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UTSA, Bexar County Launch Next Phase of Local History’s Digital Transformation

June 17, 2022

MAY 5, 2021 — UTSA and Bexar County, through its Bexar Heritage and Parks Department, are collaborating to integrate the county’s past into the digital future. UTSA presented to the Commissioners Court the results of Phase II and the next steps for The Seed of Texas: An Interactive Exploration of Bexar County History — a dynamic portal that leverages data visualization to present the area’s local history.

This ongoing initiative was initially undertaken as part of San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebrations in 2018. The website serves as an educational tool for the local community including K-12 schools, colleges, researchers, and even the tourism industry. Both UTSA and the County seek to highlight the importance of Bexar County to the rest of the Lone Star State using technology that has transformed the social sciences into digital humanities.

“For more than 300 years, Bexar County has been at the heart of Texas history,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “This unique program allows us to access our rich, layered history like we never have before.”

“This unique program allows us to access our rich, layered history like we never have before.”

The Seed of Texas capabilities are unique. The project promotes the use of technology in researching and publishing within the social sciences, especially in its adaption of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to explore the past. It has allowed UTSA to be a local leader in this field.

Additionally, the portal fosters closer collaboration between the university and local government. This has been best illustrated by Bexar County’s GIS Team, which has provided technical expertise and took responsibility for final editing, publishing and hosting. As a result, this collaboration better documents and publicizes the long, rich and diverse history of the area. Residents and visitors will gain greater understanding of the Missions and the numerous indigenous and historic sites beyond the Alamo.

The new data for The Seed of Texas portal that will be presented ranges from 1821 until 1877. Features include burial records of the famous San Fernando site; the influx of immigrants from Europe to the country; and visual biographies for 11 local historical figures including Margaret Mary Healy, whose family, due to the potato famine, migrated from Ireland to Matamoros and then San Antonio. She eventually built a religious order that served the African American community statewide.

Other modules include the lives of Tejanos in Bexar County; the social impact of Texas's Mexican independence of 1836; the arrival of African Americans to the county in 1820 until the end of 19th century; lesser known historic sites in Bexar associated with the Civil War; and interactive charts that point to a diverse agricultural sector from 1850-1870.

“It’s about building dynamic maps and visualizations that help local residents see where historic people, places, and events were located all over the environment they live in,” said Jessica Nowlin, principal investigator at UTSA’s Center for Archaeological Research (CAR). “We are showing how our diverse community was built over time.”

Nowlin has worked on Phase II alongside numerous other scholars including John Reynolds, emeritus professor in history, and Clinton McKenzie, project archaeologist with CAR. Next, Nowlin will present the proposal for Phase III, which highlights historical events between 1877 and 1945, the period when San Antonio transitioned from a small walking city to become a major metropolis.

In 2016, The Seed of Texas project received $122,926 in allocated funding for Phase I and Phase II. At the May 4 meeting of the Commissioners Court, the results of Phase II were presented. The new research directions for Phase III will also be unveiled with a proposed budget of $175,845. At a later date, Phase IV will be presented and only approved with funding based on satisfactory results. The end goal is to have a site that creates a Bexar County record from prehistoric times until the present.

A panel of historical scholars decide upon which themes are showcased in the portal. Some topics could include the impact of the railroad and the end of the city’s isolation, the history of League of United Latin American Citizens, the Callaghan Machine, civil rights movements, the impact of the New Deal, and a closer look at the cattle industry and U.S. Air Force bases.

“This will surely benefit our community for years to come,” Wolff said.

— Milady Nazir

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