Aim of EnRoutes

With EnRoutes: Markers & Makers in 1900s’ Puerto Rico, I wanted to create a space where the audience can establish relationships with visualized images and annotations. I have great interest in how road system projects that took place in 1900s transformed social networks in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, considered to be one of the geographical spaces in the world with the highest road density, there is this imaginary of the road among islanders. I want to curate a collection of digitized postcards depicting the rural, urban, and coastal landscapes transformed by roads and railroads.
Screenshot of Enroutes Main page
Screenshot of Enroutes Main page. Image credit: Nashieli Marcano
My aim has not changed since I first began this project, but I scaled down the scope as far as devoting more time to curating the images and pausing the creating of a secondary sources page.

Intended Audience & Focus

Audience members that EnRoutes seeks to attract include: those interested in Caribbean studies, in particular, those who enjoy Puerto Rican literature or general turn-of-the-century (19th-20th); folks who enjoy vintage postcards and maps; individuals who are interested in the role of road systems in modernizing societies.
The feedback I received from both my peers have been helpful in finessing the audience focus, by contextualizing the site with with addition of source types, and by crowdsourcing it (do “Calls for Action”). Peer feedback also pointed to a more robust “About Page”, which will give me the chance to further contextualize the page with a more panoramic historical overview of the construction of roads and railroads and with a socio-cultural perspective on how these developments fomented social relationships among Puerto Ricans and Americans.

Sources Used

The current collections are comprised of digitized postcards of Puerto Rico in the early 1900s. Most of these postcards showcase roads, railroads and factories that transformed the landscape at the turn of the century. This collection of postcards belongs to Cornell University historical anthropologists, Dr. Frederich W. Gleach and Dr. Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, who had previously granted me permission to make use of them for a book I have recently published. I have recently requested permission to make use of these postcards for this current HIST680 course project, and they have gladly agreed.
EnRoutes also has literary annotations of excerpts from Puerto Rican novels published in late-1800s and early-1900s. Authors included in these annotations are: Miguel Melendez Munoz, Elías Levis, Manuel Zeno Gandía, Luisa Capetillo, and Ramón Juliá Marín.

Screenshot of EnRoutes Literary Annotations
Screenshot of EnRoutes Literary Annotations. Image credit: Nashieli Marcano

Peer reviewers suggested I incorporate other source types to increase contextualization and user-exhibit engagement. Files, such as audio, video, and new types of annotations (including those coming from a book I published on the subject), would enrich the sites and further contextualize the site.

Software Used

After exploring a plethora of digital visualization techniques (text mining, topic modeling, text analysis, network analysis, and crowdsourcing), I had decided to originally go with Omeka. This open-source CMS platform, along with its plugins (Exhibit Builder, Exhibit Image Annotation, and Geolocation),  will allow me to visualize the digitized images more effectively and add a level of interactivity and contextualization as users engage with the data.

Screenshot of Omeka Back End.
Screenshot of Omeka Back End. Image credit: Nashieli Marcano

Peer evaluations felt that the Omeka platform was suitable for this type of project, as it focuses on organizing collections of items and on describing it with associated metadata, which is exactly what I wanted to do with the digitized postcards. When compared to other platforms (Palladio, Voyant,, among other great visualization products), Omeka proved to be effective in getting such project successfully started.

The Process of Creating the EnRoutes Digital Project

The original design of the EnRoutes landing page was to include the following tabbed sections:  Browsed Items, Browse Collections, Browse Exhibits, Map, Secondary Sources, and About. Due to the time I dedicated to create two collections and two exhibits (Roads/Railroads AND Factories), I had decided to pause the creation of a Secondary Sources tab. I really wanted to concentrate on getting more practice with Dublin Core, and with the use of pluggins, such as Exhibit Image Annotation, and Geolocation.

Screenshot of EnRoutes Back End
Screenshot of EnRoutes Back End. Image credit: Nashieli Marcano.

The original proposal included more secondary sources, such as governmental reports on road systems in PR and academic articles on the subject. Based on the peer review I received, contextualizing the site will be possible during the second phase of the site development with the addition of secondary sources, source types, and a more detailed About page.

The process of designing and completing this first phase entailed: obtaining permissions to make use of images, making an outline of the project site, creating the proper folders in Reclaim Hosting’s cPanel, loading images and curating them with Dublin Core, creating a Collections page and an Exhibits page, generating the  Interactive Map, and annotating the images with literary excerpts.

Discoveries from Sources

The tagging system offered me surprising insights regarding the themes of my collection. They allowed me to classify my content so that I could easily find items on the backend, and users can locate them on the frontend.

Screenshot of Omeka's Tagging System (Back End).
Screenshot of Omeka’s Tagging System (Back End). Image credit: Nashieli Marcano.

I ended up using 39 tags for EnRoutes, including the following frequent tags: Pedestrians, Ponce, Rural, and Streets. Since I’ve come to appreciate the discovery of these prominent tags, it would be adequate to create new collections and reclassify some images, instead of just having two main collections (Routes/Railroads AND Factories).

Screenshot of Omeka's Tagging System (Front End).
Screenshot of Omeka’s Tagging System (Front End). Image credit: Nashieli Marcano

The role of the walker in social relations through the chronotope of the road, for instance, could be studied more if creating a separate exhibit on just those images containing pedestrians. This might even be a strategy in further contextualizing the site.

From the feedback I received from my peers regarding the importance of this site to Puerto Ricans on the island and in continental U.S., it would be wise to attract Spanish speakers with the use of Spanish tags. The next step would be to add Spanish tags to provide bridges between languages and open up the EnRoutes collections to other cultures.

Highlights of EnRoutes

I really love what the Geolocation plugin did for the site. It offers a more interesting way to visualize the locations associated with each image. It was easy and a lot of fun to use.

Screenshot of Omeka's Geolocation plugin (Front End)
Screenshot of Omeka’s Geolocation plugin (Front End). Image credit: Nashieli Marcano

I originally wanted to make use of an old map of Puerto Rico, from the Library of Congress, and use a plugin that would overlay this map on top of the “Geolocation” plugin map. This is not possible with Omeka at this point. My peer reviewers offered great suggestions for capitalizing on the use of a map that could show the “then” and “now” of the landscape portrayed in the digitized postcards.

Here’s an image (Library of Congress) I would consider using to map the locations depicted in the digitized postcards:

United States Department Of Commerce. (1924) Railroad map of Porto Rico. [S.l] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
United States Department Of Commerce. (1924) Railroad map of Porto Rico. [S.l] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Overall Experience

This project was an invitation to gain a greater perspective on how Digital Humanities is transforming scholarship and engagement. I was able to appreciate the different approaches to DH through the videos and readings we accessed throughout the course. Having explored a variety of digital tools, I feel I had chosen the appropriate ones to accomplish EnRoutes. The overall feedback from the peer review process has given me the confidence to continue exploring this site and the possibilities of creating an attractive, fun and insightful venue for cultural studies scholars to contribute with research findings, for students to construct knowledge, and for the general public to share their stories.

The next phase would be to finding ways to further contextualize the data, and to open channels for audiences to play with the site.  A social media strategy would need to be employed early in the process in order to have fit and enhance the vision of EnRoutes. WordPress, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are among the channels that will drive traffic and interest to the site.

More importantly, deciding how to go about expanding the digitized content would entail collaboration and interdisciplinarity. The collections and exhibits  of digitized postcards displayed in this exercise were possible thanks to Cornell University historical anthropologists, Dr. Frederich W. Gleach and Dr. Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, who graciously digitized and lent these beautiful postcards for a book project. Thank you, Fred and Vilma! You have an incredible collection of Puerto Rico’s past and I hope that some day, we could all enjoy and share it forward to future generations.


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