digital video surveys: historical preservation for the 21st century



Web Chronos


If you were to look back at your town over the past 20-30 years, how much has changed? Have these changes been minor or dramatic?

As time takes its toll, demographic pressures mount, or the push for economic development grows, what will your town look like in 20, 30, or 50 years? How will people then look back and see their town as it appeared to us today? What will be forever lost if today no attempt is made to document what we all take for granted: our hometown's visual landscape?

As you might never hope to fully reconstruct from existing historical records how your town looked just 30 years ago, the Historical Video Survey is a proactive attempt to protect future researchers, or the merely nostalgic, from a similar fate.

One of my prime goals in founding CHRONOS Historical Services in 1992 was to promote proactive historical documentation such as life stories. But another typically neglected historical resource was right before our eyes... our town's visual landscape.

To this end CHRONOS developed the Historical Video Survey service in 1994 and the concept was so appealing even to local historical commissions that I documented a number towns in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts including historic Hadley, settled in 1659, and Hatfield, settled in 1660. Here's a Daily Hampshire Gazette article about the Hadley project from June 27, 1995.

Even with the video technology of the mid-90's these Surveys are unique and offer numerous advantages over traditional historical preservation protocols. For instance they provide a central database for literally millions of images of the town's homes and businesses, woodlands, and open spaces, any of which could be printed as a glossy snapshot or a computer printout. And today's HDTV video technology can capture images at some 600-700% improvement in quality over the Hi-8 and DVC video formats I used a decade ago.

But the Survey goes further by utilizing a stereoscopic technique to capture stunning 3-D video... I'd argue the only practical way to capture for posterity the essence of your hometown as we ourselves see it today. As if this would not provide a vitrual time machine in itself, by capturing hundreds of video frames for any location this extra stereoscopic data offers the possibility of future virtual reality applications.

When it comes to historical preservation there is one central truth: we all form a link in a chain, entrusted by past generations to preserve their history for future generations.

We must also decide how to preserve our own unique history. In doing so we may have to question old assumptions about what those in the future will actually find valuable.

We can be thankful for the preservation efforts of those foresighted few in the past. But, given the changes in your town, what would a 1976 Survey, even if shot on B&W home movie film, be worth to the people in your town today? What would it be worth in the year 2036?

Some historical projects can be easily postponed with no long-term consequence. Such is not the case with a Historical Survey. Any delay is a potential loss to history simply because your town, like all towns, is rapidly and forever changing.

Conversely, once completed, a Survey can only grow in historical value. A Survey would be a priceless gift to future generations of your town.

Whether you are a member of the historical preservation community interested in learning more about the Video Survey concept and what to look for in hiring a videographer... or a videographer looking for a new service to offer, you should read on. But from here you should take different tracks. Don't worry... I'm not selling anything! This site is simply to encourage the adoption of the Video Survey form of proactive historical preservation.


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Historical Video Survey Guide Robb Strycharz, 1996-2006
CHRONOS hourglass logo 1993 CHRONOS Historical Services.