Tag Archives: Metropolitan Historical Commission

Vanderbilt Center for Digital Humanities Internship Update, June 2018

My summer internship with the Vanderbilt University of Digital Humanities has been very fruitful thus far. Working primarily with the center’s associate director, Dr. Mickey Casad, the internship promises to be beneficial in a variety of ways. First, the Center for DH is providing in-kind support for Nashville Sites — of which I am the project manager. This allows me to expand my digital skills while also working on a project already in progress that will continue beyond this semester. Dr. Casad and I have met twice to talk about this as well as other initiatives and projects connected to the center. These projects include Mappalacia, with Berea College, and Fedora, with Dale Poulter (VU Director of Library Technology and Digital Services). I will have more to report on these projects in my next post.

Most of May and June was spent working with a staff of four on the initial five tours for Nashville Sites. There are many challenges in building a digital infrastructure, content management system, navigation, and taxonomy. The first five tours are are located in a centralized area of downtown because we wanted to keep our geographical parameters tight as we worked through certain issues. They include: architectural highlights, seedy side (Nashville’s former red light district), food for thought (restaurants in historically significant buildings), and downtown schools/education. My assigned tour was downtown schools/education. Mapping out the tour, doing the research, collecting metadata for individual records, and writing a tour narrative took quite a bit of time. Also valuable to the process was physically walking and “testing out” the tour. I realized that many sites on other tours are visible on mine, and so we’re working with our web designers to determine how best to alert the user to these sites in order to provide the option of a customized or deviated tour. Here is my final tour, which includes the following stops:

1. Tennessee State University
2. Nashville Female Academy
3. Nashville School of Law/YMCA
4. Ward Seminary
5. Hume-Fogg School
6. Lipscomb University Downtown Spark Campus
7. Hatch Show Print
8. Taylor Swift Education Center
9. Walk of Fame (Local Alums and School Connections)
10. Seeing Eye (First Dog Training School for the Blind)

The tour is 2 miles long and takes approximately 75 minutes if walked without more than five minutes spent at each site. Other considerations included accessibility (sidewalks, ramps, lighting), balancing active sites versus historic markers only, and creating a subject/keyword/tag hierarchy. The subject list is still a work in progress, but we are basing it on the Omeka’s Simple Vocab plug-in. Specific methodologies and skills learned through GMU coursework have been key to working on this project: Omeka, copyright, Google Maps, using images, history based on place, creating personas, and even Slack. I look forward to the next few weeks as this and other work/projects through the VU Center for DH develop.

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.

 

 

“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.