Friday, August 31, 2007

Marion Mahony Griffin's The Magic of America Online

The full text of "The Magic of America" by Marion Mahony Griffin, is now available free online. Best known as the wife of Walter Burley Griffin, architect of Canberra, Marion was an architect in her own right. The Magic of America is a 1,400 page manuscript, which was never published.
"The Magic of America," a typescript of over 1,400 pages with approximately 650 accompanying illustrations, was written and compiled by Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961), architect, designer, delineator, and artist. In 1911 she married Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937), architect, landscape designer, and city planner. Their architectural practice spanned almost four decades on three continents, and "The Magic of America" was meant, in part, to be a testament to their life and work together.

From: "The Magic of America: Electronic Edition.", The Art Institute of Chicago, 2007
"The Magic of America: Electronic Edition." was prepared by The Art Institute of Chicago, Ryerson & Burnham Libraries (Archives). This is an extensive piece of scholarly work, requiring different sources to be knitted together. As well as searchable digital text, a facsimile original and supplementary material is provided, including a list of related websites. It is panned to add a database of the images in 2008.

Marion Mahony Griffin's text is difficult to read at the best of times, being part biography and part scrapbook. The priority in conversion to electronic format was to preserve the format of the typewritten original, complete with handwritten notes and pagination. The web site allows for the reader to swap between the facsimile and digitized text versions of any page.

However, there are improvements which could be made to the electronic version. The web site initially loads a large graphic "splash page". While attractive, this takes a long time to load, particularly for those with a slow Internet connection, as for example those in India wanting to read about Walter Burley Griffin's work there.

The digitized text is provided as a large web page, the equivalent of 200 printed pages. This decreases response time on a slow connection and the text should be divided into smaller sections. Small thumbnails of images have been used, but these are perhaps too small and lack "alternate text" for blind readers and search engines.

What might be useful would be to apply the advanced technology, such as the Digital Scholar's Workbench, to transform the manuscript to a high quality typeset electronic document, with the appearance of a modern work. The information of interest to scholars could then be hidden from the average reader, to produce something which would be more readable and accessible. The scholar could press a button to select the additional information they required.

Web technologies could be applied top the same source data to transform it into a multimedia interactive work, to tell a story, in a more fluid way. This might allow the underlying poetry of Marion Mahony Griffin's work to escape from the limited linear format she was confined to. This work could be combined with a live performance, in the Capitol Theatre, Melbourne, designed by Walter Burley Griffin and now a web equipped university lecture hall, or the New Theatre, Sydney, which is equipped with seats removed from the Capitol Theatre in Melbourne, 25 years ago.

See also:

1 comment:

Curtis Osmun said...

Thanks for your comments, Tom. We'll take them to heart when we discuss revisions to the site later this year. In the meantime, I investigated the splash-screen issue and discovered we had forgotten to optimize the file. It's much smaller now and should load faster. Thanks for pointing this out. --Curtis Osmun, Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at The Art Institute of Chicago