The Narrative Goals of “Fourth Star 1933”

by Matthew Amyx

The 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago offered to its visitors a look into the future and a hope that America could escape the doldrums of the Great Depression. Our team uses a combination of images, video, music, and interactivity to help our visitors experience the fair as a Midwestern child blown east by the Dust Bowl may have viewed it. While our lofty aspirations certainly outrun our actual skills and resources – and thus the final project may fail to fully capture such an experience -, we hope our website (as yet unpublished) will demonstrate the capabilities of online story exhibits to educate through factual and emotional education.

The display functionality of Homestead Site Builder (the platform we are primarily using) allows for considerable narrative freedom. Although Homestead provide dozens of templates, users may also begin with a clean slate and format the background however they want. The intuitive interface and drag-and-drop mechanics facilitate quick and virtually limitless customization. These attributes allowed us to craft a template featuring the rainbow color scheme of the fair – an ability we thought essential for crafting the narrative experience.

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Actual color palette used by the fair designers. (Image courtesy of MSI for research purposes only.) The rainbow array sets the 1933 fair apart from Chicago’s “White City” from the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition.
Basic Color Scheme of Website
Basic Color Palette for FourthStar1933

We also wanted the website to sound like the fair, so we embedded media players on each page (except those with automatically-playing video) to play public domain, period jazz music from page has different music. Ideally we would curate the selections based on the feel of the page, but we do not have time for that currently.

Just as visitors to the fair use a map, visitors to FourthStar1933 utilize a map-based menu page that allows them to select the exhibit they want to visit next. Homestead’s easy-to-implement mouse-over feature makes it possible to highlight accessible sites while maintaining a brochure appearance rather than breaking the narrative with a traditional site navigation layout.

Labels appear over accessible sites when they are moused-over, but otherwise the map appears as it would to a visitor in 1933.

The first page opens with a film showing – through still photographs and clips of footage from – scenes from the early 1930s. Laid over these images is audio telling the visitor’s story: you, a preteen child, travel from Kansas to live with your aunt in Chicago. You have been sent east by your parents because the family farm has been devastated by the Dust Bowl and your father is struggling to find credit for repairs because of the country’s financial collapse. You are downcast because of your family’s situation, and this reflects the attitude of the country. But then you see the fair, the glories and promises of modernity, and you wonder if perhaps things will get better after all.

A brief clip illustrating how each exhibit fits into this narrative introduces each of the five locations on the map. Each exhibit also features a hidden object game, where the visitor must find their ticket located somewhere on the outside of the building in order to see what’s going on inside. This way, again, the structure of the site reflects the narrative of a visitor, who must select where they are going on a map, get a ticket, and then visit the site.To my mind, this approach really utilizes the display functionality of Homestead Site Builder for crafting online exhibits, offering narrative devices unavailable to the featured object or collection features on a site like Omeka (although FourthStar1933 does link to an Omeka account  in case the visitor wants to learn about the images used in creating the exhibit.) For social media, we may have a “wish you were here” feature for Facebook and Twitter, just as you would send your friends a postcard from an actual fair. The intro video could also be used as a preview for the online exhibit that could be included in social media posts for advertising.


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