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Penn State Students Use Technology to Help Boal Museum Reach Community

by on September 16, 2014 6:15 AM

Civil war weapons. Christopher Columbus’ writing desk. A lock of Napoleon’s hair. Two pieces of the True Cross of Jesus.

For years, Boal Mansion Museum CEO Christopher Lee has been hearing that people have driven by the museum for years, but never had any idea about its unique and extensive collection – which contains all the above artifacts, and more.

“Heritage is a living force – it informs us and helps create a sense of community,” Lee says, explaining the museum's importance. “It connects the past to the present to help us figure out the future.”

But if the people who live here don't know about the heritage in their own backyard, how can this goal be accomplished? Lee had ideas, but he needed help.

Thomas Pazamickas, an Information Sciences and Technology (IST) student at Penn State, saw an internship posting through the college and was immediately interested in working with the museum over this past summer. Having considered a history major, he “really liked the merging between history and IST.”

Pazamickas and three other interns – all Penn State IST students – undertook a series of projects to make the heritage on display at the Boal Mansion Museum more visible.  Filmon Beraki updated the online Boal family genealogy, Lisa Khuu created a virtual tour of some of the museum’s rooms, and Charles Chiang helped Pazamickas create a walking tour map of historic Boalsburg village.

The map can display the viewer’s current location in relation to a number of historical buildings, each of which has a listing detailing its history and past usage. Pazamickas says though the walking tour existed already, it lacked any visual elements and was just a "giant wall of text."

Pazamickas says creating the map involved running around town taking pictures and gathering GPS information, programing javascript and distilling decades of information from numerous sources into a coherent form.

“I thought the local history of this area was very interesting,” Pazamickas says. “I wanted to improve the tour to enhance people’s ability to experience that.”

Before working with the Boal Mansion Museum, Khuu had no idea the landmark even existed. After Lee gave her a tour as part of her interview for the internship, she knew she wanted to use her IST knowledge to help bring the museum's collection to life.

Over the course of the next month and a half, Khuu took panoramic shots of three of the museum’s most popular rooms: the ballroom, living room and Columbus chapel. From there, she took information about each of the rooms and made the tour interactive. Each room has a number of historical artifacts you can click on to learn more about  - but Khuu was careful not to give everything away.

“A lot of the pictures don’t have all the available information,” Khuu says. “Hopefully, it gets people to wonder more about the stories behind these things and how they came to be.”

For those that want to know more about the items on the virtual tour, Lee says that museum staff will be happy to impart all that they know.

“We want to make this area into a cultural hotspot, a place people want to come see,” says Pazamickas. “This museum is probably one of the best kept secrets of central Pennsylvania.”

The walking tour can be found by clicking HERE. The virtual tour can be found here, and the updated Boal Family genealogy is here.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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