Tag Archives: historical markers

Final HIST694 Post

It is time to close out HIST694 with a final blog post about building the prototype for Nashville Sites and doing public history.

Having just put the finishing touches on this version of my course project, I feel comfortable reflecting on the experience as a whole. I think that this course and this project has enabled me to realize the full potential of doing digital history. From developing personas, a social media strategy, and an evaluation plan to building content, metadata, and walking tours–this digital project has been both challenging and rewarding. At times this project felt like a sprint, other times it felt like a marathon. In reality, most projects dealing with large amounts of information (whether a book or a digital prototype) are both.

Perhaps most exciting is the continuation of this project beyond the semester. As I mentioned in my screencast video, this project started with an idea inspired by the Histories of the National Mall.

While I ran into technical problems with using the “mall theme” I continued my course project by creating a prototype using the Berlin Theme in Omeka. I also used Neatline to build two walking tours: Upper Broadway and Lower Broadway. These two tours focus on different historical markers and themes that will appeal to different types of audiences. I also used Exhibit Builder to create a “Up from the Cumberland,” which is a thematic exhibit with four parts: Maps and Geography, Athens of the South, Nashville’s Acropolis, and Broadway. Each of these nested pages links and cross referencing the majority of the items in my collection. Each part of the exhibit was designed to focus on different areas related to Nashville history. Following the order above, I organized these pages to target history, and historical markers, based on several categories: geography and urban growth, secondary and higher education, government, and architecture.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the course, the assignments, and I have learned a great deal. I am more confident in my abilities as a project manager, public historian, and digital humanist. I look forward to next semester and hope that the course is designed in a way that I can continue this work.

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.

Connecting the Public to Public History

Nam-ho Park, “A Half-Day Walk through Hanoi,” CC license

There are many implementations and activities that can connect the public to public history using online digital collections. As Sheila A. Brennan and T. Mills Kelly wrote in 2009, the digital humanities are comfortable with the “read-write web.” The Web 2.0 (or 1.5 as they call it) allows public historians to collect and share the stories and narratives of people through their direct participation. Digital history project also benefit from the volunteer efforts of people to identify and enhance their narratives, help to piece together the narratives of others, and provide valuable information and context.

A great example of this can be found in the project “Invisible Australians” that used a facial detection script, tagging, photos, and people to analyze the “White Australia Policy.” Other successful crowdsourcing and public history collaborations include Flickr Commons,  created as a “forum for institutions to share their rich photographic collections. . . and provide insights into how knowledge, skill, and abilities of librarians, archives, and museums can converge in the Web 2.0 environment to provide collection access to new. . . audiences,” (Smithsonian Team Flickr). The Smithsonian Institute’s collaboration is sharing its rich photo archive with Flickr Commons has created an amazing public-private partnership.

In this spirit, the following list includes the kinds of public history implementations and activities that having a basic digital collection enables. 

  1. Tagging, Identification
  2. Transcribing
  3. Exploration
  4. Social Media
  5. Contests
  6. Visual analysis
  7. Direct Collaboration
  8. Geo-spatial mapping (see image at top of post)
  9. Memory-making
  10. Storytelling

Omeka has emerged as the premier platform for open-source digital public history projects.  With a variety of templates, plug-ins, and customization options, most of the items on the above list can be achieved using Omeka’s open source web platform.  For my own project, I will be able to use information from and about historical markers in Nashville’s downtown core. This includes temporal and geographic locations, marker text, and related primary sources. These resources could ultimately be used to create explorations via walking tours, contests for users, storytelling via historical contextualization, direct user collaboration via tagging or identification, and social media. While many of these goals remain quite distant, the fluid nature of DH and the trajectory of rapidly advancing technology make these goals possible.

It remains important to consider several factors that remain critical to the long term usefulness, credibility, and sustainability of digital archives. First archival projects need to be clearly identified. There are many genres and meanings of the word “archive” as noted by Trevor Owen. Ranging from a records or storage management system to what some critics call “artificial collections,” properly defining the mission, scope, and function of an a digital archive is essential (What Do you Mean by Archive?). Likewise the issue of metadata is important. Metadata is not always exciting on its face, but it provides the foundation on which successful digital history projects depend. As the guide for “Describing Metadata” suggests: “Metadata is the glue which links information and data across the world wide web. It is the tool that helps people to discover, manage, describe, preserve and build relationships with and between digital resources” (Describing Metadata).

Coupled with high standards of historical scholarship, digital projects can produce and make available large collections that can be used to disseminate and distribute information to the greater public while also providing countless primary sources to current and future historians. As Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig emphasized in Digital History, “Collecting history through digital archives can be far cheaper, larger, more diverse, and more inclusive than traditional archives. This democratization however, does not mean compromising the quality of the historical work.” (Why Collecting History Online is 1.5).

Works Cited:

Brennan, Sheila A., and T. Mills Kelly. “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5” Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. 2009.

JISC Digital Media. “Metadata: An Introduction.” (first section – “From Metadata: a definition” to “Metadata often reflects the community it has come from.”

Kalfatovic, Martin et al. “Smithsonian Team Flickr: a library, archives, and museums collaboration in web 2.0 space.” Archival Science (October 2009).

Owens, Trevor. “What Do You mean by Archive? Genres of Usage for Digital Preservers.” The Signal: Digital Preservation (blog), February 27, 2014.

Sherratt, Tim. “It’s All About the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People.” Journal of Digital Humanities 1.1 (Winter 2011).