A review of The Old Spanish Trail Auto Highway Archive and Map, a digital project on the Old Spanish Trail national roadway, directed by Lindsay Passenger Wieck
The Old Spanish Trail Auto Highway Archive and Map
Lindsey Passenger Wieck, St. Mary’s University
Brian Knoth, Rhode Island College
Lindsey Passenger Wieck
In this project, a team comprised of one faculty member, one librarian, and several undergraduate and graduate students digitized the Old Spanish Trail (OST) collection, held by the Blume Library at St. Mary’s University, for the Old Spanish Trail’s centennial celebrations (2015-2029). Lindsey Passenger Wieck, Director of Graduate Public History, and librarian Jill J. Crane worked with undergraduate and graduate students to digitize this archive in 2019-2020. Wieck, Crane, and Samantha (Shine) Trabucco created the digitization and metadata workflow. Undergraduate students Glory Turnbull, Christopher Hohman, and Danielle Slaughter scanned all items in this collection using two CZUR book scanners, produced a database of the collection materials in Airtable, and generated metadata for each item. Wieck added all items to DSpace, a digital repository tool, and then created a public-facing interface on Omeka-S that pulls all items from DSpace to display to the public. Wieck is seeking a place to publish the workflow and larger process used to digitize these materials to help others undertake projects of this scale while on a tight budget.
In structuring our metadata workflow, we cataloged names of people mentioned and generated tags that highlighted key themes in this work. We also prioritized cataloging cities and towns and geographical features like rivers and businesses, an organization that could allow later georeferencing. Using these metadata fields, along with the Omeka S module that turns metadata items into links, makes it easy to search by location, person, or institution—an important feature because many people interested in this project are seeking histories of particular businesses, towns, or individuals. While trying to maintain a neutral stance as much as possible, the romanticization of Spanish conquest and the marginalization of Native and Hispanic peoples remained a recurring theme throughout the collection, and we tried to use topical keywords to acknowledge these themes when evident.
We’ve also used this site to house several research projects undertaken by students and faculty. Two storymaps created by Wieck are housed here—the first maps a 1929 travelog, a type of brochure that mapped the route, providing information and advice to travelers, and the second considers how the OST romanticized Spanish heritage. Student Glory Turnbull produced a traveling exhibit that will engage the public in cities along the OST from Florida to California. Turnbull also produced a digital version of this exhibit, making it available on this site to ensure its accessibility. In addition, undergraduate and graduate students produced projects using the OST primary sources from the digitized archive to produce digital projects with St. Mary’s history professor Teresa Van Hoy, some of which will be added to the archive site over the coming months.
The digitization and interpretation of these resources will enable the integration of these primary sources in classrooms and support scholarly research for those interested in the development of auto tourism, highways, and the romanticization of Spanish heritage. The Old Spanish Trail 100 (OST 100), an organization formed in 2004 to recognize and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the OST, has been a key partner in this project, promoting our work and providing additional context in our initial research and metadata creation process.
This archive was made possible in part with a grant from the Council of Independent Colleges with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in addition to a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Old Spanish Trail (OST) Auto Highway project is a website dedicated to a national roadway in the United States. The highway, mostly built between 1919 and 1929, ran from St. Augustine, Florida to San Diego, California and connected many southern cities and towns that had previously been difficult to access by car. This important collaboration between faculty, library staff, and students made use of digitized sources from the OST collection, which is held by the Blume Library at St. Mary’s University.
The website starts with an overview of the historical significance of the OST and highlights how the road “helped provide opportunities for tourism and economic growth in many of the small towns along the OST.” A section featuring the OST “travelogs” follows with information on the significance of these important yearly documents that “functioned like contemporary travel guides—highlighting sites of interest, offering recommendations of local amenities, and providing historical context and notable information about an area.” The travelog section also provides digitized examples from one of the final OST Travelogs: the March 1929 edition. The examples highlight the mileage tables which “communicated the distance between cities, in addition to the population of cities and towns” and the descriptive log, which provided thorough information on each state and city that travelers would encounter along the OST.
A section on “Spanish Heritage Tourism: Celebrating the Spanish Past” follows. The authors state, “While there was never a road traveled by the Spanish linking Florida to California, boosters embraced the Spanish heritage because romanticism sells.” Finally, a section on the “Impact of Spanish Heritage Tourism” highlights how the Eurocentric focus of Spanish heritage themes “…wrote out populations of color who had long lived throughout these lands.”
The website was created using the ArcGIS StoryMaps platform, which offers digital storytelling authors the ability to create interactive maps blending multiple forms of media, such as image, text, and video. It is unclear whether the full capabilities of the platform were utilized. The main website page functions mostly as a framework for presenting simple text and archival imagery when scrolling down the page.
That said, users are offered a link to a somewhat inconspicuous “interactive map version of the 1929 travelog.” When one navigates to this separate page, which opens to a new browser tab, the interactive map does feature location-based content from the March 1929 OST Travelog; however, as the site notes, “Because of the difficulty of locating many of the 1929 amenities, most are mapped to the contemporary city center.” The interactive experience of the map seems a bit clunky, and the directions are a bit unclear, although scrolling down the page seems to provide an interesting form of location-based interactivity. The project could be further enhanced by featuring the interactive map more prominently on the main page and more clearly instructing the user on how to navigate the map’s features.
The authors do include sources at the bottom of the main web page, but it is unclear if they are complete. If not, it would be useful not only to students but also to other scholars to include a more thorough bibliography. This could include further readings on the subject.
The larger archival digitization effort that this website sprang from included the work of both undergraduate and graduate students. Therefore, the entirety of this project is a very admirable undertaking. As it stands, the project offers an intriguing look at the complicated history of the Old Spanish Trail, illuminating some of the conflicting themes within the “travelogs” that attempted to sell travelers on a “romanticized past.”