William White on the Digital Heritage of People's Park

06 Jun, 2019

William White on the Digital Heritage of People's Park

This year the Berkeley Center for New Media offered two junior faculty research grants to seed ambitious academic scholarship in new media at Cal. William White (Anthropology) was selected for “The People's Park Digital Heritage Project.” Read more about the project below!

Recently, U.C. Berkeley proposed the construction of new residence hall and supportive housing facility in a portion of People’s Park. The University originally assumed this property in the 1960s to build student housing, immediately sparking counterculture activism. The protests for People’s Park and their violent suppression was a landmark event in the Free Speech Movement. The park has become a symbolic icon of public activism and propelled Berkeley to the forefront of the anti-establishment movement.

The People’s Park Digital Heritage Project will be an effort to document the evolution of People’s Park as an urban space and its role in Berkeley history. Funds from a Berkeley Collegium Grant have been requested to help pay student research assistants to do the legwork of identifying and digitizing archival materials associated with People’s Park. A BCNM Faculty Seed Grant will help:
• Cover the costs of a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey to identify archaeological
materials associated with People’s Park;
• Create a 3-D streetscape of the park prior to 1969 using archival photos and drone-based
photogrammetry renderings of buildings moved from the park area, and;
• Build a virtual tour of places and events associated with the 1969 uprising.

The goal is to create a digital model of what this parcel used to be before it was transformed into a park, and to highlight the central role it played in the anti-establishment uprising in support of the park so publics can digitally experience this part of Berkeley history. It is also designed to demonstrate 21st century archaeological method and theory. Conducting a non-intrusive GPR survey of the park using equipment already at U.C. Berkeley’s Archaeological Research Facility (ARF) has the potential to identify archaeological deposits, which will help the university manage their obligations under CEQA if they choose to move forward with this project. Converting archival photos into a digital experience will rely heavily on Adobe Creative Cloud software, which the U.C. Berkeley makes available to students and scholars. For the last decade, archaeologists have been using unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. drones) to map archaeological sites and create 3D models of buildings and structures. Scholars at the ARF are skilled in conducting drone-based archaeological reconnaissance using innovative DJI Phantom series drones with 4K resolution and pre-programmed flight patterns. Agisoft Photoscan, Pix4D mapper, and other data processing software packages can be used to transform 2D images into 3D models. All drone use will be conducted in accordance with the U.C. Berkeley’s official policy and any pertinent City of Berkeley regulations. With the property owner’s consent, 3D images will also be taken of houses that were moved from the Park parcel prior to 1969. All of these data will be integrated into a Google Earth or ESRI Story Map chronicling the evolution of People’s Park as an urban place and its relationship to memorable events associated with the Free Speech Movement activities in the late 1960s.

Grant funding will go towards technical assistance with the GIS work and creating 3D renderings. In addition to helping ARF scholars complete the project, a BCNM seed grant will contribute to an on-campus workshop with project participants that showcases the end result of these efforts. An estimated that 60% of the funding will go towards technical assistance, 20% to software and the remainder will help host the on-campus workshop in the summer of 2020. This project can be a template for future work at the ARF, U.C. Berkeley scholars, and its graduates.