Our trip to St. Augustine National Cemetery really helped to place the site into the context of St. Augustine as a city, while the discussions local historians, librarians and city employees helped to place the site in a historical context.
In addition to the admittedly impressive pyramid vaults for the Seminole War dead (above), I was struck by both the layout of the cemetery and the coverage of American conflicts that were represented.
Alison Simpson (Florida National Guard Command Historian) provided a great overview of the reorganization of the grave sites and the differences in the markers throughout the Cemetery. Soldiers that served in the Spanish American War are next to World War I Veterans, next to wives, infant children, and markers for both unknown soldiers and for “Unknown Indians”.
When did these “Unknown Indians” die? How? What was their connection to the cemetery/area? Their contributions to their communities or to our understanding of their historical implications? None of that information is easily accessible to visitors without a guide highlighting them, as their markers are indistinguishable from other more traditional burial plots.
I think that one way to increase understanding and engagement with the cemetery is with both a macro and micro view of the cemetery. Since the site covers hundreds of years of US conflicts, beginning with a visualization of the cemetery as a whole (maybe in the vein of Halloran’s The Fallen of World War II short film, or Poppy Field by D’Efilippo) may allow visitors to contextualize the space and help them to identify specific populations of interest. Then, personal stories or historic events can be highlighted through transmedia storytelling, which could include videos, audio, or narrative text. Delivery methods might be through a mobile app or a web-based program.
I think readings in narrative information visualization and history might also assist in the creation of this engagement project. Headrick’s When Information Came of Age is already on our reading list, and is a great overview of the organization and dissemination of information in the 18th century, and Drucker’s Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display and Dork et al.’s Critical InfoViz: Exploring the Politics of Visualization both examine the ethics of visualizing information for the digital humanities.