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  • Writer's pictureFlorida Trust

Story Maps Help Tell the Full Story of the Past

Whether you recognize it or not, you have probably have seen a map created using a Geographic Information System platform. These maps are most often produced by ESRI, an international supplier of geographic information systems.

What started as a complex geospatial tool has evolved to include a web-based platform that is user-friendly even for those reluctant to learn a new trick. During the past year, the ESRI StoryMap product has become a ubiquitous component of their GIS toolbox. For some, it is the new Power Point and to others it is a translator of multiple data sources. Just like the name suggests, StoryMap is a product that helps you build a story through map-based resources while also using text, audio/video information, tables, charts, and images. We are taking the opportunity to share this tool to encourage you to explore it to promote your heritage site or community preservation program, or to advocate for preservation policies within other initiatives. You will find this is a surprisingly easy platform to weave multi-media sources into a dynamic presentation.

Through a familiar web interface with ESRI’s ArcGIS Online, you can connect to multitudes of data and customization options to incorporate into your StoryMap as part of your subscription with prices beginning at $100/year. When you start your StoryMap, choose from a template or create your own with effective and imaginative immersive blocks. The basic immersive presentations offered are the sidecar, slideshow, and guided tour and they can be used in combination in a single StoryMap. As you build your text, dynamic data, and images/graphics in the blocks you can also add widgets that let you compare and contrast two images (say an historic map with a modern map) using a swipe widget that lets the StoryMap reader slide a bar across the image to switch between the same parts of the two images. Other widgets are more self-explanatory like audio, video, image, and slideshow. More advanced users can insert maps which are embedded GIS maps created in Map Viewer or Web Map App.

When you visit a StoryMap listed here, notice the format - immersive blocking, text blocks and font variations, separator lines, graphics, and widgets. If you can recognize these elements, then you will be ready to build your own StoryMap; the online program will help you build each individual section and offer customization choices along the way.

A couple of easy to follow StoryMaps we found were used to share the heritage of a particular area and culture. They include historical documentation, personal accounts, and vivid images historic and contemporary images.

Hastings, in St. Johns County, can seem like a forgotten place that has been left behind from the changes in commercial agriculture and transportation. The Town voted to dissolve as a corporation and come under the jurisdiction of St. Johns County, incidentally one of the fastest growing counties in the country. The “Town of Hastings” StoryMap recognizes the unique heritage of Hastings while also providing information to residents on the priority activities the county is undertaking to deliver on their promise to the Hasting’s voters.

Florida ranching is part of Florida’s heritage that arrived with the Spanish colonists in the 16th century. Some say this is a lost art in the realm of traditional Florida heritage, but ranching also plays a significant role in conservation. “Preserving Old Florida,” a StoryMap produced by the Florida National Resources Conservation Service, uses the presentation to educate readers about Florida’s ranching traditions and promotes opportunities for partnerships to expand land and water conservation efforts with the USDA.

More recently, an immense collection of StoryMaps was published by the Tallahassee-Leon County GIS department in mid-2020 as a way to cope with community needs for sharing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The county has a collection of 25 StoryMaps covering topics from various epochs in the region’s history, and each one is uniquely curated.

When it comes to complex community policies and environmental threats, a StoryMap is a way to divide elements of these issues into smaller digestible pieces. One of the threats confronting most of Florida is flooding and sea level rise. “Resilient Heritage in the Nation’s Oldest City” was produced in part with a grant from the Florida Division of Historical Resources and the City of St. Augustine. A multi-disciplinary team of experts consulted on an educational publication addressing the threats of flooding on St. Augustine’s cultural resources and economy. One of their deliverables translated the publication into a StoryMap which can be used as a landing page for the City’s continued efforts. A subsequent grant project will create additional StoryMaps based on other aspects of the city’s diverse heritage.

According to the historic preservation consultants at PaleoWest,

StoryMaps are becoming a popular way to make sure history doesn’t live on a shelf. We love using StoryMaps because they are an intentionally concise and public-friendly presentation of a topic. The colorful photographs and maps or video immediately draw in a reader, pulling you in to explore. PaleoWest is using StoryMaps as outreach, a COVID-safe and accessible tour, a project capstone, and even as part of mitigation.

Are you using StoryMaps to tell history?

Jenny Wolfe is Vice President of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation?

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