This is a guest post by Josie Morgan, an undergraduate student at UCLA who interned at the American Folklife Center from September to December 2017.
Flying from sunny Southern California to bustling Washington D.C. for the first time this past September, I began my experience at the Library of Congress with a welcome tour, a white Library of Congress folder, and a new workspace. As a Geography and Environmental Studies student from Los Angeles, I was perhaps unlike many interns at the American Folklife Center. Geography can be broad, however, and my time here exposed me to some commonalities between my chosen field of study and the work done at AFC.
The core of my internship involved assisting with a StoryMap  and developing a workflow documenting the steps taken in the project. StoryMaps are an online component of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), an international vendor of Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) technology. StoryMaps are essentially interactive online maps, combining narrative texts, images, and mixed media content to establish captivating presentations and, most importantly, tell a story. I combed through the AFC’s digital collections, looking for rich geographical information that could be utilized in this project. I selected the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project, a field survey from the 1970’s documenting art from over twenty ethnic neighborhoods around Chicago.
It seems academic training only takes you so far in the “real world,” as terms like “workflow” were new to me and throughout my internship I learned as I went. I was able to rely on my GIS and cultural geography knowledge to build a StoryMap from AFC collection material. Drawing on guidance I gleaned about doing fieldwork from AFC’s “Folklife and Fieldwork: An Introduction to Cultural Documentation,” I identified key locations within the African American community in Chicago documented during the 1977 field survey project: locations home to migrant musicians, home parties, and weekend performances. StoryMaps work best when anchored by a strong narrative, and organizing content and story prior to uploading and creating makes the project effective. Inspired by a gallery of StoryMaps featured on the ESRI website, and a simple YouTube search for workflow ideas, I created a PowerPoint storyboard that would be the basis of my storytelling. I uploaded geo-location info to ArcGIS online, and began editing the project. This phase of work took me about two weeks.
The final product included an immersive presentation with photographs from the AFC collection, as well as the Photographs and Print Division, colorful geocoded locations, texts describing each location, and quotes from the field survey. I created a series of maps highlighting the population distribution of African Americans in the U.S. today, impacted by the legacy of the Underground Railroad migration, and second wave of migration in the 1900s in response to job prospects in the north. I tailored the maps to focus on culture documented in the 1977 survey: where were the blues lounges located? Where was Jazz Alley? Committed to the essence of geography– the science of where– the StoryMap focused on the significance behind each location, the meaning of location. Rather than solely emphasizing the science, though, the narrative underlying this StoryMap explored historical and social processes that shaped key locations for the creation of art by community members.
Beyond working on the StoryMap project, my experience at the Library of Congress included: volunteering at the Halloween Pop-Up exhibit, meeting the Geography and Maps Division staff, and touring the underground tunnels to the John Adams and James Madison Library buildings, as well as the House and Senate offices. Perhaps most significantly, I valued the quality of my interactions with AFC and Library staff. After applying to multiple internships, I felt most connected to the Library due to the interview with my supervisor-to-be, John Fenn. I expanded my research skills through meetings with my work neighbor, Todd Harvey, and learned to navigate the Library’s online catalog and databases. GIS Day and listening to Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) encouraged me to continue my commitment to GIS and learn about its capabilities in government, such as transportation analysis to better serve constituents. Finally, my experience working with StoryMaps developed my cartographic and design skills, and will certainly prove useful in a career built on GIS and government. Thank you to everyone at the American Folklife Center for providing a wonderful work environment and I do hope our paths cross again.
- The StoryMap platform is in a pilot phase at the Library of Congress. Stay tuned for information about public access!