It is amazing how one thing leads to another, and all of a sudden you have a crazy idea for a unit of work on your hands. I have recently been watching some video of old Hong Kong, and chatting about the footage with friends and family. My dad and I were wondering where one particular spot was, and threw a couple ideas around. This planted a seed in my mind, and I set out to see if I could use technology to find the answer. It seems that I have actually located the spot, and although it will be at least a few days before I can get out and see for myself, I am 99% certain that it is correct. I am looking forward to shooting some new footage to compare with the original.
Below I will share the steps I took to come to my conclusion, which can be replicated by secondary students relatively easily. The idea for the unit, then, is to give students some old footage and stills from an area they are familiar with (say a city, county, district, etc), and ask them to find as many of the spots as possible. All the confirmed spots can be placed into a Google Map, with the original image, and a link back to where it is found. Students thus build up their own map, putting historical footage in its place, and tying time and space together neatly. They can visit the spots for themselves, and see how they have changed. One of the tricky parts of the process (especially true in Hong Kong) is not only the rapid change of human geography (e.g. new buildings, roads, etc), but also the fact that areas of sea have been reclaimed, and so even large geographical features can change in a relatively short space of time.
I started my investigation by taking 2 screen captures from one particular video, and crudely stitching these together using some graphic editing software (Acorn in my case, as they give it free to schools, but Gimp or Photoshop or a dozen other titles would do). My interest in this spot was first sparked because of the unusual amount of flat land on the right hand side. Click on any of the images to see a full screen version:
I then searched on Google Maps, looking around Hong Kong to find locations which might be a match. Hong Kong’s numerous small islands and rugged coastline make this quite easy, as there are plenty of features to match. Turns out that my initial guess of near Plover Cove was wrong, and my dad’s of Sai Kung was correct. After making my initial location, I saved a screenshot of the relevant Google Map:
The next step was to search for landmarks along two intersecting lines, in the original image. The trick here was to cross-reference the map and the original image numerous times so as to pick spots which are distinct in both sources. This gave the following annotated version of the original:
These 4 locations could then be marked on the map, and joined by two lines. The point of intersection of the two lines must be where the original image was shot from (I believe this is not triangulation but is similar, although not being a surveyor don’t take my word for it):
Over this I then laid a semi-transparent version of the same map, with labels, so that we can easily identify the surrounding areas.
Turns out that the photo was taken not that far from my house. Closer inspection of the map shows it to be Wong Chuk Yeung, what appears to be an unchanged, traditional Hong Kong village, with some flat grassy land just to the north west. Surely, this must be “the spot”:
Even though I do not teach humanities, I am incredibly excited by this process: it very quickly makes old media viscereal, alive, important. I could literally jump in a car, drive right to this spot and look at the same view that these people enjoyed 50 years ago. What else could we find out using modern technology? Could we discover who these people were, where they lived and why they visited Wong Chuk Yeung on that day. Could we find them? Meet them? Hear their stories? Now, that would be a real history lesson. I wonder if this could be pushed back further in time, with studies performed on paintings left behind by Hong Kong’s first colonial settlers?
My plan is to run this unit with some humanities teachers in my school next year. I would love to see other schools run it, and hear how it went. If only this kind of thing happened more often. It really is the best way to plan a new unit of work.
Update 1 – The Visit
It turns out that my feeling of 99% confidence was 100% wrong: had I consulted an ordinance survey map, or studied the Google Map more closely, I would have seen that Wong Chuk Yeung is in fact on the wrong side of the hill for a view of Sai Kung. That said, the drive up their was more than worth it, as the village is not only huge, but seemingly entirely abandoned. As if stepping back in time, or into a movie set, the area is full of collapsing rice paddies, houses with no roofs, mailboxes stuffed full of mail, and tress growing out of houses:
The potential for student learning is huge, as are the potential number of questions one could ask of such a place. One of the most amazing aspects of the whole place is finding a large village nestled in a hollow, half way up a mountain: what a defensible, peaceful place, but also, how remote?
Credits: images captured from the original video are copyright Michael Rogge, and used under fair use for educational purposes. Google Maps images are used under fair use for educational purposes.