A First Foray into Coding

Beginning in 2014, when we started blogging about the South Mall, we were convinced that combining images and individual narratives with the changing map of Albany would help us construct a broader narrative of how urban renewal transformed our city.

Of course, we didn’t have the skills to build such a website. And we still don’t, really. But we’re beginning to take baby steps toward our ultimate goal of building a map-based website that highlights both the extraordinary visual record we’ve uncovered in the archives and the many personal stories shared with us by people who remember the 98 acres before and during redevelopment.

For the past two summers, Dave has spent a total of four weeks attending a digital publishing workshop at West Virginia University. He’s not a coding ninja (yet), but he did pick up enough to build a bare bones website that includes a map and three photo galleries. This is nowhere near our final vision. Rather, it is a way for us to familiarize ourselves with open-source and non-proprietary tools that will likely be part of a future website.

Here’s the link: http://98acresinalbany.com/.

For those curious about the tools we used to build the site, a few words are in order. Admittedly, the landing page needs work—it’s very basic HTML with absolutely no frills or styling. It’s not responsive, meaning it doesn’t display well on phones. The map and photo galleries, however have some level of responsiveness for viewing on phones.

For the map, Dave used an open-source mapping platform called QGIS. QGIS has an active community of users and developers and several hundred plugins. He first took a stitched-together map consisting of ten sheets of the Sanborn fire insurance map of Albany. Then he “rectified” or “warped” the map by anchoring well-known points on that map to corresponding points on the present-day map of Albany (using OpenStreetMap). After this, he placed some points on the map corresponding to locations connected to some of our blog posts. Finally, he used one of the QGIS plugins to export that map out to another tool called Leaflet JS. Leaflet creates files (Javascript and CSS) that allow the map to be placed onto a website.

For the photo galleries, he used a tool called Lightbox JS that provides basic navigation and captioning of photos. Like the landing page, there are issues. Most especially, he has yet to figure out how to get the captions displayed properly.

We’d love feedback—but be gentle! And if any of you have web-based history projects you’d like to start, we’d be happy to help.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Angelo Kontis says:

    Great idea! I clicked on my families red dot. The title of the blog should read “Our name means Shoemaker” and the address should read 162 Hudson not 168 Hudson. Otherwise, this iteration of the blog will be a significant improvement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Angelo,

      Dave tells me that he shortened the title in response to qGIS space limits. It’s something he plans to fix–but not til after our next grant proposal is in.



  2. Thanks for catching that Angelo. I’ll set Dave on that.



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