All posts by ar5249a

And it’s over in the blink of an eye…

That is exactly how this seems.  Just six short weeks ago I was beginning my adventure in innovating public history through my History and New Media class at American University.  Now, I am finishing my class with this final blog post.

As I think back over the past six weeks, I remember the advice I was given by historian James M. Banner, Jr. – “it is of the utmost importance that public historians continually learn and stay up-to-date with the current techniques in the field of history.”

Nothing made this clearer to me than taking Trevor Owen‘s History and New Media class.

I have remained relevant in my field by learning how to use digital tools such as WordPress, Omeka, Wikipedia, Historypin, PhilaPlace, and Wordle.  In addition, I learned the historiography surrounding the digital history/digital humanities field.  This includes numerous subjects.

First, I learned that the definition of digital history is not explicit.  Instead, the field is facing an identity crisis much like in the public history field.  It seems that neither field will come to a conclusion on a clear definition any time soon.

Next, not quite different from my last point, I learned how the definition of archives varies as well.  While I went into week two thinking I knew what an archive was, I found that I was sorely mistaken.  The definition for this field is disputed as well and professionals are working to adjust to the new digital history/digital humanities field and figure out how to work collaboratively with one another.

Third, I began learning some of the nitty gritty of the field.  By this I mean that I learned some awesome terms that I never knew before, such as hypertext, hypermedia, and source code.  Believe me, after learning what words like these entail, I felt super smart and like I could take on the digital world. Again, I was sorely mistaken.  After all, just two weeks before I learned this, I learned how to use WordPress.  Let’s be honest, I can barely use Facebook, let alone take on the digital world…

Then our class switched gears to discuss how people interact in the digital world.  This week was particularly interesting to me because I learned how the web can be participatory, collaborative, accessible, among other things.  These concepts are equally as important to the public history field.  I cannot even keep track as to how often the words accessible and collaborative come up in my other classes.  This was perhaps the most relevant week for me with regards to expanding my skills within my own field.

Fifth, I learned how the digital world is trying to expand.  Through things such as mobile apps and mapping, public historians can reach broader audiences.  In fact, at this point the audiences would be unlimited and can be anywhere in the world.  They just need to have a mobile device.  A requirement that our readings showed the majority of the world’s population meets.

Finally, in this last week of our History and New Media class, I learned the role that video games play with regards to learning and literacy.  Specifically, I explored the BBC‘s Who Wants to be a Cotton Millionaire?  While I do not think that video games can replace the value of classroom learning, I do think they can supplement classroom learning or serve as an alternative for those who do not learn well in traditional classroom settings.

As you may have guessed, innovating public history has been an adventure.  There have been many challenges, but equally as many rewards.  As a result of this course, I am able to use the digital tools and historiography I have learned to further the digital presence of any institution for which I work.  In the end, not only do I plan to implement these new skills, but per the advice I quoted in the beginning of this post, I plan to continually build upon these skills since they are relevant techniques in the field of public history.

Innovating Public History: Who Wants to be a Cotton Millionaire?

First, let me just say that the time has finally come! I had to do homework for video games!!

I was assigned Who Wants to be a Cotton Millionaire? for this week’s blog post for History and New Media.  The game was created by the British Broadcasting Corporation, more commonly known as the BBC.  th (1)

The game lives on an archived history page on the BBC’s webpage.  This page features a series of tabs that represent a different time period or subject in history.  In order to find the game manually, the user will need to click on the “British History” tab.  However, I suspect most users will do what I did and Google search the game’s title which gave me a straight connection to the game through both the first and second results of the search.

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Once I arrived on the page, the title screen the game detailed a brief history of the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England along with a description of how the game works.  I moved to the next screen by clicking “Launch the Game” at the bottom of the screen.

After launching the game, a screen popped up giving me background information on my character.  From there, I clicked “play” to begin.

Next, the “Introduction” screen emerged.  This screen explained to me how the industry of weaving cotton into yarn needed to be overhauled.  After hitting “next,” the screen continued to explain how my character wanted to invest in a new business to weave cotton into cloth and detailed the decisions I would have to make.

The first decision I had to make was where my business should be located.  I was given two options: Cumbria and Lancashire.  These two locations are shown on a map and I could click on both locations to find out their traits.

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Once I made a decision, the game explained why it was or was not a good decision and whether or not I lost or gained money.

The second decision I had to make was what type of labor my new business would use.  The game gave me a choice between men and women and children, but that was all it gave me.  No information concerning the choices was made available to me like it was for the decision on locations.  After making my decision, I was again informed whether it was or was not a good decision and whether or not I lost or gained money.

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Next, I had to decide which type of power I would use for my new business.  The choices proposed were waterwheel, steam power, or the homemaker.  Again, no information given about these choices, just the option to select one.  Similarly, I was taught how my decision impacted my business.

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The last decision I had to make entailed making an improvement to my newly established business to improve its efficiency.  I was given two options – better machinery or improving working conditions. Again, I was not given information about the selections and for a third time I was informed about how my decision affected my business.

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Finally, the last screen revealed whether I was a successful entrepreneur or not and why.  This screen is a two part screen and offered me the options to play again or exit the game.

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So, I guess all of you are wondering what decisions I made and whether or not I was successful.  Well I am ashamed to say that I was not a successful businessman, because I chose the wrong location.  Unfortunately, this is because I was thinking that the game was set in the 19th century and not the 18th century.  While the game explains on the title screen that it is set in the 18th century, it does not repeat its setting often, so I quickly forgot.

With all of this being said, I played two more times. Once to ensure that changing my location would result in a win and the second to change all of my decisions to see how the game reacts for different users.  It is important to note that all of the pages expressed historical information.

Following my experience with the game I asked my fiance to play as well.  I did this, because I wanted to see how a user without a history background interacts with the game.  I found that the game was a sweeping success.  He explained how he learned about geography, labor standards, the Industrial Revolution, among other things in 18th century England.

While I do not believe that Who Wants to be a Cotton Millionaire? is a suitable substitute for classroom learning, I do think that it could supplement classroom learning and may even be an alternative for those who do not learn well in a traditional classroom setting.  A theory that is purported by James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.

Innovating Public History: Using Historypin.

This week’s assignment in History and New Media entailed creating an account with Historypin and pinning some historical photos.

I signed up for an account, confirmed my email, uploaded several images of historic drug stores in Washington, D.C. and pinned them to the map at their appropriate locations.

I am a bit conflicted about my experience with Historypin.  In comparison to other sites we have used such as WordPress, Omeka, and Wikipedia, Historypin was a bit more difficult to use.

While signing up for an account was as simple as clicking the sign up link and entering my desired login information, using various functions of the site were not as simple.

Upon confirming my account, Historypin did not provide much guidance on how to navigate their site.  Wikipedia was much more advanced in this respect.  In fact, the only guidance I received was to further customize my account.

Once I began playing around with the site, I figured out how to upload images and pin them to the map.  The site asks for a title and description of the image, the rights to the image, the date of the image, and the location of where the image was taken.

I found this part of the site to be a bit buggy.  I would enter the correct location of the image and the site would change the address.  In addition, some of my images did not have an exact date, but rather a range of dates.  While Historypin allows for this function, you are only allowed to pick a specific amount of years to “give or take” after selecting a given year.

After pinning a test photo of the Sewall-Belmont House, I learned how to create a tour.

The tour feature was fairly simple to use.  The steps in the process were listed and accompanied by instructions.  I was also given the options to save my draft, skip certain steps, and submit my tour. My tour consisted of historic drug stores in Washington, D.C.

While I enjoyed learning how to use Historypin, I think it is more difficult to use than the sites we have been required to use in the past.  Perhaps this site is not as advanced as the other sites, but. regardless, it could use more instructions and features to make it more user-friendly.

History on the Go: Maintaining the Public’s Connection to Place and Location

This week’s readings for History and New Media touch on a subject to which many people can relate – cell phones and other mobile devices.  mobiledevices

According to Trevor Owens:

Increasingly, the screens people are turning their attention to are in their hands and their pockets. In this vein, there is tremendous potential for mobile media and mobile media has a direct and clear connection to place and location.

For me, this “direct and clear connection to place and location” is a familiar theory.  During my first semester as a graduate student at American University, I took a course called Public History Seminar.  This course introduced me to the origins and definitions of the Public History field and the relevant literature about its current practices.  From this course, I clearly remember one reading – David Glassberg‘s Sense of History: The Place of Past American Lifesense-of-history

In his book, Glassberg argues that everyone has a sense of history or as Glassberg puts it:

the intersection of the intimate and the historical—the way that past events of a personal and public nature are intertwined, so that public histories often forcefully, and surprisingly, hit home”

As Anna Snyder so thoughtfully explained:

What he means is that people allow their own personalities and pasts to infiltrate their understanding of history so… that sense of history equates to “a sense of locatedness and belonging”

In other words, history, specifically public history, offers people a personal and clear connection to place, location, and time.

With an increasingly changing environment, how can institutions maintain this clear connection to place and location? What is something that many people have in common that keep them connected to other people, places, and things?

The answer… cellphones and other mobile devices.

According to historian Mark Tebeau:

Nearly 90 percent of Americans own cell phones and approximately 50 percent use smart phones, with high ownership rates among poor and minority populations, for whom cell phones have replaced landlines and perhaps even desktop computing.1 Presently, as much as 20 percent of all Internet traffic occurs on mobile devices (a number expected to grow dramatically), and it has been predicted that by 2015 some 80 percent of all Internet calls will originate on mobile devices

What better way is there for institutions to connect visitors to place and location and reach broader audience than to use the cell phones and other mobile devices in the pockets of 90% of the population?

Public historians have done surprisingly well at maintaining the public’s connection to place and location via mobile devices.

According to Sharon Leon, Sheila Brennan, and Dave Lester:

A recent survey of museum professionals conducted by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM)… found 67 percent of respondents, predominantly representing the history and art fields, have implemented or are in the process of implementing a mobile content delivery project.

This surprises me since it seems that our field is always playing the game of “catch up with the times.”

Some of the most successful institutions in maintaining the connection include the Smithsonian Institution’s Will to Adorn App,  Museum on Main Street’s App Stories from Main Street, Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Historical App, and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s Histories of the National Mall.

But, historians can always do better.  If the goal is to reach broader audiences then mobile historical content, or history on the go as I call it, may be the tool to achieve that.

Ultimately, if more institutions follow the lead of those mentioned above and tackle the challenge of creating history on the go, they will be more more successful in connecting visitors with not only a sense of history, but also a sense of place and location.

Innovating Public History: Editing a Wikipedia Page

Alice Paul

This week our History and New Media class was tasked with editing a Wikipedia page.  My experience doing so was fairly easy.

First, I signed up for an account.  This was not any different than signing up for a Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Omeka, or any other online account.  I clicked on the “create an account” link which just asked me for a user name, password, and optional email address.  I quickly filled out the form and was ready to explore the vast network that is Wikipedia. 

Upon creating and logging into my new account, the site gave me a makeshift tour.  This entailed small pop up message that informed me how to navigate the site, how to find articles, how to edit an entire article, and how to edit only specific sections of articles.  This was a pleasant surprise since I have never edited a page on the site before.

After I followed the brief tour on how to use Wikipedia, I began clicking through random article to see what I could contribute.  Unfortunately, I had very little knowledge on the articles on which Wikipedia seemed to need the most help. Thus, I chose a topic in which I am relatively well-versed – Alice Paul.

Following my topic selection, I began work editing the Wikipedia entry on Alice Paul. alicepaul Since I followed the brief tour described above, this process was simple.  I clicked the edit button on each section that I edited, I contributed to those sections, I cited my sources (simply by clicking the “cite sources” link), and I saved my work.

Editing a Wikipedia is a simple process that anyone can do.  Not only does the cite give you valuable information on how to create an account, edit a page, and even cite your sources (an important aspect to us historians), but it is also extremely easy to navigate when it comes time to actually do these things.  I look forward to editing more information on Wikipedia in the near future to not only make the site a more reliable source, but to also contribute to one of the most popular informational webpages on the internet.

“DO NOT USE WIKIPEDIA!”: The Benefits of a Site that was once a Historian’s Nemesis

This week in History and New Media our class explored various aspects of the World Wide Web and reflected on questions such as is the web participatory? Is the web collaborative? And is the web exploitive? According to Trevor Owens:

“In public history we work to connect audiences and publics with the past. In this vein, the participatory and collaborative rhetoric that surrounds the web fits many of the values of public historians like a glove. This weeks readings explore issues around crowdsourcing and public participation in history on the web. This includes both the potential to connect with the missions and values of cultural heritage institutions and opens questions about what constitutes participation and what becomes exploitive.”

With this in mind, my blog post for this week looks at Wikipedia and explores the site’s benefits for historians.

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Thinking back on my undergraduate work in History, I clearly remember the first day of every history class when my professors would go on a slight tangent, passionately denouncing the use of Wikipedia in our research. Those of you who also began your education within the last fifteen years probably have similar experiences.

So, with all of these professors professing that the historical world as we know it would come to an end if historians began using Wikipedia, one has to wonder what is so bad about it?  And, is it really that bad?  Does Wikipedia have any benefits at all?

With regards to the first question – what is so bad about Wikipedia? – my understanding of the situation is that Wikipedia is an opensource website.  This means that anyone, literally, can edit its content.  As a result of this, professors tend to teach historians not to use Wikipedia as a source, because the content may not be ground in proper historical research.  Thus, professors tell their students that the site is an unreliable source.  But I have to wonder, is it really?  Wikipedia does not provide any benefits for historians?

According to Roy Rosenzweig, it does.

In his article Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the PastRosenzweig lays out some of the merits of Wikipedia.

First, the author argues that

Wikipedia is surprisingly accurate in reporting names, dates, and events in U.S. history. In the 25 biographies I read closely, I found clear-cut factual errors in only 4. Most were small and inconsequential.

In a comparison to Encarta, Encyclopedia Brittanica, and American National Biography, Rosenzweig found that Wikipedia fared well in content coverage.  In fact, in terms of errors, Wikipedia contained less or the same amount of errors than Encarta and Encyclopedia Brittanica and was only surpassed by the near perfection of the American National Biography.

However, what I want to point out is that all sources have mistakes in them, regardless of how much historical training the author possesses.  Should Wikipedia be discredited for making an extremely limited amount of errors?

I do not think so. After all, the authors are human.

Another benefit of the site is that it is mostly free of biases. Rosenzweig argues that

One might expect—given the Randian politics of the founders and the strength of libertarian sentiments in cyberspace—a libertarian or conservative slant. But I did not find it. One can see occasional glimmers, as in the biography of Calvin Coolidge that says with apparent approval, “Coolidge was the last President of the United States who did not attempt to intervene in free markets, letting business cycles run their course.” This sentence was inserted early on by an avowed libertarian and it has survived dozens of subsequent edits. But Wikipedia also presents the socialist Eugene V. Debs in flattering terms; the only criticism is that he “underestimated the lasting power of racism.” At least one conservative blogger charges that Wikipedia is “more liberal than the liberal media.” If anything, the bias in Wikipedia articles favors the subject at hand.

In fall 2014 I took a class called Historian’s Craft.  This class essentially informed me that the ultimate goal of historian’s (regardless of its inherent vices) is to be objective.  Since Wikipedia is authored by an innumerable amount of people, it is difficult for the site to contain biases.  As a result, one could argue that Wikipedia does a better job attempting to reach historians’ ultimate goal than even academic books and journal articles.

While I could go on discussing various aspects of Wikipedia that are beneficial to historians, my blog post would not be read in its entirety.  So I leave all of you with my final thoughts.

While it is undeniable that Wikipedia is not the most prestigious or perfect resource for students, it does provide them with a general overview of the topic which I believe to be a tool for starting new research.  In the end, I think the site is extremely useful for students when it is used properly.  As a result, professors should teach students how to use sources such as Wikipedia rather than yelling “DO NOT USE WIKIPEDIA!”  And it is the responsibility of the With this being said, it the responsibility of the students to learn and be aware of the dangers and merits of Wikipedia and to use it wisely in their research.

Doing My [Digital] Duty!: Curating an Online Exhibit via Omeka

Last week in History and New Media, our class was required to register for an Omeka account and create an online collection that consisted of ten items.

 Mine can be seen hereOmeka Collection

This week, we were required to build upon our work from last week and curate an online exhibit using the items that we placed in our collections.

My exhibition is entitled Come on, boys! Do your duty!: World War I Propaganda

Omeka ExhibitThe exhibit thematically (not chronologically) highlights propaganda poster from around the time of World War I (1914-1920).  I organized the exhibit into five sections: the introduction, military recruitment posters, posters designed for women, political posters, and the conclusion.

First, the Introduction: How Posters Shaped Society discusses how propaganda posters transformed the way in which ideas were disseminated.  This section features one generalized military recruitment poster that inspired the creation and name of the exhibit.

Next, the Military Recruitment Posters section explains that while posters were an effective form of communication across a wide range of topics, perhaps their most significant and popular use was for military recruiting. This section features various military recruitment posters.

Third, the Posters Designed for Women section explained how posters were used to recruit women into organizations such as the Red Cross to support the war effort. This section features a Red Cross recruitment poster.

Then, the Political Posters section discusses how the United States government designed posters to get civilian Americans to support the war effort.  This section features a poster that advertises liberty bonds and a poster that announces the deadline to sign up for the draft in the Territory of Hawaii.

Finally, the Conclusion: How Posters Did Their Duty recapitulates the main themes of the exhibit.  In particular, it focuses on how World War I posters transformed communication techniques. This section features a poster that speaks to not only the exhibit’s title, but also the title of the conclusion.

Overall, using Omeka to create an online exhibit was quick and easy.  In order to create an exhibit, all the user has to do is add the exhibit builder pluggin. Once this step is complete, just follow the instructions on the screen.  The user is able to change and personalize the theme of the site for the exhibit.  Basically, to create an exhibit in Omeka is like filling out a form.  The site asks your to input the information for the object along with the content and viola! the work is complete.

I look forward to working with Omeka in the future to not only improve my skills as a digital historians but to also continue my adventure in innovating public history.