Tag Archives: Omeka

Vanderbilt University Center for Digital Humanities Internship Final Reflection

My internship this summer with the Vanderbilt Center for Digital Humanities could not have been better. I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Mickey Casad and other scholars and digital directors at Vanderbilt. They included Juliet Larkin-Gilmore, Dr. Angela Sutton, Dale Poulter, and Dr. Steven Wernke.  I also had the chance to meet and collaborate with scholars from other institutions such as Dr. Chad Berry (Berea College), Dr. Reavis Mitchell (Fisk University), Dr. Lea Williams (Tennessee State University), Dr. Van West (Middle TN State University), Dr. Molly Taylor-Polesky (Middle TN State University), and Dr. Carole Bucy (Volunteer State College). Finally, I had many meeting with community stakeholders related to the Nashville Sites Digital Project including Nashville Public Library, Metro Archives, TN State Library and Archives, Slave Societies Digital Archive (Vanderbilt), Fog Haus, Metro Historical Commission, Belmont University, Middle TN State University, Convention and Visitors Corp., Smithsonian Institute, Humanities Tennessee, and more.

All of that to say, it has been a joyful internship. My experience has  provided me with new digital skills (particularly after meeting with Dale Poulter last week about Fedora and Islandora), while also allowing me to flex my own (digital) muscles. Not only has Dr. Casad and the center supported my work with Nashville Sites, I will also have the chance to give back in two weeks–as I lead a workshop at the Vanderbilt DH Bootcamp. I will be teaching a session on Omeka to Vanderbilt faculty. In terms of Nashville Sites, I am happy to report that just yesterday, I passed off all metadata and tour narratives and maps for the first five tours. They are: Downtown School and Education, Food for Thought (restaurants either historic themselves or in historic buildings), Civic and Public Spaces, Architecture Highlights, and Nashville’s Seedy Side.

This summer I put much of the knowledge gained through George Mason University coursework into action. That is perhaps the best part. My coursework at GMU inspired my work with Nashville Sites, which in turn has allowed me to turn this class project into “a real thing,” and has also led to me learning many new things on my own and from others connected to the Vanderbilt Center for DH. I can’t thank Dr. Casad and Dr. Platt enough for their encouragement, guidance, and support.

A final word of thanks to George Mason for giving me the skills and experience to expand my professional portfolio. This past year, I led a Digital Humanities Initiative at Harpeth Hall, which resulted in my work with at least one teacher in every academic discipline (except math) to develop a digital project. My work in Digital Humanities also played a big role in my recent one-year appointment as Professor of Practice at Belmont University next year. Dr. Mimi Barnard’s vision and ingenuity made this appointment possible.  I will be teaching an intro to Digital Humanities course as well as work with students on Nashville Sites (also two additional courses). In sum, Belmont is hosting me as I teach and work on this project. Two years ago, I could not have imagined that this certificate program would lead to a new position.

Below, I will share part of one of the completed tours as a sample. I will not send metadata as it is still being edited, and the GIS is under construction. I look forward to sharing the actual site when it is launched (estimated date August 2019). There should be approximately twenty tours. Enjoy.

1. The Hermitage Hotel/Capitol Grille/Oak Bar

J. Edwin Carpenter’s 1910 Hermitage Hotel is designed in the Beaux Arts Style, and even if you choose not to eat here, a visit inside is worth your time. Along with the ornate lobby and restaurant, the Art Deco men’s restroom located near the Oak Bar is famous for its design. Ladies, you can check out the restroom as well, just ask the hotel staff.
    
In the months before Tennessee’s decision to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment (August 18, 1920), both proponents and opponents of woman’s suffrage established headquarters at the Hermitage Hotel. They chose the location for its proximity to the capitol building, where women could not hold office but could lobby for their causes. After a fierce political battle, Tennessee became the thirty sixth state to ratify the amendment, which met the 2/3rd state threshold needed, granting women the constitutional right to vote. Tennessee is still called the “Perfect 36” for its role in the ratification process.
 
The Capitol Grille, originally called the Grill Room, once served clear green turtle soup, Tennessee squab, celery, and salted almonds. While these dishes epitomized fine dining in the early twentieth century, they no longer exist regularly on the menu. Even though food tastes change over time, Capitol Grille has continued its long-standing tradition of using locally sourced ingredients when possible. The hotel owns Double H Farms that raises free range cattle and uses seasonal vegetables grown at historic Glen Leven Farm. If you don’t want a full meal, unwind in the Oak Bar, originally an exclusive men’s club. Today all can enjoy this space, which has served drinks and dinner for over a century. 
 
Move southeast on Sixth Ave. toward Church St, and turn LEFT onto Church St. Then, turn LEFT onto Fifth Ave N to reach 227 Fifth Ave. North. Woolworth on 5th is about halfway up the block. Along the way, you will pass buildings with historical, architectural, and artistic significance. On Sixth Ave. North, take note of the Herakut mural of the dog, created through the Nashville Walls Project. Church Street is full of important sites including the Nashville Public Library, 505 Nashville, and the Downtown Presbyterian Church, which you pass on your right as you walk toward Fifth Avenue. 
Additional Info: Hermitage Hotel Audio

2. Woolworth on 5th

In February 1960, a group of black students from Fisk University, Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State University), and American Baptist College boldly sat down at the lunch counters of Woolworth’s, Kress, and McClellan—all department stores. This is how Nashville’s sit-in movement began. Implementing methods of non-violent protest, young Civil Rights leaders such as John Lewis, James Lawson, and Diane Nash began a historic journey to end racial segregation. In the face of violence, intimidation, and arrest—the determined spirit and perseverance of these and other students led Mayor Ben West to support desegregation. He did so, and the Nashville business community followed by integrating lunch counters, stores, and restaurants. By the summer of 1960, Nashville had desegregated all public facilitiesthe first southern city to do so.
After a major renovation, the Woolworth building reopened as a restaurant in early 2018. The venue hosts a “welcome table for all,” showcasing the Civil Rights movement in Nashville through historic photographs and visibly patched floors where the segregated lunch counters were removed. Visitors can enjoy live jazz, R&B, early rock, and more while dining.
Woolworth’s reflects the power of food to connect the past to the present and to provide a window into the complicated nature of southern culture and identity. You can likely think of popular foods associated with the American southeast: barbecue, fried chicken, or biscuits. These dishes represent points of contact between Native Americans, African Americans, and European Americans. These popular dishes reveal stories about women and men, many enslaved, who cooked for others and adapted foods during times of plenty and times of need. As you explore Woolworth on 5th, consider how its “welcome table for all” unites not only those who challenged Jim Crow with the present, but also celebrates the different races, classes, and cultures who made the cuisine we know and love today.
Turn LEFT outside of Woolworth on 5th; after walking about thirty yards, turn RIGHT at the Fifth Ave. North crosswalk to reach The Arcade located across the street. When you leave Woolworth’s you will see a historical marker describing the sit-ins. 
Audio about Civil Rights Movement sit-ins in Nashville, TN
  • Oral History Interview with Edward F. Jones, 2006 November 3, excerpt 17, is a three minute clip of Jones describing the sit-in movement in broad terms. He mentions student activism, and the negotiations between business owners and student activist leaders. 
  • Citation per NPL:                                                                                                             Edward F. Jones, Series 1, The Turner Interviews, Nashville Business Leaders Oral History Project, Special Collections Division, Nashville Public Library.

3. The Arcade (and Peanut Shop)

If you seek a variety of options and a quick meal, drink, or snack—Nashville’s Arcade, located across the street from Woolworth on 5th, is the place for you. For decades, Nashvillians saw Fifth Avenue as the most popular shopping area in the city. At its peak in the early twentieth century, department stores lined the street, and the Arcade was the center of it all. 
Running though the middle of the block between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, this space was originally a rose garden called Overton Alley. In 1903, Daniel C. Buntin funded the construction of a two-story indoor shopping venue designed by the architectural firm Thompson, Gibel and Asmus. Modeled after the famous Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele in Milan (Italy), the Arcade features a glass-gabled roof, reinforced with steel beams made in East Nashville. When the city celebrated the Arcade’s opening, approximately 40,000 people gathered for shopping, music, and mingling. Shop owners and businesses in Nashville’s Arcade have changed over time, and the second floor mezzanine currently boasts art galleries that participate in the free Downtown Nashville First Saturday Art Crawl. 
The street level promenade offers over twenty food stops with pizza, deli sandwiches, tacos, Chinese food, coffee, pastries, and more. The plethora of affordable options allows customers to find the perfect meal while taking in the architecture of this hidden gem. The oldest store in the building, The Peanut Shop, opened in 1927. Owned by Planters Peanuts until 1960, the store has run independently for over fifty years. Much of the decoration here is original, so make sure you look around if you stop in for a treat. 
After walking STRAIGHT through the Arcade, you arrive on Fourth Ave. North and see the Bobby Hotel directly across the street. Turn RIGHT and you will see a crosswalk which you will take to get to the other side of the street. The small road in front of you that separates the Bobby Hotel from the Southern Turf building is called Metro Alley. The Southern Turf building, the historic location of your next stop, is on your RIGHT. Take the alley to Skull’s Rainbow Room restaurant and bar, located in the back of the Southern Turf building. 

Project Progress 4/9-4/15

I have made great progress on my dual Nashville Sites projects. For the HIST694 project I have been adding content, building my exhibit, and have completed my first walking tour. Over the next week, I hope to finish the content for my exhibit, map out my second and final walking tour, and add 5-6 more items with Dublin Core info. So I should be in good shape for submitting the project for peer review and feedback at the end of next week.

The larger and permanent digital project is also moving forward. I received the bid from Fog Haus for Stage One of development to get a “Mall Histories” type site up and running by the end of the summer. I worked with Nick Lorenson to create narratives that will add a storytelling element to the project, and his firm mocked up a potential layout (see below). We are also discussing the use of BKON, which would alert users that they are near a historical marker using push notifications on smart phones. I made my presentation this past Thursday evening to the MHC Foundation Board, and they voted to approve funding for half of the Stage One amount. I will go with Tim Walker, MHC Director, to our local visitor’s bureau and another non-profit organization called Community Partners to secure the rest of the funding. The feedback was extremely positive, and I am confident that Nashville Sites will become a reality, just not this semester. I hope that our final online course through GMU will allow me to continue working on this project as part of my coursework.

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.

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
__________________________________________________________________________

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.

“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.

Revised Personas

Persona #1

Name:   Jean Just-Retired
Demographic:   White, female, early 70s, upper-middle class
Descriptive Title:   Teacher Turned Tourist
Quote:   Goodbye tension, hello pension

A Day in a Life Narrative: Jean is very connected to her community in Northeast Georgia, but travels half an hour south to Atlanta once a month. After 30 years in the classroom as a teacher, her new daily schedule includes coffee and Fox News in the morning, running errands during the day, babysitting her grandchildren in the afternoon, and home to cook dinner and eat with her husband of 51 years. She loves Facebook and texting, and Jean can barely remember how she functioned without GPS on her iPhone. Google is a go-to for Jean. While her day-to-day life is fairly routine, she stays quite busy with her church and as a board member for a local non-profit.
End Goals:  Jean loves her church, friends, and family — but she also likes to travel with her husband. Though they have taken some big trips to Europe and the Caribbean, she prefers weekend trips. She likes trying new things but only if they don’t push her too far out of her comfort zone. Jean likes history but museums are usually at the top of her to-see list. Her husband is fun-loving, drives a truck, and is always up for an adventure — but prefers to drive rather than fly.

Persona #2

Name: John Appleseed
Demographic: White, male, early 50s, working class
Descriptive Title: Installer for Commercial Glass Company
Quote: Work hard, play hard

A Day in a Life Narrative: John rises at 5:30 a.m. to drive an hour on winding, snow-packed roads in Vermont for nine months of the year. He’s worked for the same company since he graduated from high school, and while he has risen through the ranks, he’ll never sit in the CEO boardroom. John eats a sandwich he made the night before and a pack of peanut-butter crackers for lunch and takes a smoke break every couple of hours. He is honest and straight forward and will set you straight if you cross him. But his softer side is also apparent: saving money so that he can help his adult daughter buy new car tires and often helping his elderly neighbor with odd jobs. Divorced in his 30s, he’s remarried now. On weekends he likes to play horse shoes, ride his motorcycle, and drinks an occasional beer.
End Goals: John and his wife life comfortably but not extravagantly. They love hiking, music (folk and classic rock), and taking day trips when they can. John is very interested in military history and history trivia in general. His likes sports, especially the Red Sox and Patriots, but John also loves the Dallas Cowboys–because his dad did. His wife is less interested in sports, but loves her iPad and Facebook. John is somewhat comfortable with technology on his basic smart phone, but with limited data he rarely buys or uses apps. Once a year they travel to Florida but hope to add new cities to their list of destinations soon. John loves military history and often watches the History Channel.

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).

Final Project and Feedback

My project webpage can be accessed from this page (tab top right labeled “Nashville”) or directly via: http://drpethel.com/nashville/

My project goal encompasses a practical and educational aim using digital tools. I am creating a course portfolio with a thematic focus of “Making Modern Nashville.” I have taught a special topics upper-level course for Belmont University for the past two years entitled: Making the Modern City. In the course we trace urban history and development and place it within the larger economic and cultural context of American history. The last part of the semester students examined Nashville as an urban case study and produced a culminating work based on original research, primary, and secondary sources. My project seeks to build a Omeka collection and exhibit based on their research. I chose this focus because I wanted to apply tools and methods associated with digital humanities with courses I currently teach. Further, I wanted to create something that could be beneficial to multiple audiences while also showcasing student research that deserves digital and more public platform.

I chose to use Omeka because it fits the purpose of my digital and educational goals because I can create collections, exhibits, and special features that will allow me to add, layer, and reorganize from one semester to the next. In other words, there is no finished product but rather an ongoing project that can continue to grow to showcase digital-born student research and work that is valuable to scholars, the university, and the local community.

Before this course I had Omeka account and had established a site, but it was really for experimental purposes. I have since migrated any information and data from the original site to my drpethel.com domain. Some of the formatting changed a bit with the migration, so it took some time to clean up, delete duplicates, upload new sources, and create metadata. I also had to determine the best possible way to set up collections and exhibits that were easy to navigate and engaging for the user. I discovered that aside from the overarching theme, “Making Modern Nashville” there were more connective sub-themes among the different projects than I had originally realized. This made my work both easier and harder as I wanted to feature all projects connected to my “Past, Present, and Future: Downtown Nashville” exhibit, but I didn’t want to create an exhibit that completely overshadowed other items and other collections. I also had to do quite a bit of editing to make sure I used common language via Dublin Core and also with tagging.

The feedback I received was helpful–particularly to read that both reviewers thought the idea and sources interesting and potentially useful as a student showcase but also a source of scholarly work that could help someone researching a similar topic in another city or Nashville itself.  Elaine mentioned the potential of this project to go beyond the university to involve crowdsourcing. While I think this is a very noble goal, I would need additional support or funding to be able to commit that kind of time to promote, build, and manage such a project. Even beyond this class I plan to continue to hone this site–adding more features, sources, and descriptive information in order to show its value as an academic and cultural home for special topics related to the metro Nashville area.