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Balzac's Paris Comes to Life in Digital Exhibit


By Stephanie Wejbe, Student Intern of CHASS College Computing

Paris as imagined through the visionary writer, Honoré de Balzac, is re-created with Balzac’s Paris: A Guided Tour. The digital exhibit was submitted into the 2004 Katharine Kyes Leab & Daniel J. Leab American Book Prices Exhibition competition, which featured 28 electronic entries. It currently sits on display at the Rare Books and Manuscript Section for the Association of College and Research Libraries web-site. The association is a Division of the American Library Association.

The digital exhibit guides the viewer through Paris as described by Balzac and accompanied by a host of documented maps, engravings, and images. The viewer acts as a tourist in the exhibit giving them the opportunity to see Paris during the historical period in which Balzac wrote. The digital exhibit showcases some of Paris’s most famous historical monuments and attractions that tourists all over the world go to visit, including the Arc de Triomphe. Viewers are guided through the exhibit that is organized into sequences, making navigation simple and enjoyable.

One of the main goals of the digital exhibit was to make it as interactive as possible. The exhibit’s unique aspects include its vast collection of images and map-viewing functions, allowing the viewer to enlarge an image and zoom in on maps, providing sharp detail. With its rich colors and beautiful drawings, Balzac’s vision of Paris could be accurately portrayed historically, but also with the power of Balzac’s imagination to draw a wide audience.

Planning creation of the digital exhibit took nearly two years. Organization of the project began in the summer of 2002 and submission in late 2003. The participants who contributed to the exhibit include the Tomás Rivera library Special Collections Department and CHASS College Computing.

Curators, Danièle Chatelain and George Slusser, have collaborated in a series of articles on science fiction and narrative, and have completed a critical edition/translation of Balzac’s Le Centenaire, ou les deux Beringheld for Wesleyan UP, expected to be published in Summer 2004. Chatelain teaches French at the University of Redlands. She is the author of Perceiving and Telling: A Study of Iterative Discourse, (1998), and numerous articles on narrative theory. Slusser teaches Comparative Literature at UCR, and has numerous publications on science, literature, and science fiction. Sara Fitzpatrick from the Special Collections department prepared all of the scanned images for the exhibit showcase. Helen Harrison, UCR Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature assisted greatly in editing.

Nearly all of the members of CHASS College Computing, the exhibit’s technical team, contributed to the project. Sean Cox and Ryan Rich developed the graphic viewing tools, specifically the map zoom-in and out functions. Doug Holt implemented the graphic viewing map functions. Stephanie Young assisted in the content changes implementation portions. Phuong Lynda Tran created the template and all of the web design components including the artistic graphic design features. Lily Lin and Helen Sun assisted in the image enlargement and image placement implementation portions. Stephanie Wejbe served as the Technical Team Leader organizing all content materials, images, and content design framework. James Lin served as the overseeing manager and director for the digital exhibit project.

Slusser worked closely with CHASS College Computing to bring the exhibit to life. The creation process proved to be “challenging and rewarding experience,” because of the extensive amount of materials, images, and maps, which needed organization and effective presentation.

The web exhibition will be featured on the American Library Association web-site for the next year, among respective entries. To view the digital exhibit, please go to http://balzacsparis.ucr.edu.


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