way I normally think of maps.  In my mind, maps are still primarily representations of of reality, of spatial phenomena across the surface of the earth.  OK, I get the concept that there are many maps out there, such as the propaganda maps which aren’t necessarily meant to be used as reference sources, and can be distorted to suit a map makers intentions, and therefore are not truly accurate representations (although I guess what map truly is an accurate representation).  Yet here with Akerman and the roads maps, is a case where the representation is creating that which it is supposed to be representing?

I don’t know.  I’m starting to lose myself here…and I’ve been trying to write something for long enough as it is.  I’ve got to go to work…

Harpers Ferry flyby video
October 20, 2010, 9:31 pm
Filed under: History 615

I spent some time last night playing around with the fly by camera stuff in NSD.  It’s not really as hard as it looks.  Below is my video.  It starts out at the top of Maryland Heights and works its way down to the west behind Fort Duncan where it curves around behind Bolivar Heights.  From there it comes down to ground level and heads down the road towards Harpers Ferry.  The first half is intended to give the viewer an overview of the Union defenses in Harpers Ferry and the second part which starts at ground level is sort of and attempt to position the camera from the perspective of those who intended to take Harpers Ferry.

Fun with NSD and Harpers Ferry…
October 16, 2010, 2:54 pm
Filed under: History 615

I actually started experimenting more in depth with Natural Scene Designer last weekend, was having fun, and just kind of kept going with it, putting off other stuff (like the Martin Brückner reading).  I had wanted to post this up last Tuesday, but just never got around to it.

So here’s my map I started with…

You may recognize it from one of my earlier posts (but without the elevation contours).  Its a military map of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia from 1863.  The map comes from The Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, which was also the source for the “Routes and Positions” map I used in my Illustrator made freehand map.  Again, the map can be found here…


While the topography here at Harpers Ferry is no Grand Canyon, I feel that when combined with this map in NSD, it makes for some really fascinating views and perspectives and adds a whole new element to the historical analysis of Harpers Ferry during the Civil War.

To give you a sense of the overall topography, here is the map after I georeferenced it in ArcMap and overlaid it on top of the elevation data in NSD.

I tried to get as much of the map as I could to line up properly with the elevation data, but seeing as how this map was produced in 1863, its unlikely that I would be able to get all parts of the map to match perfectly.  There are areas where the topography in the map suggests there should be cliffs but in the scenes they are on flat ground (such as the eastern banks of the Shenandoah), and train tracks running on the edges of hillsides (such as those seen in the views from Fort Duncan), but I think that really these are only minor issues and don’t really takeaway from the overall use of the maps.

So below you will find all the scenes I’ve created from different locations across the map.  I tried to make sure that I picked camera locations that produced views from significant spots such as military positions or hill tops.  I haven’t had the time to test out the flyby camera functionality yet, but maybe that is something I will try to do before next week when this assignment is really due.  We’ll see though, I’ve got a lot of reading to catch up on and thinking to do about my final project topic…

The following are pictures generated from key military positions on the Maryland side of the Potomac starting at the six gun battery on Maryland heights and working downhill and to the west from there.  All are oriented so that they look towards the town at Harpers Ferry.

Looking down on Harpers Ferry from the six gun battery on Maryland Heights…

View of Harpers Ferry from the naval battery which you can see just down and to the right in the image above…

Views looking East/Southeast towards Harpers Ferry/Bolivar from Fort Duncan…

I also wanted to get some shots from the Union line in between Bolivar and Harpers Ferry.

Looking east towards Maryland and Loudoun Heights from the Union line defending Harpers Ferry…

Looking west towards Bolivar from the Union line defending Harpers Ferry…

When you consider the rivers to the left, the right, and the river junction behind you, it appears that the Union had a nice, well defended triangle with only one direction to really worry about being attacked from (as seen in the picture above).

Now the Civil War generally doesn’t fall under my area of historical interest, and therefore my knowledge of that period is somewhat limited, but I do know this.  Harpers Ferry is steep in Civil War history and was definitely a major place of interest as it changed hands between the Union and Confederacy multiple times throughout the war.  It was not only the location of an arsenal, but with several key railroads coming into and through the town, it was a very important location to maintain along the supply line to Virginia.  Looking at the map, Harpers Ferry seems pretty well defended by Union troops, and the pictures above I think just reinforce that notion.  For a town that seems to be so well defended, its odd to me that it could have been taken back and forth like it did.

So what if you were to attack Harpers Ferry?  If you were to attack from the SW, which because of the terrain and the rivers surrounding the town would most likely where you would be coming from, the following are pictures of what you might see…

Looking east towards Harpers Ferry from the northern part of Bolivar Heights…

Not a whole lot of room to work there.

This is probably my favorite scene, the main route to Harpers Ferry via Charlestown Pike…

In the foreground you can see Union front lines on Bolivar Heights, and further back you can see the Union lines closer to Harpers Ferry, Fort Duncan in the top left across the Potomac, the proposed Union position to the right of Fort Duncan, the naval battery to the right of that, and the six gun battery higher up to the right of that.  Not a very welcoming site if your goal is to take Harpers Ferry from those who occupy it.   But in the picture above you also see Loudoun Heights in the top right.

A quick internet search on the Battle of Harpers Ferry, and it appears Loudoun Heights may have been key.  And for good reason, check out the views below…

Looking down on Harpers Ferry from Loudoun Heights…

Imagine Union troops at the main line at Harpers Ferry trying to fend off Confederate troops coming from Bolivar with artillery raining down from Loudoun Heights behind you…

Apparently at the main battle of Harpers Ferry, Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson and the Confederate troops managed to surround the Union forces in that forementioned triangle that seemed so well defended in the pictures above.  After taking Loudoun Heights he ordered an artillery barrage from said location onto the Union forces hunkered down at Harpers Ferry, forcing them to surrender.  The Union simply had nowhere to go.  The Confederacy didn’t have to partake in a full on attack of those Union troops defending the town.  The topography allowed the Confederacy to seige Harpers Ferry instead, as one would a castle, which I think is essentially what Harpers Ferry had become.

While technically I could have figured all of this out by really scrutinizing the original map, viewing the map as it would appear naturally on the surface just illustrates it all in ways I probably wouldn’t have envisioned otherwise.

So after all this I few tips I have for working in NSD…

1) Try adjusting the placement of the light source.  The default placement in NSD seems to be from the SE corner of the map.  Yet standard practice is generally for the light source to be placed in the NW corner of the map (see http://www.reliefshading.com’s design section on light direction here).  Make sure you also try the interactive light direction tool with the Grand Canyon here so you can get a better feel for how much light direction can really change how you read and perceive elevation in a map.

Look at my picture below and then look at the one I posted at the top.  In the picture below the terrain appears to be reversed, and the mountains look like valleys.  In the picture below the light source was in the SE.  In the picture at the top the light source was in the NW.  It wasn’t until after I rendered ALL of my other pictures and rendered the scene below that I realized something was wasn’t quite right with the light direction.

The light directions is less of an issue though when you render pictures at ground level, but it can make a difference and sometimes it may be better not to have the light source in the NW.  Look at the two pictures I rendered below.

Both are views taken from Loudoun Heights looking down on Harpers Ferry.  The one on the top has the light source set from the SE and the on on the bottom has the light source set at the NW.  In this specific case I think having the light source set to the SE makes the scene more effective in that it creates shadows and therefore better portrays how high Loudoun Heights actually is above the river junction and Harpers Ferry.  So try adjusting the light source and see how it changes your scenes.

2) When you render your picture, set your “Anti-aliasing” and “Maximum Levels” bar as high as your computer will allow.  It takes more time for the picture to be created, but I found that the pictures were of much better quality. 

3) NSD only gives you limited functionality for placing and adjusting non-georeferenced overlays.  If you are using a USGS map that you downloaded with your elevation data, that map already has Lat and Long coordinates associated with it and you have nothing to worry about.  If you want to use a historical map or some other map without a coordinate system associated with it though like I did, you may have a harder time getting your map and the elevation data to match up.  Essentially you can make your overlay bigger or smaller, but I couldn’t find a way to rotate it in NSD.

I didn’t try this, but I think the following would probably work as sort of a georeferncing work around.  What I would suggest if you want to use another map is to bring that map and a USGS map into photoshop.  Apply a transparency to your map and then reshape, resize, and stretch your map so that major features such as rivers, boundaries, roads, or other easily identifiable features match up with those on the USGS map.   Then in NSD you can bring in your USGS map using the “Import DRD or DOQ” and then bring in your map using the “Import Overlay” option.  Then all you have to do is line up your adjusted map with your USGS map and then get rid of the USGS map.

4) Pick a large scale map (something at a local level/more detailed).  Use a 24K (1:24,000) USGS map if you are going to use one of those, not a 100K (1:100,000).  It’ll probably be less difficult to match up with the terrain and when you render your pictures the text and other features on the map will be more legible.

And now I have some final project research to do and some reading to catch up on…