This post is long overdue but better late than never!
About a year-and-a-half ago, I started using iGIS, an iOS app that allows you to visualize geospatial data on your mobile device. My Professor, Josh MacFadyen, had demonstrated the possibilities of this app in our digital history class and I was eager to find ways to apply it to my own research. I had fiddled around with the app outside of class – see my post here – but didn’t have a chance to test it in the field.
In late summer, I finally had a chance to put it to the test. Using maps and aerial photographs I had georeferenced and converted, I uploaded my files to both my iPhone and an iPad and set off. Now the PoW camp I was visiting is somewhat remote – the nearest cellular signal was ten kilometers away and, needless to say, there was no wi-fi. Not sure how the program would work just using the devices’ internal GPS, I pre-loaded the satellite imagery (from Google) – a handy feature when you are in the bush – which would let me compare the historic imagery and maps with what the site looks like today.
An hour by bike and I was at the site. I pulled out my phone and was pleasantly surprised to find that my phone’s internal GPS was accurate enough to show my location. As you can see from the image below, there are only a few signs hinting at the site’s history – all the more reason to find new technologies to fill in the gaps. The rectangular shape to the upper right of my position is the foundation of the camp’s powerhouse.
Things kept getting better for I discovered that the iPad worked as well – I was surprised for I wasn’t entirely sure that the iPad I was using had an internal GPS to begin with!
Having thrown in an aerial photograph from 1949 (above) and a forest inventory map from the 1930s (below) and I was in business! Adding a layer to show the physical layout of the camp as it appeared from 1943-1945 helped visualize the site and pinpoint some of the camp’s buildings and locations of interest.
While this is fantastic for my own research – I was able to identify tree stands cut by PoWs and see how the area has in some cases recovered or in others changed – it has important applications for public history as well. That same week, I led an interpretive PoW wagon tour, taking thirty people out to the site. As part of the tour, we provide visitors with a guidebook listing the buildings and explaining the history. Along with this we include a traditional map showing the layout of the site. While some of the footprints of the former buildings are visible if you look closely, it isn’t always easy to visualize the camp’s layout. However, with me leading a tour with an iPad, visitors were able to see exactly where they were standing in relation to the camp’s layout in the 1940s. Combining this with historic photos of the site and screenshots from my 3D model, visualizing the site became a whole lot easier!
That same week I visited the former PoW camp near Mafeking, Manitoba with the Beranek family, whose father/grandfather worked there in the latter war years. As I had only been to the site once before and was therefore much less familiar with this camp’s history than Riding Mountain, I relied pretty heavily on iGIS and an aerial photo to orient myself. I was also able to add the GPS waypoints I had taken on my handheld GPS the year before, seen as yellow dots in the image below.
Needles to say, using geospatial data on a mobile device opens up a realm of possibilities for both studying and sharing the past. While my use of the app and sources were fairly basic, I was able to visualize the site’s history, explore areas that I may have otherwise overlooked, and use non-traditional sources to better understand the relationship between history and the environment. Combining this with the ability to allow visitors to interact with landscape in new ways and let them explore on their own terms, I am eager to see how historians can use these technologies in the future.
With a major research trip (and some field work) planned for the summer, you can bet I’ll be bringing iGIS to help me explore and share the history of PoWs in Canada.
Following the popularity of my Fort Henry post, I thought I would share a brief look at another important internment camp in Canada – Camp 30 near Bowmanville, Ontario. Approximately seventy-five kilometers east of Toronto, Camp 30 was built around a former boys training school on the outskirts of the town.
Camp 30 opened in November 1941 with a capacity of 700 men. The camp was an Officer Camp, holding officers from all services, but it also held a number of other-ranks to serve as the officers’ orderlies. Notable, Camp 30 was the site of the infamous “Battle of Bowmanville,” in which PoWs refused to be shackled and barricaded themselves inside the camp for three days. The camp closed in April 1945 and the remaining prisoners were transferred to other camps.
As you can see from these images, many of the camp buildings and other structures have been removed or destroyed since the camp’s closure. Fortunately, there has been some interest in the site in recent years and a growing push for preserving its history.
In 2013, the former site of Camp 30 was designated as a National Historic Site and in the same year, Heritage Canada listed it as one of the Top 10 Endangered Places in the country. While its future is still being decided, I hope that Camp 30, one of the last remaining internment sites in the country, can be preserved for future generations.
Of all twenty-eight-or-so internment camps in Canada during the Second World War, I can only think of five that have either changed relatively little or haven’t been completely destroyed (at least from the external appearance) in the last seventy years.
Among these few is Camp 31 (originally Camp F) at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario. Built from 1832 to 1837, the fort was among the first sites chosen to serve as internment camps in the early years of the Second World War. From June 1940 to December 1943, the camp was the temporary home to German combatants (both officers and other-ranks), Enemy Merchant Seamen, and civilian internees.
To mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, here is one of the projects I have been working on.
Earlier in the year, the Laurier Military History Archive released thousands of aerial photographs taken during the Second World War. Among the collection was a number of photos taking during reconnaissance missions leading up to June 6, 1944. The following series shows Juno Beach as it appeared on June 4, 1944 and how it appears now.
Click on the image to view the full size. If you look closely, you can see some of the German defensive positions and obstacles of the Atlantic Wall. Note that the Archive’s online collection only includes medium-resolution photos so I apologize that I cannot zoom in any closer at the moment.
The first two photographs shows a map of the British and Canadian landing beaches (West to East – Gold, Juno, and Sword). The second photograph shows which Regiments landed at Juno in the early morning of June 6, 1944.
The following photographs show the Canadian landing zone from West to East.
For those who have visited Juno Beach, you may recognize this area. The middle of the two photographs shows the location of the Juno Beach Centre.
Thank you to the Laurier Military History Archive for making these images available on the web and allowing researchers to use them!
Bit of a delay since my last post, my apologies! As I get back into the swing of things, I hope my posts become a bit more regular.
Just a quick post today – a short video showing off my project for the Interactive Exhibit Design. Fellow PhD Candidate Steve Marti recorded and produced a series of videos showing off the class projects. Here’s mine:
Be sure to check out my classmate’s projects by clicking here (and scrolling to the bottom).
Having presented our exhibits to the class this past Wednesday, we were asked to provide a brief reflection on our projects. While I was happy with how it turned out, there are definitely some things I’d like to change for any future versions.
On the physical model, I think a list of the buildings would have helped viewers orient themselves to the layout of the camp. While each of the buildings are mentioned in the video, I’m not sure that it was clear which building the video was talking about.
One of the difficulties I encountered was the limited amount of time I had to share the history of the PoW camp. With the Makey-Makey, I was limited to five buttons and I just wasn’t able to tell as much as I would have liked in five videos (totaling five minutes).
As for my model, I found that Sketchup, or at least the computer I was using, was not able to handle the detail I had hoped to include. As I added more features to the model, I noticed that SketchUp began to slow down considerably. For example, turning on the shadow feature caused the computer to take a significant time to load an individual scene, and trying to export a twenty second video with shadows would have taken about twelve hours. Needless to say, I opted for the shadowless option, which only took five minutes!
While not the easiest of tasks, I would have liked to import the model into a better engine, perhaps something like the CryEngine. As the creators of this model of 17th Century London have demonstrated in the historic reconstruction of London, it definitely has the potential to bring the camp to life! However, I have a feeling that would require quite a bit of work.
Nonetheless, I hope that I’ve demonstrated one rather simply way of exhibiting a historic site that no longer exists!
Today, the Interactive Exhibit Design class is presenting exhibits. For those who are unable to attend, I thought I’d let you know how it turned out.
I have to say I am pretty happy with the way the bunkhouses look with Sketchup’s shadow/fog settings turned on (even if they did slow the computer down to an impossible-to-do-anything level). Note the most unusual of the camp prisoners, a black bear, in the middle.
Now for a view of the physical model with the text panels.
Now you may be asking, “how is this interactive?” If you look closely at the image above, you will notice a series of five black dots. These are actually buttons that are hooked up to a Makey-Makey hidden below. The Makey-Makey is controlled with a Max patch so that when a button is pushed, it triggers an attached computer to play a video of that specific area of the camp. All together, it looks something like this…