Museums should be like churches?

First of all I have to say that I am really disappointed with the production quality of this presentation. I realize that the apology was given up front, but isn’t this the Smithsonian? And in a twist of irony, the topic is using technology to further their efforts at education. . .hmmm.

Moving on.

I read this article by Alain de Botton, from the BBC earlier this semester. He proposed that museums take a cue from religion and at least attempt to deliver content that is didactic (meaning a lesson through visual aids–like gospel iconographies that follow visual cues so even the illiterate could understand the moral of the story). At first I was kind of defensive about museums and the humanities, but then, after reading our segment on digital histories somewhere around week four or five, it all began to make sense to me. I had to revisit the article in fact. And what he says is true, there is no overt lesson to be learned when we go to museums (which might seem like a relief, right?) But very little art is created without some message, without embodying certain values (be it mathematical–whatever). So what if you could use some of this bottom-up technology that I got so excited about, that would allow users to create-their-own-adventure based on features that the user is drawn to (even subconsciously!)? There are stylistic and aesthetic elements that I preferred without my having been aware of the values they represented (I discovered this in my art history courses), so what if we could use technology to deliver quick, calculated, and almost self-directed themes, threads, or courses when we visit museums…”if you liked this, then you will probably like that“. How many books have I purchased from Amazon when they made recommendations!? I never once stopped to ask how they calculated these preferences, or on what grounds they made such suggestions. But more often than not, they were right!

So. Using mobile devices to deliver a dialectic we can have with our museums. Engage the users in a conversation of sorts, letting us engage with the works and exhibits in a totally new way. Then museums could actively educate the viewers, allowing them to choose topics based on their own interests, rather just laying out a (sometimes quite small) plate of information, hoping they read it, and understand its importance.
Brilliant! I just need to find out how to do it. That’s all.

“Fuzzing” my reality

I guess I’m not at all surprised at the inadequate nature of our laws and the bureaucratic machine that seems to gum-up-the-works. But I have always been a cynic when it comes to our government. In fact, if I’m honest with you and myself, I do not believe that mankind is truly good at heart (sorry Anne Frank, of that I have very little faith). So we’ll just say that King has not helped my opinion on that front. He’s talking about a big-business, big-government, big-justice court systems, a pro-capital, anti-environmental monster that I feel quite incapable of confronting, on whatever front. Can I just climb into my hole now?

Okay, okay, it may seem bleak, but if we are going to go out there and get a job then this is the kind of system we may very well end up dealing with in our professional lives. So it might be in my best interest to pull my head out of the sand, and be aware of this stuff, however defeated it makes me feel.

On the more positive side of things I got quite a laugh at the pokes you people took at TFK for all the MFKING acronyms. So thanks for that guys. :)

Speaking of ethics

I have to start by saying that I have no coherent response to these situations we read about. This week I heard about the fourth grade teacher who had a “slave auction” in her classroom where white kids “bought” and “sold” the black ones. Mmmmm, really? Now, if I was going to “teach a lesson” about discrimination I might set up an “imaginary” reenactment, but say, based on the color of your eyes, or perhaps the color of your mother’s hair–things that are not rational, that might affect the child regardless of their helplessness to change it, and the fiction that these things represent. But that’s just me. These situations where you have such charged emotional responses get to be a lot for a girl like me to handle.

So, speaking of ethics.
For the last few days we have been dealing with the use of images in our project. Namely, what is the legal status, and who do we contact if we must? What about images that are in books? Most of them luckily, are located at the local archives (some of them are not free unfortunately), but what about the other images? We’re working all of these issues out at the moment, but we’re finding that it does take a little effort.

Also, I posted the Reinventing Boise Atlas last week. It is the project for MAHR student Johnny Hester. His work is really helpful for our project, he has published a number of maps that illustrate geographical and infrastructural change in Boise at the turn of the twentieth century, but for me, there is a question of how much can or should be used? For this project I was wondering, should I just use some of his images, and cite Mr. Hester, or would it be better to incorporate a link to his digital history into our project? I have never met him, but I will have to contact him to ask his opinion on the matter. I’m also going to see if he has any tips for us on our search.

Making the past work for us today.

I really like the idea of transforming old, defunct buildings and structures into new practical and forward looking spaces, much like Union Station in St. Louis. It made me think of Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. http://www.trolleysquare.com/history-gallery.php P.s. There are some great images here, and it seems like a pretty smart way to display high quality photos. Simple but smart.

Turns out that I am actually into facadism, I like the idea of maintaining an aesthetic integrity and historic quality, while updating a building’s utility. I loved the work done in Boise not too long ago, when the south 8th Street (BoDo) historical district was updated. http://www.cityofboise.org/Departments/PDS/Historic/HistoricDistricts/page11057.aspx But I don’t know if I’m that into the bureacracy, “land use law”, zoning, government regulation . . . sound like a lot of technical writing. Not really my idea of a good time, but that’s just me. Historic Preservation (Tyler, et al, 2009) explains just how many hoops surround the whole preservation vs. development issue. I’m glad there are people out there who do this stuff. Who knows, maybe I could end up being one of them?

For me, I am interested in the ideas surrounding “landmarks” and “heritage” and how it changes meaning over time. What is interesting to me is how these struggles represent cultural values, why certain locations and artifacts have special meaning, and how these set of values are used in the conceptual struggle between “public” and “private”. This stuff is hard to wrap my head around. But walking around downtown I have begun noticing the aesthetic integrity of some of our downtown blocks. I’ve noticed that they tend to maintain an average height, the ‘tall’ buildings tend to be the flashy ones like the Idanha and Adelmann buildings, or completely modern. I think it’s a nice mix. Here is my favorite photo that expresses those sentiments.
p.s. I know the author and have permission to post this here.

So just for good measure, I thought I should share my favorite facade ever, the remnants of the library at Ephesus in modern Turkey. It is supposed to have been quite like the library at Alexandria in design and size, being second only to the more famous of the two. I wonder what kind of legal and practical work it takes to keep this thing standing in good condition? Who oversees it? I’ve never checked, maybe I will. I wonder if they could ever build it onto something, or would I prefer to see it in its humble remains? I don’t know, I’m officially on the fence on this one.

A shame

It really is a shame that so many of Boise’s old buildings were taken down with such recklessness. Looking at all of the different architectural styles in Historic Preservation makes me realize how many identities Boise encompasses, and I really like that that history is reflected in the architecture we have chosen to “save”. There are so many different styles of building, home, park, and communities here. I’m glad it’s not Santa Barbara. It’s hard for me to feel inclined to stop the development that might be ‘out there’ or ‘odd’ on the block, because someday that building will be a historic relic, of an idea, belonging to an individual or a group of individuals who thought it worth their time in creating. And so where do we draw the line?

So along these lines, I have answered one of the first questions I had in this class. My group went on a walk, we inquired after a small lawyers office, but we ended up at Pioneer Park on Fifth, west of the Basque Block. We filmed it, and noticed that there were a lot of what looked like cornerstones and title-stones for buildings. It is very much like a cemetery, and it turns out that it kind of is! The free-standing arch is from the Eastman building, it’s inscription and I believe the plaque were saved. (the Eastman building stood where the Boise Hole now resides). There is a block for Central School. This school was located on Grove Street, among some of the finest Boise residences. The children from the River Street neighborhoods attended Central School, including two black children. There are several other stones that I recognized, and the giant waterwheel is a relic of systems of canals that used to run on Grove Street, transferring water up the bench.

I had all of these questions the first week of class. Interesting, who knew there was so much to know?

A Reflection of Value

Luke’s institutional critique reminds me of something I read last semester about the World Exposition in 1893. The World Expositions tended to operate within many of the parameters outlined in Luke’s work, as they are physical and symbolic expressions of cultural, social, and economic power-relationships.

Because they house national and/or international “treasures” museums are an expression of a culture’s values, and the public responds by enlisting museums as their cultural keepers. This political struggle within the institutions, outlined by Luke, are evidence of a struggle within society as to what they believe our values should be. Similarly, the struggle for world hegemony can be seen in what the World’s Fairs choose to represent as the apex of cultural achievement. Just by looking at some of the architecture (begins at p. 8), it is clearly, visually, an expression of Greek and Roman heritage.

http://books.google.com/books?id=CWQ_FBHGrW4C&pg=PA5&lpg=PA5&dq=white+celebration,+world+exposition&source=bl&ots=_StQtQZA8U&sig=qqZ2IHY1AnksCTzqxfIm9s2GL8c&hl=en&ei=Fod9TdWcDMfkrAGD_fz2BQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

In 1893 the white international powers were celebrating industry, and their political and socio-economic dominance in international affairs by making architectural reference to one of the most powerful western empires. Endeavors such as these are not merely thrown together, they are in fact qui intentional. As Luke points out, a lot of vested interests are struggling to represent their own angle. So it is interesting and important to examine the ontological discourses of these “regimes of artistic, historic, or scientific interpretation” in order to examine the source of ‘truth’ and view it within its proper context (Luke, 223).

I guess, altogether, it is no surprise that the museums on The Mall in D.C. are inherently political. Look at the environment. And the museum in Los Angeles has a political lean that adequately represents the political lean of L.A. and its surrounding areas. And the MET in NYC represents the western tradition architecturally, as well as in its exaltation of the western artistic tradition.

Cultural Institutions

I love museums, and as an art history minor, I was required to read several institutional critiques similar to Luke’s. While I have never felt personally assaulted by this wave of political overture during any visit to any museum, I am aware that these political threads do indeed run deep. When you start to pick apart the pieces of any institution, such as the Heard Museum in Phoenix, we can begin to understand the subtle nature of the normalization, discursive persuasion, and commodification of cultural heritage.

Strange that as Mrs. Heard and Mr. Harvey were busy gathering “authentic” native artifacts, which were supposed to represent an authentic past, they were also requiring that these artifacts accommodate a new end, the tourists of the American Southwest. These objects, then, no longer represent their previous utility, yet they continue to define the “authentic” works produced by Native Americans.

It makes me think, how should I represent the history that I want to tell? Are there any political ‘land mines’ that I should be aware of? Will my representation neutralize, expand, or explain any particular perspective over another? Should it?

Spatial history for Boise?

Wow.  I am so excited after exploring The Spatial History Project and the Center for History and New Media.  I do wish, however, that I was more technologically savvy, and in the near future, I may look into taking some of these courses on java, linux, etc.  I have several computer geeks in my life, but it seems my free ride has come to an end.  After exploring the possibilities within the professional field, I have concluded that I should possess these skills myself.  Especially now that Omeka’s open-source coders have made it relatively simple for a girl like me to utilize such amazing technology.  These people are brilliant!

That being said, I was pretty excited to discover that what I envisioned for the fabulous history project is not so audacious that it would be impossible to complete.  After exploring history pin more thoroughly, I discovered that this is precisely the kind of spatial history project that the CHNM are talking about!  It is a little rough around the edges, and I wish it were easier to navigate, in fact, it was not quite what I was hoping for.  But since at the present moment I am not able to use Omeka’s platform, history pin will do the job.  All you have to do is create a user account and upload photos, “pin” them to a location on Google maps, and viola! You have made your historical mark. Each user has a page, a format similar to Picasa, where digital contributions are posted. You have the option to view these photos in their relative locations in Google street-view, which is cool, but it is hard to navigate from one photo to the next. Not quite a coherent tour, as much as it is a point-and-click, hunt-and-peck kind of situation. Here is my trial run, http://www.historypin.com/photos/view/phid/5759015/bground/:photos:feed:geo:42.7639,-108.79692:zoom:15

Beyond it’s navigation issues, I have discovered the potential in history pin to become an extensive digital archive that spans both time and space, and because it is a Google project, I have faith it will achieve this potential (it is in beta, after all).

So how does all of this apply to our fabulous public history project?  Well after browsing the world wide web, I decided to visit some local digital histories.  I discovered a connection to the main body of research, a completed master’s thesis by a graduate student at U of I in 2006, on the old black neighborhood on River and Ash streets. This former student is now a member of Preservation Idaho and contributes to their guided tours and digital histories. Here is their main site, if you feel like browsing http://www.preservationidaho.org/ (it is much more digitally inclined than the ISHS site, sadly enough) So it turns out that she lives and works here in Boise as a consultant. So we met for coffee.

She got her Master’s in Archaeology, and studied Anthropology at the University of Idaho in 2006, her thesis is titled “Boise’s River Street Neighborhood: Lee, Ash, Lover’s Lane/Pioneer Streets, the south side of the tracks.” I asked her what her interest in the River Street neighborhood was, why she chose it for her topic. Turns out it was assigned to her at random, something she was pretty apprehensive about. But she said she was happy to have something that hadn’t really been “done” before.

Demo’s primary sources for the people who lived in the neighborhood were the oral histories from the Preservation Archives and Research Library PARL (Osa, 1995). She is particularly interested in maps and physical traces of people. She said that she would love to conduct a field school on some of the River Street lots that remain vacant. I’m curious what they might find. After she graduated, Demo worked as an archaeologist for the Idaho Transportation Department, and she worked a few federal contracts. She said that working for federal money is nice, but it is a job-to-job type of experience. So today she is a consultant and volunteer. She volunteers her time organizing photo images that have evidence of canals and ditches in order to reconstruct archaeological organization of past farmers and irrigation. She is happy to compile them for later researchers to use.

And so she seemed quite excited for this history to be visualized, verbalized in a way that people will see.

Digitizing History

As historians entering the digital era we need to understand that the public demand is for quick, easy, and accessible information.  Modern technology means that history projects can be delivered to our fingertips, but we must also keep in mind that it is a user-based demand.  Users will be the ones bringing the latest apps to their friends, sharing the coolest new experiences through Facebook, Twitter, etc.  We just have to deliver the experience, and if we succeed, the users will do all the work.

That being said, for this assignment I went back to a project that I discovered through a social media site maybe six months ago.  “How to be a Retronaut” caught my attention, and I, in turn, shared it with family and friends on another social media site.  http://www.howtobearetronaut.com/2010/03/ghosts-of-amsterdam/ .  How to be a Retronaut is run by Chris Wild, who works as a historical consultant.  It lacks an educational mission statement, but it is clear that he is aiming at topics that have an aesthetic and particularly visual appeal.  I loved the idea of this semi-augmented reality, and wondered then, if it could work as an augmented reality app.

The Historypin (http://www.historypin.com/) is a website that has a similar approach to historical photos, but it is open to user-end interaction that the Retronaut project lacks.  The goal of historypin is to bring people together through images, hoping that individuals will find some common ground through a sense of shared history.  But it is not a guided tour, and has no projected ideas or points of discussion.  Instead, the project paired with Google, using their street-view function that allows the user to wander through space and time, viewing augmented images at their leisure.  Its scope is limitless as it allows users, urges them in fact, to contribute to the international collection of historical images.  They make reference to the countless attics and boxes full of aging black and white photos that run the risk of being forgotten by a younger generation caught up in the daily delivery of digital media.  It is an attempt to usher the old into the new, and to expose the young to the experiences of past generations.

In this way users are the ones building and guiding the project.  This allows them to share their own history as well as explore that of others. For those of us who love to discover, it is a treasure trove.  But the scope can be overwhelming, and I wonder if it might benefit from a little bit of guidance.  With this approach users could create their own guided tours, perhaps build a historical cross-section of their own, via historypin.  For example, my in-laws have established a detailed history of their family’s move out west beginning in Concord, Massachusetts in 1685.  They have already documented their slow move westward, and have a collection of images from various settlements across the country.  This type of guidance could enhance the historypin experience, and allow users to create their own place in history.

But that is just one possibility.  Just one example of what is possible with this type of format.  I would  like to make some middle ground between these two projects, building a more guided approach, as well as one that is available, useful, and entertaining on the go.

Thoughts on “Auto-vernacular”

I did not own a car when I first moved to Boise in 2001.  Every aspect of my life was limited by the reality of the automobile landscape.  Where I lived, where I shopped, where I worked, and where I played were all necessarily accessible by foot, by bicycle, or by public transportation (unfortunately, the bicycle was for the most part the most efficient means of travel, depending on how far I needed to go, and what I needed to carry with me).  These limitations were my immediate motivations for acquiring a vehicle, any vehicle I could get my hands on, in the attempt to broaden my horizons so to speak.

Buying a vehicle did not lessen my concern for the problem of alternative transportation, however.  Even now, as party to a two-car household, I lament the poor state of Boise’s public transportation.  I live no more than four miles from campus and yet I drive to class, I drive to the library, and sometimes I even pay for parking (ugh!).  Why?  Because it is far more convenient than leaving twenty minutes earlier, braving the elements, or the bus.  But after reading the chapter on “auto-vernacular” I am even more aware of the bigger impact of a “perceived diminished sense of community” that the automobile has almost invisibly set upon us.

Ironically, my community has been limited by my mobility.  I can drive all over town, running errands and completing chores.  In a sense, my community is piecemeal.  I interact and know my immediate neighbors, but not many beyond my property boundaries.  I am limited to artificial associations with my bank tellers, grocery checkers, waitresses, and because of my own occupation, my customers.  Is the vehicle responsible for the superficiality of my daily interactions?  Hardly.  But it does contribute, no doubt, to my approach to such daily interactions.  Will public transportation fix this superficiality?  Doubtful.  Maybe we should focus on bringing our community goods and services closer to our actual living spaces?  I wonder if that would re-build a community network of shared interests and relationships.  It couldn’t hurt.