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 (

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 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


Final Project and Feedback

My project webpage can be accessed from this page (tab top right labeled “Nashville”) or directly via:

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 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.