Final Thoughts

The semester has come to an end, as has my graduate school experience. Studying how to use new media in public history has been a beneficial way to complete my studies and will definitely change the way I approach projects and opportunities that I hope will arise in my future. With all of the readings and experiences throughout this course, there are a few things that stand out to me.

Access

As a public historian, I see my purpose as engaging as large an audience as possible in using history. The digital world offers many tools that can make the resources of museums, archives, and other institutions available and useable to those who may not be able to visit physical sites. I will also keep in mind how valuable digital projects can be in supplementing traditional education.

Engagement

Engagement, of course, refers to the ways social media and technology open up ways for audiences to communicate with museums and participate in processes and projects. I also found throughout this semester how helpful it can be for public historians to remain engaged with other historians and institutions to see how they are using media. Looking at how institutions used Twitter and Facebook, and how they designed websites and online exhibits helped me see what works and what doesn’t.

Sustainability

Technology changes so quickly, and as we can see with the Wayback Machine, what we create on the web will likely look outdated in a few years. With the constant changes, it is important to consider how your digital exhibits and projects will be maintained after completion. In planning, you should choose platforms and programs that are likely to be easy to sustain and easy to use for wide audiences.

 

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Exhibit Narrative and Social Media Promotion

My classmates, Ellen and Megan, and I are using some of the skills and knowledge we’ve learned throughout the semester to develop a digital exhibit presenting the life of labor activist Mollie Lieber West.

The Mollie Lieber West Papers at the Women and Leadership Archives provide a great resource for an exhibit like this. Mollie West’s life has a very compelling narrative, full of romance, intrigue, struggle and inspiration. Mollie faced many struggles in her personal life, as well as in her professional career, yet she became an influential figure who fought for the rights of workers and women for nearly a century. The collection is filled with photos, objects, and documents that aid in telling the story in a visually appealing way. We are very excited to use this collection and share the fascinating story of one woman in the context of major historical events throughout the twentieth century.

06 Mollie Lieber West

Mollie Lieber West Papers, Women and Leadership Archives

We are creating the exhibit with the support of the WLA at Loyola University. We are fortunate to have the use of the LUC library server to support our Omeka exhibit. This gives us more options on plugins we can use to make a more dynamic exhibit.

The WLA currently has plans to use Mollie West’s collection as the center of a larger project centered on women in labor. Our goal is create an exhibit, along with the research performed to create it, that can be a starting point for the WLA’s future phases of the project. The WLA’s website, blog, and Facebook page will be used to promote the exhibit. The Loyola Libraries’ Facebook page often also shares important events at the WLA, broadening the audience throughout the University community. In the past, Trivia Tuesday post’s, which use an image to ask a question that followers can answer, have generated interaction on the WLA Facebook page. These types of posts could be created to ask trivia questions about the exhibit, and share “bonus” photos and information.

The Illinois Labor History Society will be another resource to promote the digital exhibit. Mollie West was a board member and fulltime volunteer for several decades, and the ILHS has shown great interest in WLA plans to promote the West collection. Although their Facebook page does not appear to have a large amount of interaction, it does have over 1,000 followers who will likely be very interested in the subject. I expect that the ILHS will gladly promote the exhibit throughout their own networks.

My group is in a great position, as we are able to work closely with the WLA after we complete our project. We can use the Archives social media resources to begin sharing our exhibit with large audiences.

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Mollie Lieber West Papers, Women and Leadership Archives

Women’s History Online:NWHM digital exhibits

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For this post, I once again explored public history institution websites to see how they presented online exhibitions. This time I looked at the National Women’s History Museum, a privately funded institution working to build a physical structure on the National Mall. As of now, the NWHM researches, collects and shares women’s history through its website. Its exhibits use the collections of other institutions, and several of them take advantage of the LIFE photo collection available through the Google Cultural Institution platform.

The first exhibit, Standing Up For Women: African American Women and the Civil Rights Movement, highlights the contributions of black women to the fight for civil rights throughout American history.

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The striking LIFE magazine photos, along with items from the Library of Congress and the National Archives, feature prominently in the exhibit. Although very simple, I find the design very visually appealing and great for focusing on the women individually and as a group.

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One part of the exhibit highlights individual women who played significant roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Audio recordings or video clips from oral history interviews from these women, or those who knew them and worked with them, would have added another layer to this compelling exhibit. Other exhibits might be able to take advantage of news recordings from the time, but it can be expected that these would be more likely to exist for male leaders than women.

Let’s Play a Story: storytelling and gaming

I spent some time this weekend reading The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. In this book, Bryan Alexander explores the new forms of storytelling that have emerged in the age of Web 2.0. From blogs to podcasts and from video games to twitter, these new media do more than create innovative forms of communication. They also provide platforms for people to present narratives and for others to experience and interact with these narratives.

I read the book while sitting on the couch next to my husband as he played games on his Xbox One. I skimmed through the chapters that discussed how podcasts harness the familiar power of the voice and how Twitter allows communities to tell a story together, 44 characters at a time. As I helped my husband to create a character in his game, a mercenary fighting in the Hundred Years’ War, I turned my attentions to the chapters Alexander wrote about video games. It is always more interesting to read and write about things that relate to your life.

Chapter 6 focuses on casual gaming, including the more simple games you play on your computer while procrastinating or on your smartphone. Chapter 7, however talks about the unique nature of PC and console games that create immersive worlds for players. There is no doubt that these games succeed in telling stories in ways that engage players and evoke emotion, but Alexander is most interested in exploring how the unique nature of these large-scale games is used to tell stories.

I am in no way a gamer, but my husband does occasionally pick up a game that we can play together. While he is entertained by almost any game that is challenging, when choosing a game for both of us, he has learned to look for ones with interesting characters and imaginative storylines. Since I spend most of the game trying to figure out what button makes my character shoot whatever weapon its carrying and waiting to be revived after dying for the hundredth time, I require a captivating plot to keep me from quitting.

Alexander found that many games use an element of mystery to keep players interested. Often characters in the game are trying to discover details about events in the past that are now affecting the present. Players learn fragments of the backstory through interactions with other characters or by exploring shadowy territories. The mystery drives them to investigate and explore. Cut scenes are used to show flashbacks or significant events in the present, the technology allowing the manipulation of time to tell stories.

Although these video games take place almost exclusively on a single platform, Alexander points out the many blogs, forums, and other social media platforms in which enthusiasts discuss every aspect of these games. In this form, the story is brought to life in new ways and becomes the center of social interactions.

Some of the most interesting games I’ve found focus on the power of good storytelling. The company Telltale Games has created games such as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us that let players feel like they are part a movie. Much of the game is simply engaging cut scenes that tell a story. At various points, your character is given a decision to make about what to do or what to say to another character. Each decision changes the direction of the story and the relationships you have with other characters in the story. They can even have an impact on which characters live or die. After finishing the game, you can start over and make different decisions, creating a different story. Or, you can visit the many websites where other players share their gaming experiences. This is what we usually do after completing the game, checking to see if we could have saved a beloved character’s life if we had said or done something differently. Online, the experience of the story continues and the experience is shared with a larger community. These games do not represent the most complex ways that video games tell stories, but they do show how even simple game play can be used to create an immersive world.

I doubt I will ever be making video games in my public history career (although someone should), but finding creative ways to communicate a narrative is definitely a useful skill. People connect to the complex characters, the manipulations of time, and the interactive mysteries found in video games. These elements could be brought to exhibits and other presentations of history to get audiences as passionate about history as they are about these imaginary digital worlds.

Metawhat?: Understanding and using metadata

I’ve done some reading on metadata and even participated in a webinar on metadata for archivists, and personally, it is one of those things that I have a hard time grasping just from reading and hearing about it. To understand metadata and how it is made and used, I find it much more helpful to look at examples and try to see the structures and relationships for myself.

Metadata provides information about other data. When looking at a single piece of data, such as an image, the metadata tells us what type of data it is, where it came from, how it connects to other data, and other information that helps us understand what we are looking at. Metadata also provides ways to find the information we need. Any time you cite a book in a paper, you are providing metadata for that book. When creating metadata online, there are various standards that organize the information to make it readable for computers and helpful to humans using computers.

I first learned about metadata while working at the Women and Leadership Archives, so let’s take a look at one of their online exhibits. In the Legion of Young Polish Women exhibit, clicking on an image brings up a page containing the metadata for the image. Included are the title, source that tells you where in the archives the file came from, and the date of the document. The Rights section tells us who owns the copyright for the photo or document. When comparing this exhibit to older ones created by the WLA, I noticed that the inclusion of the rights metadata and other sections seem to be part of the archives’ effort to include more metadata.

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The first portion of the metadata page for an image on the Legion of Young Polish Women exhibit

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The bottom portion of the metadata page for an image from the exhibit

Providing viewers with access to as much information as possible is a desirable goal. However, the way it is presented here might feel annoying to viewers who expect to see an enlargement of the image when they click on it instead of another page of data. When creating our own exhibit using WLA collections, my project team will try to include the same kinds of helpful data in a clear way, although it will be helpful to explore the different ways that this information could be presented.

To compare the structures of other sites, I searched the Internet for other online exhibits. I found that many, like this cool exhibit from the Smithsonian American History Museum, Fantastic Worlds: Science and Fiction, 1780-1910, present metadata in a simpler format. Under each image, there is a short entry that includes a title or short description, date, and source. While this may not provide as much information as some researchers might want, the information is presented clearly and makes it possible to find the original source if needed.

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Here, metadata is listed under the images within the pages of the exhibit.

From a viewer’s standpoint, the right amount of metadata included and the best way to present it in an online exhibit might depend on if the visitor is using the exhibit as a simple learning tool or as a jumping-off point for further research. As a public historian, I would think about the way each of my projects is meant to serve guests when deciding on the metadata format (as I would when considering each aspect of the project). However, we can creatively explore the opportunities provided by virtual tools in order to share as much information as possible in useful ways.

Designing Digital History:learning to use the web effectively

Throughout the course so far, we have explored the many ways new media can be used to share information and engage people and organizations. This week, we read portions of Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenweig’s Digital History, which  discussed how historians can use the World Wide Web’s many possibilities to create websites that present history in useful ways. The book discusses everything from amount of text to color schemes to give historians a practical guide to constructing websites.

With these recommendations in mind, I took a look at a history website from my home state, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. A joint project of the Tennessee Historical Society and the University of Tennessee Press, the website was created to be a “fully searchable version of the print edition of the encyclopedia originally published in 1998.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 9.17.29 PMTurning the book into an online resource has the advantages of increasing accessibility, allowing for continuous updates and additions of entries, and linking text to other forms of data.The site homepage contains text promoting the enhancements made in “Version 2.0” of the site, although I can’t find the date the new version was released.

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Entries can be found in several ways. The search box function seems to work very effectively, and visitors can also explore entries alphabetically or by category. Headings at the top of the page also allow the exploration of images, audio, and video files. Under audio, there are only two files, leading me to think and hope that plans to expand the online collection are underway. Another tab is labeled “interactive” and offers slideshows on a variety of topics.

As far as design, the layout and colors used for the website are simple and cohesive. The site does not have an artistic design, but it successfully avoids elements that Cohen and Rosenweig warn can distract from a site’s information and purpose. Because of its nature as an encyclopedia, the history site does not shy away from long passages of text. the authors of Digital History would applaud this, as they discourage historians from following the conventions of the web that say text should be kept to a minimum. It is important we do not underestimate our audiences’ interest and understanding by limiting the knowledge we share with them.

However, when perusing the Encyclopedia, I found many entries that had no accompanying visuals (including a page about African American decorative arts with no images of decorative arts. seriously?) and none that had more than one on the page.  For what the site was originally created for, this isn’t too surprising. Each entry has links to the side to any related images, slideshows, etc. However, I think the site misses opportunities provided in converting from a print form to a digital one by not integrating text and visuals into the same page. Cohen and Rosenweig warn against going overboard with photos and maps and visuals that do more to distract than to add info. Nevertheless, public historians should use websites not only to share their research, but to connect audiences with primary sources to enhance the learning experience and the understanding of the discipline. I hope that this encyclopedia and others like it continue to explore the possibilities of sharing history in creative and thoughtful ways.

I also noticed this message on the homepage:

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I could not find these guidelines online, but it indicates that historians everywhere are discussing strategies for presenting history online.

Photoshop

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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
    • 150 followers
      “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
    • 354 followers
      “Programs, opportunities, and experiences for Teens at the Art Institute of Chicago.”

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  • @AdlerTeens Adler Planetarium Teens
    • 130 followers
      “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.