In the last two weeks, I’ve been working with two digital projects that I think are incredibly useful for both teachers and historians. The first, from NYPL Labs, is the Stereogranimator. Developed in response to the large body of stereoscopic photographs at the New York Public Library, the Stereogranimator allows you to create either anaglyphs or animated gifs of the 3D images originally captured by stereographs. In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, stereography soared in international popularity and allowed viewers to feel as though they stood in front of landmarks, battlefields, local and national celebrations, and the wreckage of natural disasters.
While many of these stereographs have been preserved at archives and libraries around the world, the images require a stereoscope to be viewed properly. These devices function in a similar manner to the View-Masters many of us grew up with, but most individuals, archives, or libraries do not have access to turn of the century stereoscopes.
With the Stereogranimator, this is no longer an obstacle. NYPL Labs has created a tool that allows users to establish the overlapping focal point of the two images and produce a single, three dimensional anaglyph or animated gif. Here are two that I made earlier this week:
I am excited by the Stereogranimator because it allows for users to experience and understand two very important aspects of the late nineteenth century. First, it allows individuals to gain a better understanding of what the late nineteenth century looks like. For those who don’t study this era, the idea of nineteenth century photography will likely conjure up either Mathew Brady’s photographs of the Civil War, or black and white portraits of awkwardly posed subjects. Stereographs allow for a better sense of the nineteenth century akin to the returning popularity of colorized photographs. By adding depth or color, the nineteenth century suddenly feels more alive and accessible to the modern viewer.
Secondly, the Stereogranimator provides insight into the culture of the late nineteenth century. Prior to the Civil War, most Americans had not been more than twenty miles from the place of their birth. Not only did stereographs depict distant places, but the sense of depth and scale allowed for viewers to feel as though they were standing at the site. For consumers in New York City, for instance, traveling to the site where General McPherson died during the Battle of Atlanta was possible but impractical. Stereographs allowed for these scenes to be captured and shown to individuals throughout the country. With the Stereogranimator, users have a straightforward way to view stereographs and in the process, experience a slice of nineteenth century popular culture. In my next post, I’ll talk about a recently released project that creates a historical soundscape of the early twentieth century.