Visualizing Conservation Work 

My primary research goal is to understand conservation history in the Adirondacks through the lens of conservation workers.  This is achieved by placing narratives from the experiences of conservation workers on a map.  This provides context and serves as a visualization for the impact of their work. In highlighting the workers themselves, their experiences as individuals are emphasized over the legislative actions that dominate the historiographies of the Adirondack region in the latter half of the 20th century.  The culture in the Adirondacks is also heavily defined by the concept of the Blue Line and people’s relationship to the landscape in general, making maps an appropriate avenue for analyzing conservation history and human experience in the region.

Creating a Prototype

The original idea for this project was centered on the use of oral histories to document the experiences of Adirondack conservation workers.  Given the lack of primary source material available for more recent conservation history and the lives of conservation workers, oral history would be a useful and enriching methodology to contribute the historiography of the region.   Due to the feasibility of contacting and interviewing individuals living and working in the Adirondacks while conducting this project in Boston, the project has morphed into a prototype of an oral history project using secondary sources and what digital primary sources are available. Narratives remain the primary data type and, where possible, have been gathered from literature or synthesized from newspaper and magazine articles.  While not new data, this process has provided a reinterpretation of these materials and, in some cases, a more personal and individualized interpretation of Adirondack history. Some data points have been mapped as “empty” narratives or placeholders for known conservation events or projects that currently have no source for individual stories related to those instances.  In these cases, a broad description of the event or project is included in the map point in place of a personal narrative.  This highlights the potential for individual stories while still acknowledging the work that was completed.  The final version of the project is a completed prototype that provides the methodological basis for an oral history project as well as a built digital platform in which to house and interpret a prospective oral history collection.   

Using Open Source Tools

Choosing a mapping platform was a major challenge of this project.  I had two main criteria for the platform.  The first was that it must be open source, primarily because I want to be able to continue working on this project post-graduation without the need for institution financial support.  Also as a public historian, I felt it was important to use a tool that is widely accessible to the general public.  My second criteria was a high level of interactivity that is also intuitive.  Meaning, I wanted the map to provide a positive user experience in which it is clear to users how to navigate the map. But there is also flexibility in how they can interact with it, so that users can have some control over their own exploration.  I chose to use an open source platform that was announced at the 2019 National Council on Public History Conference last spring called Leaflet with Google Sheets, which can be used with code accessible through GitHub.  The developers for this platform wrote code which links Leaflet (a mapping platform that uses JavaScript) to a Google Spreadsheet.  By filling in a spreadsheet formatted by the developers, a map, which lives at an independent URL, can be edited in real time.  Using a recently launched open source platform came with many challenges that required extensive troubleshooting.  However, through overcoming these challenges I have been able to explore and master a new digital mapping platform.  Ultimately, this platform met both of my criteria and provided a highly readable series of maps that together make a geographically based digital exhibit.

Future Goals-Further Recognizing Environmental Concerns

This project highlights the complexity of conservation history in the Adirondacks and the challenges that are still present in preserving the region.  However, it also highlights the immensity of the efforts that have been put forth to preserve the Adirondack forest and the successes that have come from those efforts. The future goals for this project involve an oral history project, specifically focused on the last fifty years of Adirondack Conservation.  As demonstrated by the lower number of mapped narratives for the more recent decades included in the project, there is a clear need to collect and record the experiences of those who have recently, and still do, work to conserve and protect that Adirondack State Park.  I also hope that through community engagement and crowdsourcing narratives, this project could eventually help to visualize the immense level of work that has made the Adirondack region a model for environmental conservation.  Specifically, I would like to highlight even further the conservationists who are lesser known in Adirondacks, as well as those who engage with residents, visitors, and the landscape itself on a daily basis such as park rangers, stewards and educators.       

View My Data

Overview Map

StoryMap 1930-1949

StoryMap 1950-1969

StoryMap 1970-1989

StoryMap 1990-Present