They say that all good things must come to an end. Pass the box of tissues and wipe those teary eyes: the Anthropology 136E Summer 2011 course at El Presidio de San Francisco has indeed concluded. Over the past six weeks, the students have been introduced to a variety of tools in the field of Archaeology including the latest innovations in digital preservation and documentation techniques, software, photography equipment, and other technologies; types of archival databases and how they can be used for cultural heritage preservation; the professionals who use all of the above in their careers; and how they, the students, can utilize in the real world what they learned in the classroom. This Anthro 136E Recap will give you a glimpse of our last week in class, culminating in a final group project of digitally layered microhistories that united all of the students’ hard work throughout the term. Their project was born out of a combination of learning new skills (often on the fly); being a little overwhelmed on occasion with so many novel notions, while still staying focused; believing from the start that stories from the past are still relevant in today’s world; having faith in themselves to create something tangible and significant out of a plethora of conceptual ideas, as well as trust in each other as a team that they would ultimately pull together and produce something meaningful; and in the end, having a nifty piece of work to show for all of their efforts. Here are some examples of how these achievements came to fruition, and strong evidence that these students have bright futures ahead of them.
Tuesday’s class was kicked off with much fervor and anticipation for finishing projects on specific skills of residents at El Presidio from the 18th-19th centuries, as well as the close of the summer semester on Thursday. The students labored to pull all of their research together into online group spreadsheets and other digital formats that could be accessed by the professors. Photos were uploaded, videos edited, audio voice-overs recorded, mp3 files shared, metadata compiled, and written text inputted into documents on the Internet. Their final project would be a digital, multi-layered collection of interactive media and stories that would be embedded into a map on Google Earth and therefore accessible to the general public as well as academic researchers like the Presidio Trust Archaeological Lab. The logistics of this were complicated, yet fun and educational, especially when Professor Michael Ashley, intern Connor Rowe, myself, and student Chris Fussell shot the second gigapixel panorama image (the first was at El Polin Springs, also called Tennessee Hollow Watershed) that afternoon. This time the digital documentation would happen at the center area of the park and would give a 360-degree view of the buildings currently under renovation, the main parking lot, the Presidio Trust Archaeological Lab, the Palace of Fine Arts, other San Francisco monuments like Alcatraz Island that are seen when looking north towards the Bay, and views beyond into Marin County.
The sun came out in the afternoon and our team set out. Michael Ashley would be behind the controls of the robotic device that was synched with a camera and programmed to shoot a series of photographs at timed intervals. For our purposes of capturing images of such an expansive area, that meant that the equipment would have to be lifted sixty feet in the air in order to get the best vantage point from where to take the photos. Michael Ashley would set up and accompany all of the hardware in a cherry picker crane called the High Ranger owned by the Presidio Trust that normally was employed to do such tasks as repairing electrical wires atop telephone poles and trimming wayward tree limbs. On that day however, our crane operators Ed Pitcher and Greg Lukoski were able to strap someone else besides themselves into a claustrophobia-inducing plastic bucket and be lifted into the stratosphere! Professor Ashley took hundreds of photos over an hour and a half, which then enabled an amazing image to be produced (link still to come).
By Thursday the entire class was a flutter with nerves and eagerness as they wrapped up and polished the final details of their individual work so that the whole lot could be loaded into the final, collective Google map project. The standard sixteen weeks of a UC Berkeley semester had been condensed into six weeks and their efforts were about to pinnacle on this one day not only in the submission of their personal projects, but also in a live presentation to the staff of the Presidio Trust Archaeological Lab.
Professor Ruth Tringham got everything off to a good start by introducing the archaeologists to all that the class did while at El Presidio. I then presented a short video of the process of doing digital documentation using gigapixel panorama images. Student Chris Fussell showed examples of other kinds of panoramas and their uses in archaeology. Professor Ashley explained the technicalities and final impressive results of the whole process. Finally, each student reported on the fine details of the skill performed in the 18th-19th centuries that they had researched all summer: Adam Grab on the music of the past at El Presidio, Ioan Chelu on middens and waste disposal, Francesca Favila on herbal medicines, Luke Morris on medical practices and tools, Cheryl Guerrero on midwifery, Nick Joy on bread making as a dietary staple, Cyrena Giordano on corn as a dietary staple and other food production/transportation, Debbie James on water management, and Chris Fussell on types of fuel sources and how they were transported. All in all a success, but do not take my word for it – listen to what the students had to say!
Ioan Chelu – I’m going to miss all the people. The class has been fun. All the information I learned was really exciting, and the things we did as a group were cool. But, it was the people that made this class. Yeah, I probably would’ve gotten along with another random group of individuals, but it was this random group I got stuck with, and they made the whole experience worthwhile. Sappiness not withstanding, I would hands down recommend this course to anyone. It doesn’t matter what your major is, or what you want to do with your life, this class is definitely one that shouldn’t be passed up. I mean, the wealth of information that you come away with, that you probably wouldn’t have looked up in the first place, is amazing. The history of the Presidio is full of surprising figures with incredible stories, a lot of which are pretty funny. There’s Juana Briones and her extreme midwifery skills; there’s the stuff on the herbs she used; then, there’s Chris’ work on biomass fuels that’s also intriguing. I learned a lot about garbage in these 6 weeks, and what midden deposits can teach us, in our modern times, about what life was like way back when. It seems inconsequential, but it makes one take a different look at what we, as a people, leave behind.
Francesca Favila – I concur with the statements above; the thing that I will miss most about this class is all of the people. And in the end, I think that the variety of backgrounds allowed for a fuller experience and final project. Even though I found some of the technology over my head, I appreciated what I did learn and I know I will be able to utilize it in the future. This last week was the most challenging for me; entering all of the metadata was arduous and seemed to be more time consuming than I planned. But the life of Juana Briones and my interest in the herbs is what kept me going; and the fact that we were able to choose our own topic and explore the subject in the way that we saw fit enabled me to take risks and learn in a new way. I had a wonderful experience and came away with a new skill-set and an interest the history of the Presidio of San Francisco. The absolute best part of this class was the location. Even the long commute could not tarnish the natural beauty of the park, the fog horns in the morning and the Golden Gate Bridge greeting you in the afternoon sun. It was a summer well spent.
Cyrena Giordano – Craziness. That’s all I felt this last week. I agree with Francesca, the meta data was def a killer. All I wanted to do was make a final product but I kept feeling stressed and tied down by meta data tracking. I’m glad I did manage to make videos and a prezi (that I wish I had gotten to show all you guys). I always love these kinds of small classes because I feel like I learn the most from them. I get to know everyone well. And I do agree that everyone with different backgrounds only helps make the learning better. I was super excited that everyone in a teacher position seemed to have something different to offer and teach as well! I was also surprised and thankful that we have two, vary different but completely interesting GSI type peoples. I LOVED learning about blogging. I’m so happy and thankful I got to have different conversations with different people and learned from and experienced all the different personalities in our class.
Adam Grab – I was saying to Ruth before I left how strange it was to have a class feel so condensed, as if we were together every day, yet at same time, pass by so quickly. It really was a lot more fun than I thought it would be in the beginning, to speak truthfully. We were really fortunate to end up with two really knowledgeable teachers and a room full of students who were all great at getting along with each other. It was sad to miss Connor the last day, mainly because there was much laughter the last day, and it would have been nice to have added his distinct chuckle to the soundscape. I am still anxious to see the final product, and I hope Ruth and Michael stay in touch until it’s finalized. I also hope, even more importantly, that my work creates a foundation for a future class. Maybe another student in a year or so can delve into deeper into music than I did, and be able to utilize my resources to the fullest. Therein lies of the benefit of all that metadata!
So as the rest of the Summer carries on and you find yourself longing for a trip to the Great Outdoors where you can learn about the history and archaeological record of the San Francisco Bay area, interact with our new digital tool that documents the cultural heritage of El Presidio, take a walk or jog along a nature trail, sit on a bench among gorgeously restored ex-military buildings, visit museums, and see vistas of the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island – all while maintaining the modern amenities of urban life within a major cosmopolitan setting – El Presidio de San Francisco is the place for you! We had a great time working here and welcome you to experience it yourself. Just remember to bring your curiosity, and a sweater. You may never find yourself bored while in our foggy city by the Bay, but our cloud cover will especially impress you! Luckily, everything you need to warm your spirits and entertain your desires to visit one of the country’s most treasured national parks can be found right here in the San Francisco Presidio. Hope to see you (in person or virtually) very soon!