Project Progress 4/1-4/8

What a week! I have several new developments to report as part of my project progress for this week. I will break it down into three parts as there are now multiple strands related to progress on Nashville Sites.

  1. As I mentioned in an earlier progress report, I made the decision to separate the class project for HIST694 from the actual project that I hope will go live sometime between August and November 2017.  While I started this process wanting to build something that could be developed after the semester, I realized that it would actually be easier to build my digital project for the class and then work to migrate the content into a more desirable (mobile-friendly) customized theme and design layout. In other words, for this class, the content remains most important and so I should spend my time on that while simultaneously working to make the actual final project a reality. This weekend, I’ve spent a great deal of time on the course project and have finally made some headway.  I’ve set up the framework for a thematic exhibit with nested pages. I have also decided to use Neatline rather than Curatescape to create my walking tours. After running into several technical glitches with Curatescape, I found that Neatline serves my purposes just as well, although I wish I could find a way to list the walking tours in one of the text boxes on the homepage rather than just a tab. I’ve not yet seen any way to do this, but perhaps there is a workaround. I still have content to add, but I now have my first (of three) walking tours set up and mapped.
  2. In terms of Nashville Sites beyond this course, I also have progress to report. After meeting with Nick Lorenson of Code Nashville, nearly three weeks ago, we had a great meeting last week. After looking at several existing sites (based on place) that we would like to model in some way (Philly, Cleveland, Mall Histories, WWI: Love and Sorrow) as well as looking at the capabilities of themes, plug-ins, etc., Nick proposed three options. We could continue with Omeka and try to update the existing Mall Theme. We could also continue with Omeka but build a new theme. Finally we could use WordPress instead of Omeka because it would be easier to find technical support and local contacts who could help. He concluded that while he is unfamiliar with Omeka that from the back end it is something that he would be comfortable working with and that it seems to be better suited to accomplish the project’s goals (user-friendly, engaging, educational, scholarly sound). That led to a second meeting, which I had this morning. The meeting was with Fog Haus, a computer/web engineering firm. It is a small firm and includes Nick and two partners. We had a great meeting. They are enthusiastic, visionary, and can do the technical “stuff” that I cannot. We spent a great deal of time going through sites, looking at options, and coming up with a plan. This course sure has come in handy as we discussed responsive design, audience, personas, and storyboarding. I shared with them several of the assignments that I have completed for this course! (And they are very impressed might I add, so thank you Dr. Leon.)
  3.  So where does all this go from here? Following my meeting with Fog Haus, they are working on a bid to design and build the project. I just got off the phone with Tim Walker (MHC director) and continue to have his full support. I am slated to present my project to the MHC Foundation in a week at the quarterly board meeting. So I am anxious to get the bid from Fog Haus and equally anxious to see if the MHC Foundation will/can fund it. As for the course project, now that I have it off the ground I need to continue to build the content as related exhibits, and walking tours. I hope to have more time to do so in the coming days.

Digital Public History: Place and Mobility

What a timely module for me as I continue to develop my project, Nashville Sites. The process in thinking about and executing this project mirrors the complexities of doing digital public history specifically tied to a place. In my case — that place is Nashville, Tennessee.

Our readings discussed the use of Storyteller (World War One: Love and Sorrow), responsive design (Beyond the Screen), combining oral history and place (Cleveland Historical), and augmented reality (PhillyHistory.org).

According to Deborah Boyer and Josh Marcus, “Learning about the history of a neighborhood in a classroom is educational, but actually standing in a neighborhood and comparing historic images to the present landscape can inspire students to engage more deeply with the past” (“Implementing Mobile Augmented Reality Applications for Cultural Institutions”). I couldn’t agree more. Speaking of more, my goal for Nashville Sites also includes a public audience in addition to students and scholars. Further sub-dividing, my audience is also composed of Nashville residents as well as a wide range of visitors to the city.

The Cleveland Historical site is nearly identical to Spokane History and feature walking tours and geo-spatial mapping. However, they are not as engaging for the mobile user. The text is lengthy and rather than giving the user the opportunity to view the site with a lead-in line to draw them to the longer description, the only option is to view the longer description. It also lacks the navigability and mapping options utilized by the Histories of the National Mall.

The PhillyHistory is a much bigger project that involves augmented reality using historic photographs in real-time and place. They began with a small sample size but have now incorporated thousands of images. This project involved a system called Layar. It was interesting to think about the two categories of applications: GPS-based and computer-vision based. As authors Boyer and Marcus note, “GPS-based applications make use of a phone’s GPS and accelerometer, gyroscope, and other technology to determine the location (particularly in urban areas), heading, and direction of the phone.” Most impressive has been the response to PhillyHistory (and this article was published in 2011): the site has 6,400 registered users and regularly receives and average of 13,000 unique visitors per month. These metrics remind me that I need to circle back to the MHC to see just what the stat counters say for the nashville.gov site that lists Nashville’s historical markers. The director told me it had the most traffic, but I need to get firm numbers.

World War One: Love and Sorrow is place-based public history but focused on a different type of location. Rather than an urban environment, it seeks to create a unique user experience in Museum Victoria. It does a nice job of storytelling and creating an engaging narrative as users can progress through the museum while also choosing and following one individual’s story (an actual veteran of the war) that features accompanying primary source documents. The project creates a compelling and personal narrative that makes the museum and exhibit more exciting for the patron/user.  While a great project, with some elements that made me think about how to create a compelling narrative within my own project, this place-based history is equally, if not more, thematic. The place is the museum, which drives the project technically but not theoretically.

The final article “Beyond the Screen,” was so relevant that I read it twice. It really helped inform me in thinking about my own project. I spent quite a bit of time taking notes and internalizing concepts such as graceful degradation, responsive design, progressive enhancements, and the triad: 1- What they want, 2- When they want it, 3- How they want it. John Falk’s description of the five visitor/motivation types was also extremely useful: 1- explorer, 2- experience seeks, 3- recharger, 4- professional/hobbyist, and 5- facilitator. Several museums and projects were referenced as well as new  technologies that I’ve since checked out, which include: Foursquare, Field Trip, Google Street, and Google Now. I learned a great deal from this white paper in general, but it also made me conceptualize my own project in a more objective and productive way. For example, I could easily include a guest survey to get feedback, create a journey map, and use Neatline to create a timeline that would create a chronological complement to the place-based history I am trying to create.

Audiences, and people in general, have an attention span that averages 3-12 seconds. With that in mind, I have to find a way to get the audience to the site and find ways to keep them interested. As the authors of “Beyond the Screen,” conclude: “While content is kind, if even the bride-to-be doesn’t notice her very own diamond ring in a case in front of her, it’s worth investigating new modes and opportunities that create responsive, customized experiences that entertain, engage, and enrich.”

Works Cited:

Hart, T. and Brownbill, J. “World War One: Love and Sorrow – A hybrid exhibition mobile experience.” In Museums and the Web Asia 2014, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published September 19, 2014.

Baer, Brad, Emily Fry and Daniel Davis. “Beyond the Screen: Creating interactives that are location, time, preference, and skill responsive.” MW2014: Museums and the Web 2014. Published February 1, 2014.

Tebeau, Mark. “Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era.” Oral History Review 40.1 (2013): 25-35.

Boyer, D. and J. Marcus. “Implementing Mobile Augmented Reality Applications for Cultural Institutions.” In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2011: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2011

Landscapes and Local History

This activity asked for students to experience a mobile public history site or application in the landscape for which it was created. Ironically, this is the gap my project, Nashville Sites, hopes to fill. Nashville currently has no dedicated public history site or application that is non-profit and/or educational. There are  ad-driven/free apps and subscription or purchasable apps such as “City Walks” (a global company that combines corporate sponsors and advertising). Tours and entries are based on a City Walks staff “writing team” but the site also relies on crowdsourced information by users. In Nashville, there are also a few webpages that provide local history based on locations that include Google maps, but they are not particularly mobile friendly nor scholarly.

I decided therefore to use HistoryPin instead and found quite a bit. This was a great experience for me because I have only used HistoryPin once before and it was not in thinking about Digital Humanities (and long before the Nashville Sites project idea was even conceived). Therefore using HistoryPin now, with all of these other things swirling around in my head and online — was extremely helpful as I develop my educational goals and exhibit layers for Nashville Sites. Here is the area that I surveyed both digitally and physically.

The place-based techniques of HistoryPin for the downtown core and West Nashville have many different collections. Most of the Pins were private citizens and registered HistoryPin users. The majority of the Pins were photographs taken by these users and while the photographs were great there was very little text, narrative, or metadata. Still, most of the major historical sites within the geographic parameters shown on the above map were “Pinned.” The one institutional presence I saw for several instances was the Albert Gore Research Center. Pins placed by the center included not only photographs but also newspaper clippings, political cartoons, and letters.

All in all it was an eye-opening experience and activity that helped me to see what is “already out there” in terms of place-based history in Nashville.  While there are no landscaped-based local public history projects, there is a thriving digital humanities/history program in nearby Murfreesboro at Middle Tennessee State University. For a look at what they are doing see below. They could be a potential partner in the long-run as I (and the MHC) work to develop Nashville Sites.

Digital Humanities at MTSU

Digital Humanities projects at Middle Tennessee State University are created with and for scholars. In addition to images and historical documents, projects include multimedia components, contextual themes, and lesson plans or essays. DH projects are a collaborative effort with content and technology experts who use a variety of digital tools including CONTENTdm, ArcGIS, StoryMaps, Drupal, Omeka and more. Click here for current projects.

I’m also fascinated with Curatescape and hope to use it within my own project. As I seek to develop Nashville Sites, I think about history based on place, I’ve found the Spokane Historical particularly inspiring as a model that is different from mallhistory.org but with many similarities.

Spokane Historical

Spokane Historical is a web and mobile platform for telling stories of Spokane and Eastern Washington. Spokane Historical is a project of the Public History program at Eastern Washington University. Spokane Historical is a free app available on your Android or iPhone smart phone or tablet.

 

Localized Histories and Reading Reflection

This was an eye-opening module that forced me to think about the overlap between project sponsored by local history organizations and affinity-group community organizations. As Tammy Gordon notes in “Community Exhibition: History, Identity, and Dialogue”: “Community exhibits are conceived and created by people who have lived the historical subject, who descend from those who lived it, or who identify strongly with the place that was shaped by the heritage being presented.” I surveyed several projects that utilize digital technology sponsored by both types of organizations but will focus briefly on two in order to compare and contrast.

According to the project site: “The Ohio History Connection, formerly the Ohio Historical Society, is a statewide history organization with the mission to spark discovery of Ohio’s stories. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization chartered in 1885, the Ohio History Connection carries out history services for Ohio and its citizens focused on preserving and sharing the state’s history. This includes housing the state historic preservation office, the official state archives, local history office and managing more than 50 sites and museums across Ohio” (http://ohiohistory.org). It preserves over 2 million objects and is a large organization with over 180 staff members and over 13 full-time director-level positions. It offers and manages physical locations and in-person programming as well as collections, exhibits, and educational resources available online. Its goals are to be inclusive, relevant, and collaborative for all Ohioans and to protect (stewardship) and represent (authenticity) the state’s diverse history. While the history presented can be personal and connected to specific groups or theme, the Ohio History Connection is more purposefully broad as the state’s main arbiter of local histories throughout the state.

Other local historical society projects surveyed include:

The Postville Project: Documenting a Community in Transition, works to collect, preserve, and present the stories and materials related to the community of Postville, Iowa before, during and after the 2008 immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant (http://postvilleproject.org). It is sponsored by two institutions of higher education: Luther College and the University of Northern Iowa. The project utilizes crowdsourcing, which allows users to contribute materials, and the site also provide primary sources, organized by thematic collections, for scholars and the general public alike. It is well organized, maintained, and in addition to collections and exhibits there is also a curriculum guide for educators. The project is focused on documenting and preserving a deeply personal event for many, but it also provides an important case study for scholars interested in labor history, immigration, food production, government, and other interdisciplinary studies.

Other group-affinity projects surveyed included.

These materials have affected the way I think about my project. I have to remember that my project, focused on historical markers must satisfy the needs of two audiences: 1) Nashville audience who has a vested interest in the version of “their story” being presented and 2) Visitors who are curious in learning more and understanding Nashville as a southern city known for its schools, hospitals,  unique role in the Civil War, music, food, and famous citizens. I need to make sure that I organize and present my exhibits so that both audiences can understand the significance of each site from the initial record or dig deeper if they so choose. As Lauren Gutterman reminds us (“OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making), “Although the medium is digital history, the purpose is public.” This statement is simple but powerful and will guide my work over the course of the next two weeks.

Works Cited:

Gordon, Tammy. “Community Exhibition: History, Identity, and Dialogue.” In Private History in Public: Exhibition and the Settings of Everyday Life, 33-57. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2010.

Gutterman, Lauren. “OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making.” The Public Historian 32.4 (2010).

 

Project Progress 3/23-3/30

I met with Jessica Reeves of the Metro Historical Commission (MHC) this week. We looked at other municipalities (and one university) that had created “walking tour” type projects based on historical markers. We also discussed how to attach signage to the existing markers that will connect the potential audience to the project via the physical location and physical marker. Jessica and I have also designed a logo, approved by Tim Walker, and are working to have it professionally designed. I am currently using a rough draft of the logo on my current project on Omeka: http://www.drpethel.com/exhibit/

Here are three projects with similarities to the proposed goals and working strategy of Nashville Sites. For some the web presence is great, for others pretty bad. There is an even wider range when considering metadata, scholarship, and sponsors. If anything, these reveal that such projects are desirable but the planning, execution, design/layout (to be mobile and desktop friendly), navigation, and overall usability remain key.  Also key is reaching the intended audience.

1) Fort Wayne, Indiana—http://archfw.org/heritagetrail/centraldowntown/

It is managed through a local heritage non-profit. They use WordPress and include audio clips. No meta data.

Article about the project—http://beqrioustracker.com/history-markers-come-alive-with-qr-codes/

2) St. Augustine, Florida— http://staugustineexplorers.com/

This was funded by a state grant and administered by the Planning Department of the city. It had two components: markers and QR codes going up on buildings; and the website that hosts the digital content. The markers are beautiful, the site is…not. No meta data, very hard to navigate.

Article about the project with photos— http://staugustine.com/news/local-news/2016-09-05/added-touch-city-st-augustine-places-historical-marker-qr-code-some

3) University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign— http://publicaffairs.illinois.edu/markerstour/

Funded and managed by the Public Affairs division of the University. The QR codes are attached to the posts in some way (I’m waiting on an email back from Joel Steinfeldt, the social media/site manager who put up the QR codes, to see how they are attached). Site has audio/video clips, no meta data.

Article about the project— https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/209634
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As encouraged by Dr. Leon, I need to develop five items to answer an inquiry question for each exhibit. I also need to figure out how to created “nested pages” within the exhibit builder to develop content. I also need to carve out some designated “work days” for this project so that I can consider what kinds of strategic framing I plan to use for content to attract users and to entice them to explore the full depth of the exhibits.  I have a manuscript due on April 3 for a traditional writing project for a local nonprofit organization here in Nashville. I have been working on it since August, and despite my best efforts, I am a bit double booked until I can put the writing project to bed. The good news is that the light is bright at the end of the tunnel. At that time, I will be able to devote much more time to Nashville Sites. Thank goodness for flex modules!

Project Progress 3/16-3/22

I had two very productive meetings this week related to my Nashville Sites project. The first was with Tim Walker and Jessica Reeves who both work for the Metro Historical Commission (MHC) in Nashville.  The MHC is the local government agency here in Nashville who is partnering and sponsoring the project. We were joined in the meeting by Nicholas Lorenson who is one of the lead administrators for Code Nashville. We discussed the project goals, looked at several examples, and discussed strategy, audience, site layout, function, and deadlines. As part of our discussions we explored several options. One option is to move away from Omeka and to use WordPress instead. I was concerned (as were Tim and Jessica) about the ability to use Dublin Core so that the project can maintain its scholarship and metadata components. Nicholas discovered that there is a Dublin Core plug-in for WordPress. I am not sure of the final outcome, and this week Mr. Lorenson is going to “look under the hood” at the project as it exists currently in Omeka and make recommendations about next steps. One reason to move from Omeka to WordPress is that it is much easier to find and receive technical support from Code Nashville (or other tech subcontractors). Omeka is far less common outside of the public history or digital humanities world. It might also be easier to maintain if long term control falls to the MHC.  We agreed to meet again in the next two weeks.

The second meeting was with the marketing committee for the Metro Historical Commission Foundation (MHCF). The MHCF is a 501(c)(3) that raises money and awareness for MHC projects that need funding/support beyond the appropriated MHC budget, which is based on taxpayer dollars. I presented my project to the committee, it was approved and I was encouraged to write up a short grant proposal for funding. I was also asked to present the project at the next MHCF meeting on 4/14.

So while it was a productive week, I don’t yet have much to show for it and the project site itself is largely as it was last week. This week I hope to shore up some of the inconsistencies of my Dublin Core records and further develop the exhibit. I have decided one thing for sure: I plan to stick with Omeka for my class project. While I think this project will eventually migrate to WordPress, I will continue to work within the Berlin default theme. It will not look as good, but the content is what matters for this course, and that is my top priority in the short term.

 

 

Reading Response

Module Four’s main topic was “Collections.” The readings and activities were thoughtful and engaging. Review readings about the many different meanings and definitions related to the concept of an “archive” and metadata were both great reminders of the importance of building content grounded in a clear purpose. Interfaces and collections are also essential elements that must be developed carefully with both short-term and long-term goals in mind. Readings that shed light on these issues and collection /content organization included:

Smithsonian Team Flickr
Generous Interfaces

It’s All About the Stuff

These articles helped me to brainstorm when thinking about nashvillesites.org. For me, the readings in Module Four stressed the solid building blocks needed at the outset of any digital project. This Module’s readings emphasized the need to thoughtfully define, outline, and plan digital history projects with a clear audience, purpose, and goal. In writing and revising two personas I am much more focused on the types of people I hope to engage through my project and this will guide the project’s development going forward. In gathering and posting 15 items and organizing them into a collection via Omeka was done with these factors (audience, data, sources, interface) in mind.

It is important to remember that without a general audience, public history is limited to a small group of creators and scholars. In order to attract a general audience, a digital project must have a compelling narrative. This was the focus of Module Five. As Steven Lubar writes in “Curator Rules,” project creators and managers should also remember that users are “thinking beings.” As a digital humanist creating a digital story, I will need to carefully balance content with curation; information that is as entertaining as it is educational. This can be accomplished through a deliberate and consistent effort to synthesize content and create a narrative interpretation of historical markers in the downtown Nashville area.

As Suzanne Fischer notes in “Developing your Synthetic Powers,” synthesis is key to a successful project that engages a wide audience. Fischer writes, “In your source-gathering, seek patterns. . . read and reach out widely and know your constraints.” Fischer concludes that what is of interest to the historian creating the project is likely of interest to the project’s potential audience. She concludes, “Latch onto what interests you. . . .If you can’t stop thinking about a story you heard, it probably belongs in the project.” In Eavesdropping at the Well, Richard Rabinowitz reminds us that as historians we must move from exhibits to narratives and from narratives to experiences. His and other articles focus on the importance of storyboarding, prototyping, visual/spatial design.

Activities and readings in this module forced me to move beyond the data/content and to consider how best to use the selected interface in a way that can provide a narrative and cross-references to other site features. The ways in which I design and organize the site’s features will be a major part of whether or not this project is a success in terms of 1- attracting and engaging a general audience and 2- providing an exhibit/narrative experience 3- building content that meets scholarly standards.

This is where I have run into a bit of a wall. I have worked to implement the National Mall Theme, developed by our very own Dr. Sharon Leon and initially installed the Exhibit Builder. The box for exhibits was visible and operating fine until last night when I was adding my last item. I’ve uninstalled and reinstalled, tried different versions, and nothing is working. I’m perplexed because it was there, and it seems as if there was a problem it would not have installed and shown on the homepage to begin with. I really like the theme and layout and want to keep it, so I hope I can find a work around. I don’t have the technical skills to rebuild the custom theme in Omeka 3.0. I wonder if I could just revert to an older version of Omeka? I hope I can figure this out by March 20 when the activity for building an exhibit is due.