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 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.


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.

Audience, Dialogue, and Co-Creation

Schlomo Goltz, author of “A Closer Look at Personas Part I,” quotes entrepreneur and public speaker Seth Godin, “Treat different people differently. Anything else is a compromise.” This statement can be used to inform the public historian’s quest to appropriately address audience, engagement, and the process of co-creation.

Understanding the audience for any public history project, digital or not, is essential to the exhibit’s effectiveness. John Kuo Wei Tchen in “Creating a Dialogic Museum: The Chinatown History Museum Experiment” notes that the quest to determine audience should be determined by a fluid and dialogue-driven approach involving all parties connected to the history being presented. In other words, multi-cultural concerns should be considered so that projects do not alienate or segregate patron groups. Public historians must strive to reach all communities as they present and interpret historical narratives to the public. Such narratives and exhibitions must possess both scholarly integrity and engaging content. Kuo Wei Tchen summarizes this balance: “At their best, public humanities programs should create expansive, convivial places in which social problems are pried open for critical examination. Such programs should make a special effort to include those who have not been a part of the traditional groups of our public culture,” (320).

The engagement piece of public history connects audience with co-creation. Two of our readings dealt with the relationship between these three important elements. Katharine T. Corbett and Dick Miller’s article “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry” and Michael Frisch’s essay “From A Shared Authority to the Digital Kitchen, and Back” from the text Letting Go? make several significant points. For example, there is a difference between experience versus expertise, knowledge creation versus knowledge consumption, and the responsibility of sharing authority in the digital age. The authors argue that the digital age and the new software tools that accompany this new era have drastically shifted the ways in which primary sources are published, interpreted, organized, and presented to the public. I particularly enjoyed thinking about the differences between “raw” and “cooked” sources. Traditionally, raw data gathered through research and collation led to a finished “cooked” product or analysis produced by public historians. Frisch concludes that the murkiness created by published metadata and crowdsourcing has led to “a more creative, more open-ended, less linear, and hence more sharable space,” (129-130). I agree with this conclusion but find myself a bit resistant in my perceived role as a trained historian. This will no doubt be a challenge for me moving forward in future digital public history projects.

Finally, creating and understanding the role of creating personas as part of the project design process is a new concept for me. However, after our readings I feel quite enlightened. Metaphorically speaking, it is as if I’ve just discovered a box hidden under the bed, and its contents contain answers to questions I had never before considered. Creating personas in the design and planning phases of will be essential in the effective implementation of my project. Personas can and will make me more aware of audience, more focused on engagement, and more willing to co-create and share authority.