UCF's New Digital Repository to Track Central Florida's Past

UCF’s New Digital Repository to Track Central Florida’s Past

The New York Giants baseball team built the first swimming pool in Sanford.

Suppose you needed to find out when the New York Giants baseball team purchased the Mayfair Hotel in Sanford. (It was 1948, and the team built the city’s first swimming pool while remodeling the building.)

Or maybe you wondered what happened to the Dinky Line railroad that traveled between Orlando and Oviedo. (Formally known as the Orlando-Winter Park Railroad Co., the line started in 1889, but by 1969 all the tracks were removed because of the popularity of the automobile.)

The University of Central Florida’s new RICHES Mosaic Interface, an innovative online project that just went live, taps into places, people and events like these that shaped the region’s history.

RICHES (the Regional Initiative for Collecting History, Experiences and Stories) of Central Florida is a growing catalog of information that can be searched in a way that Dr. Connie Lester hopes becomes a digital model for others.

The interdisciplinary project started about two years ago, bringing together UCF departments, faculty members and students working with partners in the community to preserve the region’s history. And now, the databases are being presented in the project’s digital, interactive RICHES Mosaic Interface.

Lester, an associate professor of history and director of the project, said people can search the archives by using filters to find documents, photographs, podcasts, videos and other information pinpointed on maps and within certain time windows.

When she started meshing the history project with the most up-to-date technical capabilities, the goal was to tell Central Florida’s story and provide a way to easily zero in on a specific topic.

“We began to think about this together; we talked about how historians think and how people in the digital world think, and then we got them to work together,” Lester said.

As a result, searchers can look for keywords within certain categories – such as business and economy, social and cultural, and government and military – and even delve into a specific time frame reaching back to 1840. (Florida became a state in 1845.)

Today there are 27 partners from the university, the community and beyond driving the project. Partners include the University of West Florida, Florida Atlantic University, historical societies and museums in the region, and organizations such as the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Hannibal Square Heritage Center, Celery Soup/Creative Sanford and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

Individuals, businesses and organizations can help build the site by electronically uploading photos, documents, and other items. Submitted information will be reviewed by the RICHES staff before the items are added to the site.

Much of the website so far has been compiled with data collected by UCF students through class projects and by working under the supervision of project directors.

Cataloging the history of Sanford is one of the pilot projects for the network, which later hopes to expand its collection about other Central Florida communities.

“We picked Sanford because it was the ‘Gateway City,’” Lester said. That was the town’s early nickname because it was the jump-off point on the St. Johns River to open up the rest of central and south Florida after founder Henry Sanford incorporated the community in 1877. The city also has a history in the development of agriculture, industry and arts in the region.

RICHES developed the system with UCF’s Institute for Simulation & Training and Adaptive Assessment Services Inc., a company that specializes in web-based training and assessments. The RICHES Interactive Team is: Connie Harper, senior programmer analyst; Katherine Marra, metadata editor; Dr. Paul Wiegand, research associate; and Dr. Larry Davis, senior vice president of research and development of Adaptive Assessment Services.

The next phase of the project is to create a system that not only searches geography and time, but also can search for relationships between subjects, said Davis.

Funding for the project has come from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Florida Humanities Council, Winter Park Health Foundation, Florida High Tech Corridor Council, the UCF College of Arts & Humanities, and UCF Academic Affairs.

To access the RICHES website and the Mosaic Interface, go to http://riches.cah.ucf.edu/mosaic.php.