The Importance of Digital History

I really enjoyed exploring this week’s assigned reading and exploration, especially the website for the Center for History and New Media. I was not entirely familiar with this project before checking out the site. I explored some of their hosted sites, including the website featuring sources on the May 1970 “Hard Hat Riots,” and the “Greek American Stories” project. Having looked at these projects and others included in our assignment this week has given me a new, improved perspective on the importance of new media and digital history. While I won’t deny that I and many (probably most) historians still view printed publication as the highest achievement in academia, I feel that the creation of digital public history has so many positives when compared to the standard textbook.

The main positives would be the ability for users to customize their experience with the publication, and opportunities for authors to constantly add information and material. Digital projects have a “choose your own adventure” aspect that is ideal for researchers, or the curious visitor. These projects can provide links to related material, documents and photographs that are much more accessible than footnotes or endnotes in a textbook. The ability for authors to add material goes hand in hand with the opportunity for readers to contribute new information. The future of the history field is promising, and I feel that exposure to projects like these can help emerging historians to be part of that future.

Public History Career Intro

Terri Schorzman, Director of the Boise City Department of Arts and History

The Boise City Department of Arts and History operates programs relating to public art, history and culture in the city. I talked to the Director, Terri Schorzman, about her position and a little more about what her department does.

The department contains three branches relating to public art, cultural programs and history. They offer online resources and guided tours of Boise’s public art, and their cultural programs include art classes, the Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in Arts & History (held every two years), and seasonal events. Their history section, which includes the office of the City Historian, offers historical research services for those who inquire for help. History events the department operates include the Fettuccine Forum, a series of lectures held each year on topics including history, architecture, transportation and politics, and Depot Day, celebrating the historic Boise Depot and the city’s rich history of rail travel.

Terri Schorzman, the department’s Director, earned her Master’s degree in public history, and she supplemented her education by working for a state parks department cataloging artifacts and setting up an oral history program. She polished her skills as an archivist by completing an internship for a corporate archive. Her other experience includes running an international research program on science and technology history. Other necessary skills she developed for her position include marketing and communications, strategic planning, and grant writing.

Though her position as Director, she supports the department’s staff in running their projects. Through her position, she works with people holding many different occupations, including historians, artists, teachers and educators, graphic designers and technology specialists, communications professionals, politicians, accountants and attorneys.

The Department of Arts and History works to meet the goals of their (and the City’s) strategic plan. Because this is a chief goal, they often pick the projects they work on based upon the plans. They also work on projects that the City’s leadership requests. The department also works with citizens in completing some projects. These include grant programs and requests, as well as opportunities for public input on projects.

Schorzman says the salary level for those starting in her field is around the mid-$30,000s. While her skills that she honed before she took on her current position include research, archival work, cataloging artifacts, oral history, marketing, communications and grant writing, she noted that “curiosity and a willingness to figure something out” are essential skills to have as well. She recommended that diversity in your skills, and the willingness to try new things will help as an applicant. A Master’s degree would be necessary for advancement within the field. Her department looks for degrees within the fields of history, art and communications, as well as American Studies.

She told me that the issues facing her field are those that many fields face today, including a lack of funding and available jobs. In addition, people in her field face the issue of relevancy. People working in history, art and humanities careers find themselves having to convey the importance of their fields to many people.

In closing, she offered some extra advice for those starting out in the field of public history. She noted that job seekers should be mobile and willing to look all over for new opportunities, as there are often more openings in other regions, especially in larger cities. She stresses the importance of diversifying your skills and certifications, and also taking courses on technology applications.

I appreciate Terri Schorzman for answering my questions, and also for the work that the Boise City Department of Arts and History does in advancing appreciation for art and history in the city.

Making Museum Apps Truly Interactive

I wanted to choose a mobile application not discussed in one of our readings this week for my Fabulous Public History Project Introduction. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City has one of the best – a comprehensive application for its collections that can guide visitors through the museum and answer any questions they might have. The MoMA’s application includes several audio tour options which can be searched, not just taken as a whole. In addition, the app features the museum’s collection digitized for browsing the museum through your device, or learning more about the artifacts you see when visiting. This particular application sets itself apart from other similar applications by offering users additional information they might need when touring. It features a database of art terminology, as well as a calendar featuring all exhibit and event showtimes and screenings.

The project was created by the MoMA and released to iTunes as a free app on August 12, 2010. The project’s purpose seems to be the enhancement of the museum experience at the MoMA and to attract tourism. One of the application’s features is titled “MoMA Tracks.” MoMA Tracks provides guests with music options to accompany them when at the museum. This particular feature makes the intended audience of younger people and the tech savvy somewhat clear.

The learning objectives of this project go hand in hand with those of the museum. The Museum of Modern Art focuses on expanding artistic limits and showcasing newer aspects of art history, through historic figures such as Pablo Picasso. The MoMA places an emphasis on multimedia through its features on film history. They currently host an exhibit on German cinema between 1919 and 1933. The objectives of the application follow the museum’s lead by adding more substance and additional layers of information to their exhibits. The goal of the project is to provide guests with a personal aid or tour guide as they visit the museum.

While the application could certainly serve as a model for other museums to use when developing their own mobile applications, there is room for improvement within the MoMA app. The tours included are not the big draw for the application (that would be the index of works) as they are somewhat basic audio tours. I feel more aspects of the augmented reality applications we have seen could be added to make the experience more comprehensive. The project could definitely grow, but it does provide a good foundation for other museums to use. Despite the heavily interactive nature of the project (guests can choose a tour and music, etc.) audience participation does not truly factor into the design of the project itself, other than through user comments and reviews on iTunes.

This type of project would be ideal for multiple Idaho locations. Tourism in any place could benefit from mobile applications. An obvious idea would be to develop an application for the Idaho Historical Museum, the Old Idaho Penitentiary, or other area museums. Devices of this nature could be used for most historical points of interest in Idaho. Audio and photo tours for mobile devices, or augmented reality applications are viable options for the future of public history in Idaho.


The app on iTunes:

Official website for the MoMA:

“9 Free Mobile Apps for Exploring New York City”

Exploring Public History Apps

I think the post titled “But I Want You to Think!” by Jeremy Boggs is an excellent starting point when thinking about our mobile public history projects. Often academics can get caught up in the “informational” aspect of a project, but with any public history project the historian needs to keep their audience in mind first and foremost, and think about what degree to which the audience will be involved.

With Sarah Kessler’s “7 Ways Mobile Apps are Enriching Historical Tourism,” I took the next step in thinking about the app project and looked at a few examples of mobile apps created for historic sites and museums. It is interesting how these applications capitalize on aspects of a city or area that will be most engaging for tourists or those using the apps (i.e. Chicago’s mobsters, Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, murders and crime, etc.) I think it is going to be important to start small when building these apps, focusing on one aspect rather than trying to cover all of Boise. With any luck it could grow into something on the scale of the London Time Travel Explorer app. In the case of the Walk of Fame, which is such a large and meandering tourist attraction, a mobile app seems necessary to have when visiting.

From the “Augmenting Archaeology” article I went on to check out “The Civil War Augmented Reality Project” at I love this project because the creators have taken a strong interest in making the app truly interactive. While we’ve seen quite a few augmented reality apps, this one places an emphasis on stories, people and allowing the reader to choose their path in the app itself. While we can hope to add another dimension to historic places in our apps via pictures, audio, etc., this app takes it a step further and uses that information as a starting point for interactive stories behind the sites.

When asked during class the first week to think about public history projects, the first thing that came to my mind was, of course, interpretive signage. While that can still be very effective, looking at what historians are trying to do through these mobile apps should inspire everyone to think about the possibilities the public history field holds.

Landscapes, Pt. 2

The chapters selected for this week’s reading provided a good variety of material to think about. I got quite a bit out of Peirce Lewis’ “The Monument and the Bungalow.” I thought his two-part advice on how to begin evaluating and studying landscape was simple yet true, especially looking back at my familiarization with architectural history. Lewis suggested that we first need to be open, curious and ask unbiased questions, and to be sure to acquire the necessary vocabulary and background first. I’ve done quite a bit of work with inventorying residential neighborhoods, and too often I waited to study architectural types until after fieldwork. On another note, I had no knowledge of the Arts & Crafts style before this week’s reading.

I enjoyed Lewis’ musings on the fact that so many plantations stand while few sharecropper cabins do. The biased nature of landscape study and, often, historic preservation is an interesting aspect to touch upon. The “Great Man” school of thought is far-reaching.

I also really enjoyed Mark Fiege’s section on ecological commons. I read his book, Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West when working on my senior paper as an undergrad. That book dealt with the changing of the Southern Idaho landscape due to irrigation, the degree to which man could control nature, and the ways in which nature shaped the human environment. It does go into quite a bit of detail regarding the “rabbit drives,” which I wasn’t quite ready to hear at the time.

As for the Fiege piece included in the book – I thought it added to the argument that simple artifacts (such as the “No Hunting” sign) can convey endless amounts of information on places, or at least become important starting places when trying to understand the landscape around them.

Jackson, Landscapes

I’m looking forward to training myself to keep a blog regularly, something I’ve tried to do before. Here goes for the first week.

J.B. Jackson’s piece, “To Pity the Plumage and Forget the Dying Bird” remind historians, city planners and activists to put a human face to the problems they are working with, and to look beyond simple visual aesthetics when making liveable places. This is what I have walked away with anyway. He frequently calls for redesign of communities and restructuring of resources to better serve the citizens of a community. Communities can be consolidates to bring about a higher level of inclusiveness. Jackson notes that one of the greatest issues with the cut-off state of impoverished neighborhoods is their lack of access to public assembly. Because assembly can be a driving force for change, or at least communication, restricted access for some community members can perpetuate social and economic differences. Jackson notes that hiding electric wires and removing billboards can do a lot for a community, but it cannot solve everything.

He seems to be urging city planners to look beyond simple aesthetic or environmental changes when looking into the areas he describes, or at least to urge them to “personalize” their methods depending upon the community’s specific needs. More than that, Jackson is urging people to look at these communities period.

I liked his brief comments of the need for historic preservation. On Page 144, he mentions that “the destruction of symbols and monuments continues.” I’m sure I’m biased in saying this, but I feel he could have gone into this aspect a bit more. I have spent so much time in the past defending the idea that history can foster a sense of community, or a sense of place, which is the focus of my graduate project. When these aspects of a community are lost, it can lead to the loss of so much more– morale, communication, activity, commerce. The reading this week made me think about these things in a more well-rounded way.