Coming from the first generation that grew up with a computer in the living room, I pretty much picked up the skills to handle software that is most useful. However, other than my terrible typing skills that never seemed to improve, I regret most never learning to use Photoshop.

Photo editing programs like photoshop are used in so many ways in so many careers, an understanding of them seems an invaluable skill. Because Photoshop was a paid program that I never really had access to, I am still trying to learn its basics so that I can efficiently and skillfully manipulate images to fulfill the needs of our digital world. An understanding of Photoshop’s usefulness also allows us to look at a simple image and think creatively of how the photo can be changed and made better.

At a recent trip to the Women and Leadership Archives, I gathered some images from the collections of women in politics. Here, I will take a look at them and think about how Photoshop could improve them for use in a digital collection or exhibit.

Ronen, Carol005

Ronen, Carol006.jpg

I’ve already used Photoshop to crop the two sides of this campaign flyer from the Carol Ronen Papers. The photos or Carol Ronen logo could also be cropped out to be used for other purposes. This can be especially useful in collections that don’t contain many photographs.

Ronen buttons.JPG

Objects like these buttons can be challenging to photograph, because of how reflective they are. If you look close, you might see the reflection of me holding the camera. Adjusting the lighting settings and using the blending tool in Photoshop can help get rid of reflections and the glare of the flash.

I could also crop these buttons and put them on a neutral background. I black backdrop would probably look better than this foam propped up on a table.

MAS-Life Line for the Shore Line-2.jpg

This newspaper article comes from the papers of Mary Ann Smith, a former alderman of the 48th Ward of Chicago. I could use Photoshop to focus the eye on the most important part of this page, whether it were the map or a specific paragraph, by blurring out other sections or adding color to highlight certain aspects.

CMB A Woman's Place pillow

Like the buttons, I could put this awesome pillow from Congresswoman Carol Moseley Braun on a solid background and possibly blur out some of the distracting wrinkles in the fabric.

Whether for a physical or digital presentation, high quality visuals are important in all kinds of public history projects. Technology like photo editing software helps us improve our products and make up for imperfections caused by age or other issues.

To learn some Photoshop skills with me, check out tutorials from Adobe here!


InstaMuseum: Instagram history for public historians

This week, I’m focusing on the development of Instagram, a social media app that is used by many museums and other institutions to connect with the public.


Instagram was born when creators Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who were working on a multi-featured HTML check-in project in San Francisco, decided to focus the program on mobile photography. The app launched in October 2010 and had one million users by December. The app took advantage of the advancements in cameras in smart phones and allowed users to take photos, edit them, and share them with others. As of July 2011, Instagram claimed that 100 million photographs had been uploaded to the service. In January 2011, Instagram added the use of hashtags, made popular by Twitter. The hashtags allowed people to tag photos and search for others related to subjects, places, people, and events that interest them. Later that year, they also released a new version of the app with new features and high-resolution photographs. Facebook bought the small company for approximately $1 billion in 2012, and a new feature was eventually added that allowed you to instantly share your Instagram posts to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. In 2013, the app began to include sponsored posts as the beginning of the company’s move to begin selling advertising and actually making a profit from the free service.


Instagram hasn’t been around for long, but it almost instantly became one of the most popular social media sites. Building off of the developments of previous technology and web programs, Instagram provided a service for users to easily edit photos, share them with their followers and others through tagging, and to explore and comment on the photos of others. With so many people using the app on their smartphones, it makes sense that many museums also choose the photo-sharing app to promote their museums. I searched the word “museum” and then “archives” to see what accounts I could find and how they were used. Obviously, many art museums find the visually-focused service useful for sharing works from their collections and promoting exhibits and events. I liked how many of the photos showed visitors looking at the art, highlighting the focus on the audience and their experiences. Other museums and archives used their accounts in similar ways, sharing artifacts from the collections and images from events.

IMG_6184.PNGFor public historians, a social media site focused on photos can be very useful. Posting a photo with a quick caption is all that is needed, and different types of images can be used to engage visitors. Behind the scenes photos are a great way to be open and transparent with your audience. Many museums I saw also reposted visitor photos, allowing audiences to contribute. On the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry account, recent posts included photos of an upcoming exhibit of famous structures built out of Legos. The photos offered sneak peeks of the exhibit’s development, getting the public engaged before it even opens. Some welcomed followers to guess from close-up images what the structure would be, another example of a way to connect with the public.




Although Instagram does not include quite as many types of posts as Facebook or other sites, its simplicity contributes to its popularity and makes it a great way for cultural institutions to use the beauty of collections to engage audiences on a daily basis.

Online Collections and Exhibits: Consider this

Online collections and online exhibits offer opportunities to share the resources of a museum, archive, or library with a much larger audience than can physically visit the institutions. This is one way technology helps cultural institutions become more democratic and increase access to the information they hold.

This week, I was asked to put myself in the shoes of an archivist or museum professional and contemplate the process of setting up an online collection or exhibit. What challenges would I face? What steps would I take? I came up with a very long list of considerations, and, having never actually been involved in a project like this, I’m sure there are more aspects of which I am not even aware.

Even with my limited knowledge, I think I can list some of the major points that the Board of Trustees and staff should keep in mind throughout the process of creating a digital project.


Consider… your resources

Any project involving technology is going to come at a high cost. Before moving forward with any planning, cultural institutions will likely have already secured funding through grants or generous donors. The man-power behind the project is also important. Planning and executing such a project will take the staff’s time and may require hiring additional staff. Training your staff on new technology would also take time and possibly money. The institution would have to pay for software and websites used and equipment such as scanners and cameras.

Consider…your strategy

What kind of digital project should you create? A museum or archives should first consult their mission, as they should with any endeavor, to ensure decisions are made with the institution’s purpose and goals in mind. Once topics and or collections are chosen to be the subjects of the project, a format must be chosen. To make digital images of collections available for researchers to explore for their own uses, a digital collection would be appropriate. A common platform for this type of project is Contentdm (See an example from the WLA here). If the institution wants to curate and interpret a collection, an online exhibit is the way to go (Here’s one using Omeka and a unique one from The Historic New Orleans Collection). With new technology always being developed, staff should assess each option and find one that is useful for both the institution and its audience.

Consider…your public.

If you create an online exhibit, seeking involvement from the community and those related to the exhibit’s topic during the planning stages will add great value to your project. You may also include ways for your audience to interact with the exhibit and contribute their own stories or reactions in some way. Other considerations would be how you will publicize the new project, how it will interact with the physical setting of the institution (will there be an accompanying physical exhibit or a designated place to access the online exhibit in the building?), and how related institutions might be involved in the projects.

It is also important for institutions to constantly evaluate their actions. Managers should consider planning to get community feedback during the development stages and should definitely make a plan for evaluating the success of the digital endeavor after the project is completed.

Museums Tweet with Teens: Using social media to connect with audiences

This week, I dusted off the old Twitter account (which I created for a journalism class that I took in my undergraduate days and basically haven’t used since) and took a look at how museums and archives use the social media platform to further their missions. From my exploration of tweets from museums in Chicago and beyond, I’ve observed that cultural institutions use twitter accounts as another method of publicizing events and to share photos of their collections. They also share information from other museums and organizations with similar educational goals and programs.

The most interesting thing I found on Twitter was the way institutions used multiple accounts to reach different audiences with different interests. Several Chicago institutions have a general account for the museum, and also have a “teen” account to reach younger audiences. Here are a few I looked at:

  • @FieldTeenStudio Field Museum Teens
      “Discovering behind-the-scenes secrets at The Field Museum, exploring collections, talking with scientists, and producing innovative projects with digital media!”

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  • @AICTeens             Art Institute Teens
      “Programs, opportunities, and experiences for Teens at the Art Institute of Chicago.”

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  • @AdlerTeens Adler Planetarium Teens
      “Teen programs at the Adler Planetarium”

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As is briefly explained in the description on each account’s profile, these museums are using Twitter to promote programs created for or of particular interest to middle and high school students. Specifically, many of them focus on students’ interest in technology and design.

This generation of teenagers is growing up in a world different than any other. They have very different expectations when it comes to educational and recreational experiences. Cultural programs are rapidly shaping their programs and exhibits with the new media available to meet the changing needs of visitors. Meanwhile, for many, the word museum still inspires the image of a cold, static building full of objects that do not relate to modern life.

Introducing visitors to the experience of the new and improved museum all begins with bringing in the audience. How do you communicate with your audience? Meet them where they are. Twitter allows museums, archives, etc. to share information with young visitors and get their feedback. They can follow other accounts (I noticed one followed popular board games and trends) to learn what interests teens and how to make programs for them.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s teen Twitter seems to be most successful, perhaps in part because they have stronger programming for students. When advertising their interesting events, the AIC tweeted the message to each high school in the area, connecting directly to accounts that many students likely go to for information. They also shared the art that students created at these events, acknowledging their contribution and participation in the museum.

The Field Museum’s teen account acknowledges students’ interest in technology and interacting with experts. Although I didn’t see any “talking with scientists” tweets, the account did publicize events that offered behind-the-scene experiences with Field Museum staff. As the museum’s mission statement invites people of the world to come to the museum to go on, “a journey of scientific discovery,” the Twitter profile attempts to share and shape new ways for teenagers to explore and learn in the museum.

Each of these accounts has a fairly low following, but I think the efforts of the museums are worthwhile. If teenagers are to discover the new opportunities available in cultural institutions, Twitter is a free and familiar place to reach them. These accounts also seem to be used by the teen councils that help design and participate in youth programs. Giving these students space to share what they are excited about benefits them and any other teenagers that may be inspired by their tweets.

An Index to the Heart: Ellen Gruber Garvey’s “Scissoring and Scrapbooking: Nineteenth-Century Reading, Remaking, and Recirculating”

The impulse to “Pin” and “Share” and collect stories and information from a wealth of knowledge has been around much longer than the social media we use today. In “Scissorizing and Scrapbooks: Nineteenth-Century Reading, Remaking, and Recirculating,” Ellen Gruber Garvey discusses how popular practices in the past reveal ways people understood and interacted with media. With books too expensive and rare for the common man and with an overabundance of newspapers and magazines, scrapbooking became a popular activity that allowed people to cut up the ephemeral publications and save the interesting, important, and personal bits in a more permanent form.

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Image from Gitelman and Pingree, New Media: 1740-1915.

As the newspaper industry grew, publications sought to include stories that would interest every member of the family. They also sold more and more advertisements, resulting in a chaos of information. Scrapbooking allowed individuals a process of reorganizing and reusing the clippings they found valuable enough to keep. Some would keep scrapbooks focused on particular categories, such as farming, housekeeping, or travel. Some would alphabetize their stories or use other methods of organization so that they could reference the information later. These Nineteenth-century scrapbooks tell us not only about a hobby families often enjoyed together, but also about the kinds of articles that interested people and what they found important. For some, scrapbooks were private and for others, they were made to be shared and even circulated amongst friends.

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Image from Gitelman and Pingree, New Media: 1740-1915.

Garvey also describes another common way that information was circulated and appropriated by nineteenth century editors. Exchanging allowed local publications to share their news and popular columns. “Scissorizing” or taking clippings from other papers to use in your own, became a part of running a publications and spreading information from coast to coast, or even internationally. Exchanging became a method for journalists to gain popularity and for editors to improve their reputations. Reprinting was not considered theft, but a sign of success. It was the nineteenth century version of “going viral.”

Throughout the article, Garvey comes back again and again to the concept of authorship. By taking clippings from their original publications, reorganizing, and recirculating them, people feel that they have been a part of creating without writing a word. Creating a neat and attractive scrapbook or a superior collection of poems was seen as its own kind of authorship.

Just as nineteenth-century scrapbookers and editors found ways to make the overwhelming new medium of newspapers more usable, we use many tools to organize and circulate the vast amounts of information available on the internet. Garvey mentions the web management devices that help us create bookmarks and save favorite websites. Pinterest allows us to save and categorize images that link to all kinds of webpages and other social media sites make it easy to collect and share information with our online communities. Then and now, we all look for ways to interact with and appropriate new media.

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Image from Gitelman and Pingree, New Media: 1740-1915.

Interested in scrapbooking? Check out another blog post I wrote about the history of scrapbooking, archives, and my own scrapbooks on the Women and Leadership Archives blog.


This article by Ellen Gruber Garvey is chapter 9 in New Media: 1740-1915, by Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2004).