Tag Archives: Histories of the National Mall

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.

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

“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.