Tamsui Historical Museum—We Are Doing More Than Just Digital Archiving

By Wu Dairong

This article is provided by the Taiwan Digital Archives Request-for-Proposals Project, the subsidiary project of Taiwan Digital Archives Expansion Project
It all began in the community.
The Tamsui Community Action Team was founded in 1993 to save local historic sites and streets. Do you think, then, that Zhongzheng Road and Tamsui Old Street were preserved in the end? Sadly not! They were widened instead, and all of the team’s strenuous efforts seemed in vain. That said, however, you can see a change in the Tamsui residents since the development. At least they didn’t transform every little street into a thoroughfare. Some residents are beginning to regret widening the roads. If they hadn’t made the roads wider, spent money to build seven and eight-story apartments and kept the old two-story houses, maybe things would be ‘just right.’
That is how Professor Huang Ruimao put it, sitting opposite me at a café on an afternoon streaked with sunshine after the rain. Many of the examples he provided unanimously illustrate that cultural preservation is simply the means, while the end radically lies in community empowerment. There are a wide array of methods to achieve this aim; preservation movements are one; town hall meetings are another; organizing workshops to take residents on on-site inspection visits are yet another. A fourth option, not surprisingly, is digital archiving.
Combining Digital Construction and the Community
The Tamsui MRT Line began operation in 1997, and Tamsui, a town on the outskirts of Taipei where the river meets the sea, rose to prominence overnight. It began to be inundated with tourists, and shops burst forth like mushrooms. As the town rocketed to fame, tourism-related demands gradually increased. Consequently, cultural preservation projects, which can be effective for promoting tourism, began to receive the attention of government authorities.
Each year, a selection of buildings is added to the register of historic sites under the Cultural Heritage Conservation Law. “The number of historic sites in Tamsui has increased. This is the fourth year we’re been doing digital archiving. There were only 18 sites when we began, and now there are 25,” explains Huang Ruimao, professor at the Department of Architecture, Tamkang University, and Project Director of the Tamsui Historical Digital Archives Program. He has tried different ways of documenting these increasingly numerous historic sites. Under his guidance, his students apply what they have learned, using various mediums such as photography, modeling, animation and so on to archive monuments and sites of historical value—even going so far as to reconstruct the old Tamsui town in 3D.
Looking back over the past four years at the project’s optimistic timeline and remarkable achievements, the initial goal comprised Fort San Domingo and Huwei Fort and was later expanded to include the Mackay Cemetery and Oxford College (now Aletheia University). This year, the project will put the finishing touches on their records on the Tamsui Longshan Temple, Tamsui Fuyou Temple, Yinshan Temple, Shi Family Ancestral Home, Tada Ekichi Residence, the Huwei Waterway, the Hunan Battalion Graves, Mazu Stone, and Bridge of the Gongsitian Creek, among others.
Thorough digital archiving requires comprehensive surveying, description, and recording of the construction methods, materials, history and related documentation of every building. In addition, both the architectural structure and details of a building have to be studied to create 3D wireframes, VR panoramas and animations so that 3D models can be constructed. These historic sites, which can now be deconstructed on the internet, not only serve as new tools for interpreting history but are also of great help for research into construction methods in the field of architecture. 
In the eyes of Professor Huang, building a spatial database of these architectural and cultural landscapes may have an influence on tourism development, but preservation is the ultimate goal. “After four years of hard work, the construction of our network is nearly finished. Our plan for the fifth year veers away from digital construction. Instead, we will use the materials we have developed to unite with the community and direct resources back to local areas,” said Professor Huang.
To Huang, digital archiving has two long-term goals. One is to work with local guides; that is, using the archive to train tour guides. The other is digital learning; bringing the fruits of digitalization into the educational system through collaborative projects between elementary and high schools and historical museums.
Tours by Local Moms - Bringing Historical Tours Closer to Everyday Life
In Tamsui, historic sites have been saved thanks to the preservation movement, and old buildings have returned to life through lively guided tours. Rejuvenated temples engage people in dialogues, and the dignified Tamsui old town can interact with tourists.
Ever since the first year of the project, the results of digitalization have been deliberately integrated in the training of volunteer guides. Now Tamsui Community University offers excellent courses on guided tour, which have drawn a substantial number of locals into the classroom. In Professor Huang’s course, he not only lectures on the background of historic sites and teaches students how to enrich their tours with digital data, but also provides several additional lessons to help students incorporate their daily experiences into their roles as tour guides.
“One year, the majority of the students were women looking to re-enter the job market. I arranged for them to draw a map together: a housewives’ map of Tamsui, containing sites of interest to housewives, such organic food stores, Chinese herbalists and so forth. Although these topics aren’t related to the understanding of historic sites, they are based in Tamsui and will afford an opportunity for these mothers to exchange some of their life experience with tourists,” said Professor Huang. As he shared his class activities with us, Professor Huang also expressed his opinion that a guided tour like this extends people’s interaction with historic sites beyond the level of basic sightseeing—it integrates history with modern life.
Training a tour guide takes two years. However, spending an afternoon giving a guided tour earns these mothers an hourly pay of $2,000NT. To them, this is a significant contribution to their family income.
Moreover, during the class these students are asked to develop a closer acquaintance with ‘technology.’ Professor Huang often encourages his students to write their own blogs, hoping that they will learn to create their own content and distribute their local knowledge and life experience via the power of the internet. He works hard to familiarize these part-time local guides with technology, his ultimate goal being to put the power to protect culture and promote local specialties back in the hands of locals. It is only by turning locals, who have a genuine interest in the area, into researchers who truly care about Tamsui and know where to find even more abundant resources, can the preservation of culture be sustained. 
A housewives’ map of Tamsui reflecting daily life.
From Bedroom Community to Urban Village 
Professor Huang has spared no effort to promote community development and has participated to a considerable degree in several community activities taking place in counties and cities outside Tamsui. According to his long-term observations, he believes that relationships between city centers and suburbs have gradually changed.
Take Taipei for example. In the past, all the essential resources for living, be it employment, shopping, education, artistic activities, etc., were concentrated in Taipei. Suburban towns and cities in Taipei County (now New Taipei City) served no function except for providing a place to rest at night. In contrast to well-rounded Taipei, Taipei County was not much more than a collection of bedroom communities.
In recent years, fortunately, these bedroom communities have emerged from their slumber. They have begun to study their own histories and are now able to take on roles beyond that of ‘bedroom’. As a result, suburban people no longer rely heavily on urban resources, and the concept of the ‘urban village’ has come into being.
In Tamsui, apart from employment, shopping and so on, which require the intervention of government policy or investment from enterprise in order to flourish, characteristics such as community consciousness and cultural ambience have gradually developed thanks to the efforts of scholars, historians and writers.
To show its concern for the community, Tamsui Community University once held a “Road-to-School Workshop,” inviting the teachers, students, and parents of Denggong Elementary School to a brainstorming session to come up with ways of transforming the students’ routes to school into learning spaces. This shows how ingenious ideas can have day-to-day applications. Professor Huang Ruimao also built a tree house for students of Shimen Elementary School using discarded playground equipment and devised a gate for students in Danshuei Elementary School (Tamsui Elementary School), which, like wooden blocks, can be pulled and pushed to form different shapes. Behind these simple architectural techniques lie the enormous goodwill of community workers.
Since MRT service began operation, Tamsui has seen the establishment of many performance groups which not only promote performing arts but also welcome the participation of local residents. In 2009, the Golden Bough Theatre staged ‘The Huwei Campaign’ (related to the Keelung Campaign), part of it is commonly known as ‘The Legend of the Sino-French War in Tamsui’, at Huwei Fort. This play came to fruition thanks to the involvement of groups such as the Bamboo Curtain Studio, the Sun Son Theatre, Genio Dance, and the Teenager Performing Arts League (also known as Whatsyoung), among others. More than 200 Tamsui residents also appeared on the cast list, making it a play showing the history of Tamsui during the Sino-French War, re-enacted by the Tamsui people themselves.
These tangible signs of community cohesion are the accumulated fruits of the hardship and effort of several people since 1993. It all began in the community, and it will all continue to evolve as time goes by. In the future, even more ways to enhance the functions of the community will emerge, and of course, even more novel ways of recording will be developed to help preserve historic sites. In the words of Professor Huang, “What we persevere in doing, is caring about the community. What we persevere in doing, is more than just digital archiving!”
Items of the Collection
Image of Fort San Domingo: Floor Plan of Fort San Domingo, Tamsui
Subject and Keywords: Subject: Architecture
Data Identifier: File No.: TS01-1-0000-17-001
Image of Fort San Domingo: Present Day South Façade of Fort San Domingo, Tamsui 
Subject and Keywords: Subject: Architecture
Data Identifier: File No,: TS01-2-0103-06-007
Image of Huwei Fort: Present Day Floor Plan of Huwei Fort
Subject and Keywords: Subject: Architecture
Description: Records in Survey of Historic Sites, Renowned Landmarks, and Natural Features, which was compiled during the Japanese colonial period, show that the walls of the fort were 4.3 meters thick and 22.5 meters high; the perimeter measured 303.9 meters in length; the trenches were 10.9 meters wide; and the earthen barriers were 31.4 meters high. 
Stele and Inscription: “Lock and Key of the North Gate”, “Mid-March 1886”, “Liu Mingchun of Hefei”
Data Identifier: File No.: TS04-2-0001-01-001
 Panorama of Fort San Domingo: Fort San Domingo in Different Time Periods
Subject and Keywords: Subject: Architecture
Description: Simulation of the appearance of Fort San Domingo in different time periods
Data Identifier: File No.: B008.gif