Technology & The Humanities Intersect Along El Camino Real

Service provider, 3DVDT's Sonoma Mission intern discusses the importance of comprehensive digital documentation and data dissemination for Mission Sonoma

by Makenna Murray
July 25, 2013
Guest blogger: Makenna Murray is finishing her final year at Wellesley College studying History and Art History. She is planning to go to get her masters in Historic Preservation following graduation.

As a Californian, I remember my fourth grade Mission Project vividly; the high point of my brief 8-year life. I remember the feeling of water, flour and glue mixed together for my make-shift adobe; how my father (an architect) made me painstakingly pace out the dimensions of my Mission and the excitement of finally seeing my mini San Francisco de Solano finally complete. Now, at 21, I have come full circle on my fourth grade report by joining CyArk and 3D Virtual Design Technology Inc. in their efforts to digitally document the El Camino Real, and more specifically, Mission Sonoma.

I have been fortunate enough to receive funding for my work this summer through my school, Wellesley College, and our Center for Work and Service. Wellesley and the CWS support student-identified internships that foster the production of knowledge and the enrichment of its student’s academic and professional interests.

This is such an incredible treat for me, not only because of my previous and very brief foray into the history of Mission Sonoma, but also as a History and Art History double-major specializing in western America and architecture, who also started as a Geoscience-GIS major, it combines my interests in a way that hasn't been possible within my academic life.

For many, the humanities and technology seem like polar opposites. Sadly, this has been my experience as well, and is ultimately the reason for my academic change-of-plans. Many of the humanities seem to have a peculiar aversion to adaptation and development of methods and sources and are somewhat hostile to the (obvious) trend towards digital sources and dissemination. Art Historians in particular still cling to their large-format folios of glossy images. Likewise, the American Historical Association recently released a statement calling for a 6 year embargo on the publication of History PhD dissertations, ostensibly to protect new academics’ publication prospects; but many feel that the organization—charged with a congressional mandate to support the dissemination of history—is out of touch.
Funding for STEM education comes at the cost of declining funding for humanities. The either-or model for funding is not only mildly baffling but harmful. Both humanities and STEM could benefit from a more cooperative relationship with the other.

Anyone who has attempted to locate and then utilize hard-copy archives will sympathize with my frustration. The proprietary and restrictive nature of these physical resources nearly ensures that they are inaccessible to the majority of those who might find them interesting or useful to their work or research, not to mention the near impossibility of accessing them as a member of the general public.

CyArk’s mission to not only document, but also disseminate the data they capture is incredibly exciting for me. CyArk is not just applying a humanities focus to a technology mission, or vice-versa, they have conceived of both aspects together. CyArk has positioned itself at the intersection of technology and humanities in a way that is still quite novel.

For El Camino Real de California and Mission Sonoma, CyArk’s unique services offer the opportunity to bring the sites’ work into the twenty-first century and move to the forefront of the preservation field.

Though an archeological investigation of the Mission Sonoma site was completed in 1954, no further research has been done at the Mission since. Unsurprisingly, our understanding of Mission history and archeology has advanced light-years beyond since the mid-century. By failing to join in ongoing conservation and research, Mission Sonoma has put itself at a real disadvantage. To date, the Mission does not have a complete set of floor plans—a somewhat incredible fact, I think, considering that it has been existent in some capacity since 1823.

CyArk will do them one better and deliver not only standard architectural-grade plans and drawings, but a near perfect set of data which can be used for both major structural conservation, and smaller features such as rafters, the sanctuary, and altar.

Four Missions have been documented by CyArk including Mission San Francisco de Asís (Dolores), Mission San Juan Bautista, Mission San Luis Rey, and Carmel, and the data for Dolores is already available online. CyArk has been granted access to an additional 10 missions and plans to complete documentation of between one and five during 2013. Up next—Mission Sonoma.

Though all the missions fall within the El Camino Real theme, they each function as independent projects with their own goals, budgets and supporters. Depending on the size of the site and the desired deliverables, the cost of one of these projects can vary from $50,000 to over $80,000.

In order to complete the scan prior to this October’s 500 Challenge Launch & Conference and to involve Sonoma Valley High School’s new Engineering Design & Technology Department, we have set the date of Mission Sonoma’s scan for August 30. Unfortunately, this short timeline means we are under a very tight deadline for our fundraising efforts. At Mission Sonoma, we are lucky to have both a modest site and conservation-minded community members; generous donations from 3D Virtual Design Technology Inc., California Surveying and Drafting and Supply and Pacific HDS have allowed the Mission Sonoma project to reduce its budget to about $15,000. Nevertheless, as with all projects, we are looking to the community to help us raise the funds necessary to complete the project and protect this beloved and iconic community resource.

Please consider becoming a supporter of Sonoma Mission or the full El Camino Real Project. I invite you to visit our webpage to learn more about our work at Mission San Francisco de Solano.

Mission Sonoma
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