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Recent Past Providence has been created by Sara Emmenecker, a Public Humanities Master’s student at Brown University as a final project for Susan Smulyan’s spring 2010 course on Digital Scholarship.

The goal of this site is to encourage the appreciation and preservation of architectural resources from the recent past in Providence, RI. It utilizes digital tools to present educational information to the public. Features of the site include digital exhibit and database prototypes created using Omeka, video, a downloadable audio walking tour with accompanying map and guidebook, an interactive GoogleMap, and a dynamic Twitter feed displaying updates about the recent past preservation movement.

This site was built using WordPress.com because it hosts blogs at no cost and allows for the integration of social networking tools like Twitter and Flickr, an RSS feed subscriber, an interactive GoogleMap, ScribD documents, and the ability to solicit and collect user comments.

Omeka was utilized to create a prototype database of items with rich metadata. The Omeka exhibit can be accessed through a link on the downtown walking tour page. To catalog architectural resources, a new  “Item Type” was created, including metadata unique to buildings such as architect, number of stories, and neighborhood.

Other uniquely digital features of this site are video and audio. The homepage includes interviews with three experts on Providence architecture — Ned Connors, a historical preservation consultant and adjunct professor at Roger Williams University; Chris Ise, Principal Planner at the Providence Department of Planning and Development; and Jason Martin, Preservation Planner for the City of Providence — hours of raw material have been be pared down to create these brief video clips. The videos were created to provide the public with a better understanding of the significance of architectural resources of the recent past.

The site’s audio component is a downloadable walking tour. The walking tour script takes listeners through the streets of downtown Providence, describing ten recent past resources along the way. After editing the original clip, it was converted into an mp3 and made available on the site for users to listen to and download through a SoundCloud audio player. A map showing the tour route and pdf of the accompanying guidebook for users to download are available on the same page.

Visitors to the site are encouraged to comment and form a community based on their appreciation of recent past architecture.

The Recent Past Preservation Movement in Providence

One of the largest challenges currently facing historic preservationists across the country is how to handle architecture from the recent past, or resources less than fifty years old. In general, architecture from this period is less appreciated by the public and less documented by preservationists—therefore more vulnerable to inappropriate treatment or demolition.

The City of Providence was largely built out prior to World War II, making recent past buildings comparatively scarce. The combination of a lack of appreciation and comparatively few buildings makes Providence’s buildings from the recent past particularly threatened.

Even though architectural resources from the recent past may at first appear avant-garde and many people will find them not as aesthetically pleasing as buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they are still an important part of Providence’s architectural record whose value and significance will continue to appreciate over time. But in order for them to achieve the same level of acceptance as architecture from earlier eras, an effort must be made now to increase appreciation and preserve them.

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