Tag Archives: audience

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

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!

“Nashville Sites” Project Proposal

Title:
Nashville Sites: Understanding Nashville’s Narrative using Public Historical Markers
Institution:
Metropolitan Historical Commission of Nashville and Davidson County
Project Director:
Mary Ellen Pethel, Ph.D.
Grant Program:
Digital Projects for the Public: Prototyping Grants

In 1967, the newly-formed Metropolitan Historical Commission of Nashville and Davidson County (MHC) initiated a historical marker program to commemorate significant people, places, and events in the city’s past. With over 150 historical markers now in the county, this program is one of the most successful, and most public projects to date. There is quite an extensive process to erect a marker, but most importantly: “Every statement on a Metropolitan Historical Commission marker must satisfy two conditions: Is it significant? Is it accurate?” (http://bit.ly/2lkfo8Z). For this project, I will begin with these two historical questions and expand to include the following:

  1. How can marker content be complemented with other primary sources to convey a more engaging and important story.
  2. How can this digital history project combine individual entries for markers to create a broader historical narrative for downtown Nashville’s historical site markers.
  3. In what ways can I connect this project to other significant downtown sites  where there are not metro historical markers.
  4. How can I best engage audiences both local and visiting to participate in the walking tour, and how can I best use historical scholarship to support this project.
  5. Are there connections to the broader arts and humanities community that I can easily incorporate?

Omeka will be the primary format for “Nashville Sites” with an interface based on a modified version of “Histories of the National Mall.” This project, sponsored by an NEH grant and developed by George Mason University and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media leads the way in digital histories based on public history sites within a particular geographical area. “Nashville Sites” will follow a similar thematic layout based the following categories: maps, explorations, and places. In contrast to mallhistory.org , this project will designate and create a walking tour based on existing, physical historical markers. The site for this project is nashvillesites.org and relevant primary documents will be available for each destination point. These primary sources include images, renderings, and other media files.

In addition to these project resources, digital technologies will enhance metadata available via public records. Curatescape will be used to provide latitude/longitude for geo-spatial mapping, Omeka exhibits will organize marker text and context, and there will also be additional outside links related to selected markers. Points to be included for this project range from the earliest known business to the Ryman Auditorium to historical churches to government buildings.

This format will effectively convey Nashville’s historical narrative based on a humanities-centered approach. Selected markers in the downtown core will be used as the prototype for a larger long-term project will ultimately include all existing markers managed by MHC. The Metropolitan Historical Commission is the steward of two commissions which guide historic preservation projects for metro Nashville. The MHC is funded by the citizens of Davidson County through tax revenues with an annually appropriated budget. In addition, MHC is supported by a separate 501(c)(3)—Metropolitan Historical Commission Foundation (MHCF). The MHCF solicits outside funding and donations for projects that exceed the commission’s budgetary scope. The MHCF has verbally committed to additional funding as this project develops, and the MHC staff is currently collaborating and providing data and sources related to “Nashville Sites.”

The timeline for the project, for this stage, is May 2017. However, it is my hope that funding from MHCF will continue this project until all 150 markers are part of the digital project. There are several targeted audiences: visitors (tourists), local residents, and students. Reaching these audiences will depend on whether or not the project is user-friendly, which is why I am using a web rather than an app-based platform. Evaluation of “Nashville Sites” will be determined, in large part, by the number of hits the site generates from month to month once fully functional.

Distribution and sustainability with specific public user groups will depend on continued support and funding through the MHCF, the development of a social media presence, and the promotion of nashvillesites.org via visible signage on the markers themselves and brochures (and the like) in local businesses and hotels.

Audience, Dialogue, and Co-Creation

Schlomo Goltz, author of “A Closer Look at Personas Part I,” quotes entrepreneur and public speaker Seth Godin, “Treat different people differently. Anything else is a compromise.” This statement can be used to inform the public historian’s quest to appropriately address audience, engagement, and the process of co-creation.

Understanding the audience for any public history project, digital or not, is essential to the exhibit’s effectiveness. John Kuo Wei Tchen in “Creating a Dialogic Museum: The Chinatown History Museum Experiment” notes that the quest to determine audience should be determined by a fluid and dialogue-driven approach involving all parties connected to the history being presented. In other words, multi-cultural concerns should be considered so that projects do not alienate or segregate patron groups. Public historians must strive to reach all communities as they present and interpret historical narratives to the public. Such narratives and exhibitions must possess both scholarly integrity and engaging content. Kuo Wei Tchen summarizes this balance: “At their best, public humanities programs should create expansive, convivial places in which social problems are pried open for critical examination. Such programs should make a special effort to include those who have not been a part of the traditional groups of our public culture,” (320).

The engagement piece of public history connects audience with co-creation. Two of our readings dealt with the relationship between these three important elements. Katharine T. Corbett and Dick Miller’s article “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry” and Michael Frisch’s essay “From A Shared Authority to the Digital Kitchen, and Back” from the text Letting Go? make several significant points. For example, there is a difference between experience versus expertise, knowledge creation versus knowledge consumption, and the responsibility of sharing authority in the digital age. The authors argue that the digital age and the new software tools that accompany this new era have drastically shifted the ways in which primary sources are published, interpreted, organized, and presented to the public. I particularly enjoyed thinking about the differences between “raw” and “cooked” sources. Traditionally, raw data gathered through research and collation led to a finished “cooked” product or analysis produced by public historians. Frisch concludes that the murkiness created by published metadata and crowdsourcing has led to “a more creative, more open-ended, less linear, and hence more sharable space,” (129-130). I agree with this conclusion but find myself a bit resistant in my perceived role as a trained historian. This will no doubt be a challenge for me moving forward in future digital public history projects.

Finally, creating and understanding the role of creating personas as part of the project design process is a new concept for me. However, after our readings I feel quite enlightened. Metaphorically speaking, it is as if I’ve just discovered a box hidden under the bed, and its contents contain answers to questions I had never before considered. Creating personas in the design and planning phases of nashvillesites.org will be essential in the effective implementation of my project. Personas can and will make me more aware of audience, more focused on engagement, and more willing to co-create and share authority.