Kick Starting the Exeter City FC trail at the Park

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In October we will be meeting the children in the Kick Start programme that is run by Jamie Vittles at Exeter City Football in the Community. To avoid taking them too far away from the Park, especially since one of the main attractions of the programme is that they can spend time at the Park, we have designed a new trail of ca 12 locations that include the director’s box, the Flybe stand, the Brazilian flags, the Big Bank and its heart (as two separate locations), a goalpost, the Old Grandstand, the media suites, the changing rooms, the St James Stand, the Flybe stand again with a different story), and the Fountain Centre. We were offered, as always, absolutely invaluable help by Lewis Jones, Martin Weiler, Jamie Vittles, and Paul Farley, and also, this time, by Andy Bratt whose tour notes were a great stimulation in determining how to design this experience. I should also take this opportunity to thank Mike Blackstone, who has made all his materials available to us. We have drawn many facts and stories from his work and owe him a big thank you!!

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Having identified the locations, and written the stories attached to them, covering, as in the other longer trail just over one hundred years of the club’s fascinating history, I needed to  geocode the new locations and was again reminded of the strange alienation one experiences by juxtaposing one’s presence on a map with just ‘being’ in an environment. Tomorrow it will be testing times again, and somehow I can already tell from the way the tool has mapped the geocoded sites that I may need to take quite a few more readings. The problem is that the area is very confined and, perhaps because it was again a cloudy day, the satellites struggled to produce accurate readings.

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So – more on this soon – but in the meantime, having covered the origins of the term Grecian, Sid Thomas and the history of the grounds, the Brazilian match and Dick Pym, Cliff Bastin, the Trust’s history, Arthur Chadwick, Alan Banks, Tony Kellow, Edward Reid, Scott Hiley, Paul Tisdale, the Fountain Centre and a few anecdotes here and there, what would you add? The aim is that the children will add some locations and histories, so let us know if you feel that any stories can  be added by us now or by them in October.

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We have come a long way in this project, and couldn’t have done so without the help of many individuals, some named, others not, and the support of St Sidwell’s Primary School and St David’s Primary School; Exeter City Council and Dave Adcock; and absolutely everybody at the Trust and Club where we have felt hugely welcome and supported at all times. We could not have done this without the help of our funders, REACT-Heif and the support of the REACT team. Watching very talented and profoundly dedicated staff teach football at my daughter’s school inspired me to use the RAMM time trail tool to write the history Exeter City FC into the streets of Exeter. They are thanked too, even though they may not know of the significant role they played in this project. Last but not least, our project has now come to an end. We will continue to share the results of our research and let you know what our next steps might be. As for myself, apart from sorting the geocoding, refining the trail for Jamie’s children, testing the whole thing, I will be writing an article on presencing in relation to these trails for a Brazilian journal entirely dedicated to the study of presence, and analysing the role of trails for archiving in my book Archive Everything. As for the team, we have plans to market the tool. So it’s not a good-bye yet.

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A few more words on research: the significance of trails for remembering

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I have spent some time over the last few days testing and re-testing the Exeter City FC trail. The first time I tested it, some locations were not picked up and GPS accuracy was an issue, but after more development by Andy, I finally managed to complete the trail this morning, successfully visiting all 23 locations, despite poor connectivity (you can see that from the fact the dot is orange rather than green). The next step is to see what the volunteers recruited by Exeter City FC Supporters Trust will make of it on 21 September. We would really welcome some feedback at this stage by fans who are not familiar with the project.

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I mentioned before that we will be able to test the trail (or the idea of telling a history through a trail) as part of Jamie Vittle’s Kick Start programme. As we will be able to use the inside of St James Park for this, we decided to build a new, shorter trail, that would again tell the history of the club and trust through a set of locations inside the Park. So, in this case, we will need to identify the relationship between these locations and individuals, and then use both to build up the history of the club and trust.

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The first noticeable thing is that there is poor connectivity inside the Park (you can again see that from the orange dot). This may mean that we will not be able to rely solely on technology, and, typically for mixed reality environments (i.e. environments using both physical and digital locations), we will need to turn the possibility of error, and related ambiguity, to our advantage.

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However, there are also parts of St James Park which have a very good signal. Being inside the Park opened up all sorts of new possibilities of wayfaring which I will discuss in more detail in my next blog. But even just by looking at the image, you can see that the area in contained, the spaces charged with meaning, the atmosphere, even on a grey day, quite vibrant and evocative.

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In the meantime, though, a few more words on the significance of trails. Anthropologist Tim Ingold in his fascinating book called Lines reminds us of the difference between trail-following, or wayfaring, and pre-planned navigation. The wayfarer follows a path that has been previously travelled, stepping into the footsteps of others. The navigator uses a map, a representation of a territory, upon which they can plot their travel (2007: 15-16). Ingold points out that readers of the Middle Ages were wayfarers, following sign posts that enabled them to ‘find their way within the landscapes of memory’ (2007: 16). Remembering then, Ingold notes, becomes a performance: ‘the text is remembered by reading it, the story by telling it, the journey by making it.’ (2007: 16). In my forthcoming book, which I am writing these days, I am hoping to show how digital archives can be used in distributed physical spaces to prompt communities of users towards remembering facts that could be used to generate valuable knowledge. I hope, by exploring texts and images from Exeter City FC’s archive, or RAMM’s archive in the broader project, whilst travelling, or wayfaring, to facilitate the ‘performance’ of memory and prompt stories that would, brought together, generate a given community’s ‘living’ history.

References

Giannachi, G. (2015, forthcoming) Archive Everything (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press).

Ingold, T. Lines (2007) A Brief History (London and New York: Routledge).

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More testing

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The more I work on this particular time trail, the more I seem to be absorbed in the complexity of generating a ‘story’, which is also a ‘history’ (or one possible history), that is not narrated chronologically but rather as a set of spatial encounters with absent artefacts or places. Playwright Bertold Brecht’s theory of Verfremdung, or distancing, postulates the advantages of creating different perspectives over familiar settings or materials. Here too it is not only the story we try to tell, or the environment the user is immersed in when following our time trails, but rather their synthesis, which will be experienced very subjectively, that I will be focussing on more intensively over the next few weeks.

At a personal level, I have lived in Exeter for nearly 10 years now, and have been for the first time to St James just a few months ago. Then, the place had no history for me. Now, having conducted some intensive research on the club and trust, and having met some of the people who work there, I feel a certain familiarity. Sites have become associated with people, and the latter with their histories, often intertwined with the broader ‘History’ of Exeter.

I am therefore very pleased to say that I will now also be involved in two further projects that will culminate in 2014 to mark the anniversary of Exeter’s historic match against Brazil. The first one is the documentation of Nick Stimson’s play which will be shown at the Northcott Theatre next year. The second, is a collaboration with the Trust and 1010 Media over the development of a website to accompany an exhibition curated by Kiera Gould whose blog you should check out as it documents her curatorial thinking process.

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In the meantime, we are still testing. Will, Andy and I spent a few hours simultaneously testing the geocoding (yet again) and the app’s functionalities. In terms of geocoding, it was a cloudy day (not just metaphorically). This means the satellites struggled to locate us and were not always able to tell apart locations which were very close to each other. To deal with this, we decided to move some of the locations (i.e. their geocoding) so that the different locations at the Park would not overlap. The ticket booth, for example, is now geocoded to the car park, so it wouldn’t interfere with the location for Stansfield’s memorial.

While we were testing the geocoding, we were also testing the app itself. In particular, we were wondering whether the trail should be visualised by a line or whether our presence should just be marked by the blue dot. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but in the end we decided not to visualise the actual line. As we kept on testing different possibilities of visualising the trail, Andy was developing, literally, on the go. In the picture below I captured the thrilling moment when he had to reconfigure his server. You can see him sitting on the pavement just in front of the ticket booth, with his computer, i-pad and i-phone, writing code…

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Creating trails from scratch

From zero to rhino

Our project is based on existing objects and locations. Catching up with a friend I heard about a trail created completely from scratch, with no existing objects or locations, and a limited time span. Intrigued by this different approach I decided to find out more and report back.

Most of us are familiar with art trails created in existing art and sculpture parks or linking art in urban settings. In Southampton they took a different approach with their Go Rhinos project.

The Southampton project

They have commissioned rhino sculptures to showcase local artistic talent. From our point of view what’s interesting is the finished rhinos are positioned around the city and linked with a trail. There is a simple PDF format map  and an iPhone app with gaming elements in its design. So there we go, art plus created objects, plus selected locations equals temporary trail!

Go Rhinos! painted rhino with a giraffe on!

Go Rhinos! painted rhino with a giraffe on!

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Testing Testing (again)

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We have now selected 25 locations, which can be seen on a map. They start at St James Park and end at RAMM. Yesterday, once again, I set off to check the accuracy of the geocoding and whether the affordance of the first location made sense when encountered in situ. This is because each location is associated to an image, a text (100 words only) and an affordance (i.e. in the sense it prompts an action or a thought). Whilst the text seemed sufficiently informative, and the affordance evocative, the image looked too fuzzy and this made me realise that one of our challenges is that we need to satisfy both users who will utilise their phones and encounter the trail whilst mobile (with all the connectivity problems this implies) and users who will encounter the trail on their PC (most seniors we consulted indicated that they would prefer this option, and in my experience users prefer to be creative at home than whilst out and about). However, after an hour, sadly, I had to give up, as the trail aspect of the tool was not working.

Today, I set off again, and realised,  when I arrived at St James Park, that a match had just started. Needless to say, I felt profoundly self-conscious (and somehow rather stupid), walking around staring into my phone, making copious notes, and completely ignoring what all others were there for, namely the match itself. Again, like yesterday, the trail tool wasn’t working, though the marker on the map (the blue dot) was progressing, which meant that I could (fortunately for me) test the geocoding. Whilst I could not test the first 7 locations, as they were sealed off because of the match, I am pleased to say that all other locations, except for one, from the Big Bank to RAMM, were picked up by the app. Having said that, I have 4 pages of notes for Andy who, rather heroically, worked very late at night to fix yesterday’s problems for me to test today.

Below, you can see how the app works: you are the blue dot, moving between numbered locations. As you progress, you are told that you are getting closer to the next location. When you are there (hence the significance of the geocoding), you are given the choice whether to continue the trail or view the object (though I just realise now that ‘object’ is probably not the right word in this context). If you view the ‘object’, you get a 100 word text, an image and an affordance (a prompt). If we get the funding to further develop the app, you will then be able to add your own thoughts about a site, person, event or even create your own trail. I am particularly pleased with the affordance we chose for the Big Bank, as it involves looking through a small square cut out frame on a red door. Do you know which door I am thinking of? When I first looked, I could not see anybody – only the big heart…

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Mobiles, Tablets and Museums, oh my!

You can be too helpful

Some of you may have followed the recent rise in thefts from museums. Investigations have shown many of the more collectable and sought after items stolen are taken to order. There is evidence to show that criminals use the detailed information about objects online or in apps and tours for mobiles and tablets, including their locations in museums, to plan thefts.

A selection of objects from RAMM

A selection of objects from RAMM

The result of this is that the museum sector has worked with the police to analyse where museum security is at risk form organised thefts. Both the Museums Association and the Collections Trust have helped museums with practical advice to address this risk.

Implications for mobile trails

From a museum perspective the dilemma is we want to share our wonder and information about our collections but as stewards of the collections we must safeguard them for the future too. We also have a rise in visitors accessing our information via mobiles and tablets – an average of 24% of visitors to the RAMM website use their mobile or tablet.

Regular visitors to RAMM and this blog know about our current in museum tours for mobiles and tablets. These address objects but do not give precise location or value details. The latest advice is take this approach, as giving precise locations can allow someone to plan a theft without setting foot in the museum!

This is disappointing for us as we were working with 1010 Media to get locations to within a metre. This would have given a trail inside the museum with very precise point to point locations and easy for a visitor to follow. However, while the current advice still stands we won’t do this which means there will still be an element of exploration at RAMM even with a trail to guide you!

Screenshot of the RAMM museum tours website

Screenshot of the RAMM museum tours website

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WWII Trail: Why We Trail!

The primary goal of the Time Trails project is to expand the reach of the museum (RAMM) outside of the limits of its physical space, and to allow its visitors’ and users of the mobile web based app to explore various aspects of the city’s history and culture. One such aspect which we are exploring and developing for the Time Trail project is the Second World War, and by taking items both on display and in the vast storage of the museum, the app will help users to view and engage with items of material culture closer to their original point of creation or discovery.

Further to this aim, the app will also allow users to explore and understand a number of themes related to this particular time period. Thematically, the study of the Second World War is a strong example of the potentially paradoxical nature of history. Examining the impact of this global event in the relatively diminutive context of the city of Exeter, we see themes such as conflict and resolution, destruction and regeneration and change and continuity. Many of these opposing themes are central to understanding the events and impact of WWII on the city of Exeter and can be illustrated by looking at the material record left by the period.                                  

The artefacts and items of material and artistic culture considered for this trail range in size from a mug to an air raid shelter, and include items such as medals, plans, paintings and travel warrants. These objects in themselves show the wide range of items which comprise the physical evidence which helps us to expose the story of the past, and while many of the items are specific to the period, others would find a familiar resonance with most people in the present. What they all have in common, whether obscure and remarkable or distinctly average or normal is that they create an affordance which will allow the user to uncover not only the factual parts of the story of WWII but also to consider how the war would have affected the lives of the people of this period and the physical impact that it had on the landscape of the city of Exeter.

This trail will highlight that history is not only about facts and dates or about right and wrong answers. It will aim to enable people to consider different ways of viewing and evaluating the past. It will also display that the items that we see in our museums are not always to be looked at as objects of monetary value or reverence, but are part of the rich tapestry of history which leads to the creation, discovery and memory of human stories and experiences.

 

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