Tag Archives: King City

Final DH Project Post

Pilot’s Log at Mesa del Rey was inspired by two projects: Bracero History Archives and Operation War Diary.  Although I am still continuing the work on my public history project prototype, I feel that reflecting on the process may help me stop editing and changing Pilot’s Log for now. My experience building this digital project breaks down into four components: investigation, consideration, demonstration, and conclusion.

When I stumbled upon the King’s Logs, my curiosity arose and the investigation began. To uncover the story of this place, to find the pilots from Mesa del Rey became somewhat of an obsession. However, searching on the Internet lead me to a fast halt. I had to go on foot and ask for information, often it seemed for directions. Then the multitude of calls and meetings, and archives seemed to be leading into a maze of confusing data. It seemed that I was deconstructing not one, but several puzzles. I kept wishing I had more time or knew more people or knew more about aviation. Starting from scratch and trying to build a project is a much bigger undertaking than I had perceived it before. To complicate things, it was becoming personal, as if I was investigating my own family history. First, I was simply going to collect a few photos from the logs and digitize pages of the local newspaper, but the more I discovered the less likely it seemed that I could leave out names or events relevant.

The research was  constantly in close proximity to my personas, I did not have to imagine them, they were quite real. Thus the consideration for the audience was present in every move I made. Looking back on this aspect, I believe it guided the outcome of the project a great deal. There were many suggestions, contacts, and inspired interviews. Some leads I still have to follow up on. Being close to submitting the final draft of the project, I realize that the imagined personas, aviation enthusiasts for instance, are probably not going to be well served on this site. Why would they be interested in all the old photos and something so out of place? Unless they have a personal connection, they wont be. In addition, I have included very little about planes because my primary focus was the people at the school. I envisioned the stories growing around each person on those photographs. And, what an amazing experience it was to interview a 95-year-old pilot/instructor. Again, this only became a reality because of the collaboration of my involved personas who helped record and film the interview to which we traveled 4 hours each way.

Then it came to demonstrate the results of all the search and design a site that will enable users to browse, contribute, and learn. Omeka and its plugins have worked smoothly enough and allowed me to organize, build, and feature the evolving history of this place. There were minor setbacks with technology, implementing Neatline seemed more than I could figure out, but Geolocation made it easy to map. Adding in metadata and tags as straightforward as it may be, required much time and effort. That was when I was beginning to wish for a team of knowledgeable cohorts to work with. Looking back on my initial plan of storyboard, I realized that I have developed something entirely different. Getting to this point in the process, I am only beginning to see the full picture and the possible avenues that could be taken or changed to make things more accessible for users. Crowdsourcing will not happen unless the crowd comes and offers input. I am not certain about the attraction to the site just yet. Just days before the publication of this project, I realized that although I am going back through the items and adding tags for more search options, it is not apparent from the home page that users may search via tags. My hopes of adding this feature crumbled as I searched Omeka for a solution. It is a complicated process, as I found out from Dr. Leon, “we can craft a call in php (the programming language that we use to make Omeka), but we’d have to edit the file that produces the simple pages within the plugin. In fact, the shortcodes are the only way you can add this stuff to simple pages without having to edit the code.” Hopefully someone will create a shortcode for a tag cloud.

The conclusion is the difficult part: when and where to stop. I know that the site is not finished since I have more ideas to make the searching of pilots easier and much more data and items to include. Since there is interest in publishing Pilot’s Log as a link in local sites, I will be continuing the building of items and refining metadata. While this project presented challenges, it also offered numerous rewards. When I think about how the site is going to benefit others/users, I hope to see contributors making connections from all around the country the way I saw the local people of King City gain interest and knowledge that will be preserved for some time.

I am looking forward to the next course in Public Digital Humanities with hopes of continuing on Pilot’s Log and expanding it with an educational aspect. I am also greatly inspired by all the other DH projects created in this course. I will consider Nashville Sites as a model for a work with the National Steinbeck Center to develop a walking tour similar to Mary Ellen Pethel’s “Nashville Sites,” but instead of the historical markers in Nashville, I will take John Steinbeck’s East of Eden novel as a guide and map the events and sites appearing in the novel ranging from King City to locations in downtown Salinas.

Project Update -1

The past week I have worked on getting ready to interview a ninety-five-year-old WWII pilot who was an instructor at Mesa del Rey Flight School in King City during the war. Thus, I have been reading through all the material given to me by various people.  Copies of the History of Mesa del Rey have been given to me by people at the King City Airport from their collection, I received one from a private collection of a local couple, and one from Rava Ranches (currently occupying the old school grounds), however they were all low quality copies and difficult to read. After some additional reading of other articles and notes typed on a typewriter, I have discovered who wrote this history article and where I can find an official copy of it. Ultimately, this article, which was originally published in the local newspaper around 1943, helped me understand more about the construction and start of the flight school, so I could develop more meaningful questions for the interview. It also contained the names of many  officers and instructors, which could provide clues and inspire stories during the interview.

Along with the reading, I was also continuing to digitize the King’s Logs and through working with the content of the logs, I am beginning to see the plan of the website expand in new directions. I am also beginning to realize that I could use an assistant because I am uploading more and more items on the website (currently at 42), putting them in collections or exhibits, but neglecting to complete the metadata for them. So I am having to go back to tediously complete that too. In some cases I am still searching for names, places, or origins of the documents. I have also found out that the first two years there were no logs that document the lives of cadets, officers, and instructors at the school. In the meantime, I reconsidered the name of the site and added the specific name of the school to the original, “Pilot’s Log” title. I though it was too general and in order to attract the target audience, having the name of the place as part of the website’s title could make a difference.

As far as the class activities and readings, I jumped to Module 7, which gives background on oral history projects, OHMS, and in general the importance and application of it. I have found the OHMS interview annotating activity particularly useful, even before I did any practice of my own. Just to be able to listen to examples of collecting oral history helped me formulate my questions and most of all helped me understand the importance of letting the person tell his or her story, whichever story they prefer and the way they want to tell it, even if it does not answer the question I asked or leads into a completely new topic. I watched the interview with Steve Zahn and the skillful way Doug Boyd navigated it. I also peaked at the Irish American oral history because it features an older person and I wondered how else I might need to approach my pilot, Red Rider, who is nearly a hundred years old. The interview was a success, although unnerving since I’ve never attempted anything like this before and I felt that everyone (there were 10 people present during the interview)  looked to me as a professional in this field.

It seems to me at this point that I have an overabundance of material and need to focus my attention on the building of the site. I am still operating with the three basic plugins and need to download more. Also starting to think about maps, which will be another technical challenge. However, before all that, my goal is to have all items digitized, uploaded, and described.

Pilot’s Log – Project Proposal

Pilot’s Log is a website created to preserve the little known history of the flight school operated at Mesa Del Rey Airport in King City, California during WWII (1940-45).  Within the history of the place, the website will predominantly focus on bringing to light the cadets who were at Mesa Del Rey and left for the war after a brief ten-week training. The airport still operates as a small civil airport, however it offers only a binder containing a news article about its history, letters from one pilot’s collection, and a few photographs. A Wikipedia page offers a brief information about the airport. The local Museum features an Aviation Exhibit (currently closed), has a few copies of the King’s Log, the “class” books from the flight school, a silent film depicting cadets arriving on a train to King City, and an interview conducted with one of the pilots, Red Rider. Currently, there is no website that allows audiences to access or share information about this part of American history when young men from around the country were summoned to King City, trained to fly Fairchild PT-19s and PT-17 Stearmans, and left for the war. Other than a few local history enthusiast and local family members of the cadets, the history of the pilots and the flight school is buried in attics, in boxes and in the memories of people around the United States.

Pilot’s Log Digital Project Goals:

  1. To inform its audience about an important part of King City’s history and its contribution to the World War II efforts.
  2. To recognize the thousands of men who trained at Mesa Del Rey and later fought in the war by compiling a composite of who these cadets were, how their lives were at the flight school and how it changed as they played an important role in the history of the United States.
  3. To engage audiences interested in local history, WWII history, history of pilot training, or to find out about fellow pilots or connect families in this common history.
  4. To open up the conversation about this time in history and invite the audience to contribute their own stories and artifacts in the hopes of recovering the history of the Mesa Del Ray Flight School and its cadets.
  5. To further engage audiences and encourage critical thinking, the project poses the following historical questions:
  • Who were these men/cadets/pilots and where did they come from?
  • What do the activities, the training, and statistics about pilot output tell us about the success of the school?
  • Where were the trained pilots assigned for duty?
  • What happened to those who did not make it as pilots?
  • What can we learn from the experiences of these cadets about war, relocation, family matters, and camaraderie?
  • How does the history of Mesa Del Rey flight school inform local history?
  • How does King City and the Mesa Del Rey Army Air Force flight school fit into military history of the U.S.?
  • How frequently or to what extent was the flight school chronicled in the local paper?

The digital exhibit will be created in Omeka using digitized pages from the King’s Logs, photos, interviews, and a film courtesy of the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum. The site will have item profiles, exhibitions, and pages about the men. One exhibit will consist of articles documenting the flight school.  The other exhibit will include the available yearbook information (1943-44): list of cadets in each division with the addition of pictures. A collection will display the art (cartoon drawings) and humor depicted in the logs reflecting on the experiences at school. Finally, I plan to map the places around the country where the cadets came from and mark the location of the school. Plugins, such as Video Stream, Exhibit Builder, COinS, Simple Pages, Neatline, and Geolocation will be implemented.

Target audiences will include people interested in King City’s local history, aviation, WWII history, pilots who attended the Mesa Del Rey flight school and their families, current and former pilots, pilot training, and anyone fascinated by common people making history.

Reading Response on Audiences

In the introduction to Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections, Whitelaw describes how organizing collections on a digital platform expands its viewership, especially if the interface of the site offers more than just a research box. He mentions that “a significant number of visitors do not have a specific goal: in a survey of the motivations of some 34,000 visitors to Dutch museum websites, 29% report seeking specific information, but 21% visit to “engage in casual browsing,” thus laying out the road for digital collection builders to follow. He goes on to elaborate that “browse features are valued highly by non-expert visitors to online art collections . Thus from the user’s perspective, search is an incomplete solution.” As I am frantically gathering and digitizing public history for my Pilot’s Log site, this is a good reminder not fall into the trap of building a collection without considering the audience. The interface should invite audiences a variety of ways considering multitudes of reasons for research. As Whitelaw adds, “The stakes here are high, because the interface plays an inescapable role in mediating digital heritage.”

The “browsable mosaic” interface of the Manly Images, an experimental web interface for a collection of historic images from the Manly Public Library, in Sydney, Australia creates an engaging entrance into a digital museum. It forces me to re-imagine my own ideas of organizing the collection of news articles, photos of pilots, yearbooks, places, and more. How do I present them? How do they connect? From what perspective will a visitor approach the information? Re-shuffling collections and projecting them onto various audiences can create an entirely new look or new take on presenting history. As “The Real Faces of White Australia” builders commented after using facial detection technology to find and extract the photographs from digital copies of the original certificates, they ended up with “a new way of seeing and understanding the records — not as the remnants of bureaucratic processes, but as windows onto the lives of people.” The more I interviewed people in connection to my project and the more I have heard people talk about the flight school during WWII, the faces of cadets and pilots were becoming more and more prominent. The “The Real Faces of White Australia” called facial detection a ” finding aid… that brings the people to the front.” Among all the available information and digitized items, it is crucial to remember to keep the focus on the faces of the flight school.

Then again, I also have to look at all of the pieces of the puzzle because as the “content discovery is only part of the story. Cross-linked and hierarchical displays emphasize context — complex, multi-dimensional relationships between items — as well as macro-scale patterns and structures within collections.” Thus, now that I have a good start with the initial framework developed for the Pilot’s Log digital history project, I must clarify its intent and audience. Since I hope to compile more photos, more stories, and ultimately complete the list of all cadets who had attended the Mesa Del Rey flight school, determining the degree of engagement will be necessary for the success of the project. I need to determine how the information will be organized, how the uploaded items will appear, and what exhibits I might want to create on Omeka. The first item that provided a path into the history of the Mesa Del Rey flight school was the few scattered yearbooks, King’s Logs, that list the cadets in each class, tell about their daily routines and lives before being sent off to the war, presumably to the Pacific. The goal of this digital history project is to create a site that will pull together the history of the flight school and explore the experiences of the young cadets in an attempt to find out what happened to them after they finished the training at Mesa Del Ray. To engage the public, not only the interface need to offer a convincing and inviting look into the project, but it should also provide a guide of some sort for the audience to contribute and comment. Visitors to the site then will be able to upload their own stories and digital artifacts. In this way, the core audience — descendants of the pilots in the King City community or elsewhere — will be able to shape the project and create a more accurate view of these experiences, moreover, connect the remaining surviving pilots.