Preservation Gone Wrong

I know our reading this week dealt mostly with buildings and environmental sites but I was reminded of this botched fresco restoration that I’m sure all of us recognize from a few years ago.

Here is the link to an article showing how they made the most out a terrible situation. I thought you might enjoy it.

Botched Restoration of Jesus Fresco Miraculously Saves Spanish Town

BoiseSpeaks Inspired by StoryCorps Brought to you by the Public Library

I saw this advertised on the public library’s facebook page for anyone who is interested in participating.

Here is the description and link:

The Library! at Collister invites you to bring a friend or family member to interview you, or be interviewed by a library staff member about a story from your life. Interviews are recorded on the Storycorps app and may be shared on the website. All published stories are archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. A staff member will sit in to make sure the recording runs smoothly. Enjoy this opportunity to document your experiences for future generations! What is your story?


OK, now I like it!

Meggan LM


Reflections: Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World

OK, I admit it…after being raised in a political, Catholic, and Basque family, I run from the word “authority.” And…after working for the federal government for a quarter-century, those who thought they had “authority” prompted a similar reaction for me: run away, fast! Why? Because for me, authority is synonymous with control, which can inhibit creative thought, shut down open-mindedness, discourage communication, and limit choices.  So, one can probably imagine my visceral reaction to this book title! What? A book that uses “Letting Go” and “Sharing Historical Authority” together right on the book cover? Then, the Foreword greets the reader with “Sharing the Authority of Knowledge.” The very thought that knowledge is somehow a construct of authority rubbed me ever further raw. Furthermore, these words in conjunction with history, a field that I have great respect for, troubled me.

For me, history is not an authoritative action, a final declaration, or a definitive means of knowledge control. Nor is it limited to chosen individuals who have been vested with authority to tell one story, or the only story.  It is not to be relegated to archives or collection storage for the minority who know how to access it. It’s not about the curator, the archivist, the collections manager, the professor, or the powerful institution. History is about the continual process of learning and acquiring knowledge. Public history welcomes sharing stories, changing times, and evolving relationships. It is the opposite of authority and control, because it encourages creative thought, shares perspectives (to open minds), welcomes communication and conversation, and offers many choices. It is participatory. It is communal. It is diverse.

Despite my trepidation at the titles and sub-titles in Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, the first 155 pages have proven my misgivings about the book somewhat wrong. Thankfully, it challenges traditional concepts of the authority of history and the control of historical gatekeepers. Some of the book’s  chapters align with my four principles of public history: creativity, shared perspectives, conversation, and choice. They prompted serious thought about the public history in today’s fast-changing world, and the role the public historian can play in changing traditional authoritative approaches for the benefit of visitors, institutions, and most importantly – the communities history serves. If public history evolves the way many of the examples in this book have, history’s relevance in the future will be ensured. So far, this book has me excited about contributing energy to public history in ways beyond authority. It got my wheels turning!

A few thoughts about some of the pieces – not comprehensive in any way and I look forward to hearing everyone else’s thoughts!

Nina Simon’s piece is about the benefits of participatory design for both institutions and participants (p. 18-33). It encouraged me to think about the value of peer review amongst the public, collaboration between the institution and the public, and the feedback loop. The use of conversation, whether through voting on content or adding content, ensures an ever-changing, non-stagnant approach to history, using multiple perspectives. I agreed with her argument that this allows for inclusion because traditionally, museums have appeared to be exclusionary. Encouraging dialogue not only personalizes the experience, but it adds dimension and depth to exhibitions. Most importantly, museum staff responsiveness tells the visitor that he or she is no longer an outsider, but rather, a participant in the conversation. An exchange is occurring, which means no longer is it the authoritative historian presenting a definitive, controlled message, but rather, a “give-and-take” that allows for a multi-dimensional experience created communally.

Matthew Fisher and Bill Adair’s piece, “Online Dialogue and Cultural Practice,” contention that online, digital means must move beyond just “getting the collections online” (p. 44-55). I liked Fisher’s comment that as with the teacher who “provides guidance, informs the classroom environment with expertise and knowledge, and encourages the students to look beyond their own viewpoint,” the public historian, too, encourages exploration and conversation (p. 48). The two authors support of technology as a tool to accomplish conversation was great. History is about the conversation.

Steve Zeitlin’s story of the City of Memory project in “Where are the Best Stories” supported my principle of shared perspectives in public history (34-43). Through the “Add a Story” function, and placing stories on a virtual “map,” people were connected – by story, memory, and place. These are all individual experiences, but they begin to form a community of shared perspectives. Zeitlin’s words say this the best, “…It links stories and memories in ways that across chronology, sparking connections and enabling visitors to rediscover the city through the memories of others (p. 43)” New Yorkers were given the chance to connect with others and still retain their place in the shared experience. This allows for self-identity, as well as cultural connections to others’ experiences in place, time, and memory.

Matthew MacArthur’s  “Get Real! The Role of Objects in the Digital Age” got my wheels turning about giving artifacts “a second chance” through digital technology (p. 56-65). I agreed with the emotional connection that “real-life” objects may have over digital images, but creative uses of these images can engage greater intellectual exploration, in-depth research, and the ability to see objects at one’s leisure rather than wait for the museum to display them.

Kathleen MacLean’s “Whose Questions? Whose Conversations?” was another thought-provoking piece (p. 70-79). I appreciated the approach that communities and museums are reciprocal experts, and that creative and open dialogues can empower conversation amongst communities.

I fell in love with Benjamin Filene’s “Make Yourself at Home” (p. 138-155). Possibly because this project in Minnesota could parallel the Basque community’s work on the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga boarding house and the immigrant story, it opened a flood of ideas for improving living history museums and working to tell the everyday, common story. The Open House project embodied creativity that I hope to be able to put forward into public history!

Michael Frisch’s metaphorical digital kitchen, “From a Shared Authority to a Digital Kitchen, “ however, was the clencher for me (p. 126-137). His nuanced approach to “sharing authority” and “shared authority” was brilliant. Sharing authority presumes inequity, power, and control. Shared authority levels the laying field and encourages participation because everyone has the potential to share what their know: individual, common knowledge has value. I appreciated his caution about the “trackless waste of cyberia,” and that the new information, digital world has its limits as well. This serves to remind the public historian to keep current, use technology, but always learn how to integrate many modalities.

Public history round-up

I just wanted to share a few (admittedly disconnected) bits of public history I’ve stumbled across around the web:

Remember the Triangle Fire may not in itself be a particularly stunning or easy to navigate website, but it offers a wealth of links to organizations marking the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. (The factory burned 100 years ago this Friday, March 25.) Women’s historians, fire safety organizations, and labor unions are but a few of the groups marking the event in their own ways. It makes for a nice case study in the ways the public and the academy shape and participate in public history.

Here’s something to brighten your day (as seen at Retroist):

You can read a brief history of the Oregon Trail game–it started out as a board game 40 years ago and has sold over 65 million copies. (It’s still a fun game, but some days I can’t get the mobile version’s damn soundtrack out of my head.)

Scripto allows members of the public to volunteer as transcribers of analog documents. It’s an interesting crowdsourcing model. (And–surprise!–it’s a project of the Center for History and New Media.)

Place Matters offers a toolkit to help the public “identify, promote, and protect” places people care about.

What public history resources or projects have you discovered lately?

Walking one fine wire…

Timothy Luke has a unique and interesting perspective when it comes to museums. While some of the debates he presented  have been familiar to me, other arguments about the underlaying political agenda of museums have been really thought-provoking. I think Luke does a good job of exploring the ideas behind controvercial exhibits and proving his argument with them, but he seems to forget that the vast majority of musems around the country are small or mid-size museums that rarely have these heated debates reagarding exhibit content. I don’t know if this weakens his thesis, but it does seem to show an area that he could have at least tried to explore. More than anything, it makes the constant tight-rope walk of exhibit curation seem a little more daunting.

The chapters about “The Crossroads” exhibit and those at the National Museum of American Art and The Autry Museum were particularly interesting to me. All three exhibits that are discussed are ones that are very well known in the museum world. Just saying the words “Enola Gay Exhibit”  to a curator will often get a reaction. I think because of a few things: first, it was a well researched exhibit depicting history that’s important to our culture. Second, the lesson curators wanted people to walk away with (the consequences of dropping the bombs, how that related to the Cold War and its relevancy to life in 1995) was a good one. Third, museums have to be as objective as possible, and choosing words like “vengeance” when it comes to war doesn’t show impartiality. While I think everyone understands the gravity of dropping the bombs, I also know that people don’t want to be made into the bad guy when they thought they were being heros. It all goes back to the balancing act that museums have to perform everytime a new exhibit comes along.

I say this with complete awareness of my bias–  I’m a little sad to read that, because of Luke’s arguments, people are now questioning the objectivity of museums. This is the theme I keep coming back to I guess– there is a very fine line that museums have to find, balancing between visitor appeal and historical accuarcy. We always have to ask ourselves “How do I make this relevant? How can I say what needs to be said in just a few lines of text? What artifact will reflect this topic?” I can confidently say that it would be impossible to have an exhibit that everyone was happy with. Despite all of that, I don’t know a single professional that would purposely make an exhibit that was completly bias or one-sided. No exhibit is perfect or can show every aspect in a complete way, which is one of the hurdles museums have to overcome.

Changing the canvas on which we paint history.

The Spatial History Project at Stanford was fascinating. Reviewing the Shaping the West project was helpful in understanding what they are trying to do and how many avenues of history that can connect to the project. For example, while the project focused more so on California it leaves that possibility of other states adding to the model they have set up. In a sense, we could set up a transcontinental spatial history project. Furthermore, it can be linked to all other realms of history how the railroad were impacted socially, politically, and economically. I like the new use for primary sources, it made me question how accurate or available the Union Pacific railroad’s records are? Since the company is still in business, it would seem that many records may still be intact and available.  If you have the time I would recommend reading Richard White’s What is Spatial History article. He gives examples of the other spatial history projects going on at the Stanford. He introduces how spatial history as different from “normal history.” The first of his five reasons mirrors the explanation of Landscapes “our projects are collaborative.” This project as whole reminds me of Jackson’s idea of landscapes; I think Jackson would have been supportive of their efforts.

“The Beginning of the Road” illustrated how technology has made projects, such as Alexander Hawkins idea, much easier to visualize and understand.  While Scott Berg’s article was interesting, at times it was hard follow and understand what was Hawkins’ project. I watched the Visualizing Early Washington clip and it helped me to finally “see” what Hawkins wanted to do.  This article brought up several good points. First of those points was: I was a shocked as Dan Bailey that the library would not have any books on the Washington D.C. landscape. It made me question how many other pieces of “expected history” are missing. I have run into this problem with my own master’s thesis. I had expected books and articles to be written about the Merci Train and have yet to find a legitimate book. The second point brought to light, again by Bailey, was the history drives technology. I have never thought of it this way.  However, his point is valid. Projects such as Hawkins’ are able to literally come to life and be presented to a wider audience.

I was excited to look at the findings for the CHNM labs. The website is helpful in making these free and all already created data bases for museum use. But it was not what I expected. I thought it was similar to the “7 Way Mobile Apps are Enriching Historical Tourism.” I understand that these apps and sites are available, but are they being used? I want numbers! I want to be able to see that people are using these available digital histories. I think it would be extremely helpful to rate these program on their popularity and, if possible, who is using them? Are they being used by the general public, in classrooms, or in museums? That being said, the website is an invaluable as a tool to those teaching history. I was drawn to the link “digital campus” where bi-weekly discussions about technology and history are recorded and open to comments. I was disappointed to see that the discussions do not appear as frequent as displayed and only one or two people have contributed to the discussions. This website has great potential to assist in several venues on history and that are overlooked. On an end note I really enjoyed exploring the “Lost Musuem.”

Some inspiration

My mind, like many of yours, is dizzy with the possibilities engendered by the intersection of local history, public history practice, and digital tools like the iPod Touch.  I wanted to share a few potential sources of inspiration that I’ve found in my sojourns around the web.

I’m not much of a gamer, but I do enjoy a good narrative game.  I’ve been playing Echo Bazaar for at least a year now, and I recommend you check it out.  You’ll need a Facebook or Twitter account to play.  It’s set in a fictional world, but the in-game world of “Fallen London” has a rich history and cast of characters.  I don’t by any means expect you all to build anything as near elaborate as this lovely game, but it is an interesting model for those of you interested in storytelling, especially of the Choose Your Own Adventure variety.

There’s an entire wiki dedicated to the use of mobile devices in museums.

There’s a newish site called Digital Humanities Questions & Answers, and it may prove exceptionally useful to you as you formulate your project plan and implement it.  The people who participate in that forum are very generous with their time and expertise, so don’t be shy about asking questions.

Tours of London, led by the city’s homeless: an interesting approach to introducing people to the city.

What Was There is similar to HistoryPin, and it’s desperately in need of some Boise content.  Ditto Sepiatown.  And LookBackMaps.

Someone has provided a round-up of various projects that document Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.  Maybe you’ll find some inspiration for your own project?  (It’s flashier than anything we might build in a semester, but I’m especially fond of Curating the City.)

SCVNGR lets you build mobile scavenger hunts.

Hypercities is doing some cool stuff, especially around the recent Egyptian protests.  Its developers describe Hypercities thus:

Built on the idea that every past is a place, HyperCities is a digital research and educational platform for exploring, learning about, and interacting with the layered histories of city and global spaces.  Developed though collaboration between UCLA and USC, the fundamental idea behind HyperCities is that all stories take place somewhere and sometime; they become meaningful when they interact and intersect with other stories.  Using Google Maps and Google Earth, HyperCities essentially allows users to go back in time to create and explore the historical layers of city spaces in an interactive, hypermedia environment.

Cliocaching looks to be fun.

Definitely check out the Flickr pool Looking into the Past.  (No one has yet contributed any Boise images.)

What have you found this week?


The point of applied historical research is to involve the public. Not only to involve the public, but to get them as excited about history as the historian. I agree with the article “But I want you to think” that all three parts, entice, inform and invoke are need to make a successful website. The part that I find difficult is how you entice your audience. Should we do “focus-group testing, user testing, and marketing”? That is difficult to for digital humanities and I dislike the idea of marketing the idea. History is not product to be sold.  Using students a test group is an obvious answer, but the general public is more than students. How do we get them involved?  The “7 Way Mobile Apps are Enriching Historical Tourism” helped me see what kind of mobile applications are already available to the general public. While informative on the applications, I would like to know how much use these applications get. Are they made and hardly used, are they used by tourists, students, or a local public? A study on who is using the already available applications would open up which ones need more work or what is working best for the user.

In creating an application available for historical information, the last thing I want is a tourist walking downtown staring at their Smartphone rather than engaging with the landscape around them. I am not sure I quite understand the augmented reality concept, but I understand that we take the user out the current landscape to engage another. I see the comparative value for the audience, but the augmented reality game takes away the “think for yourself” part for me. I also dislike the idea that there is just one alternate landscape, for example, the “Civil War Augmented Reality Project” that all you to look back via “pay binoculars” to see Civil War landscape. Could that landscape have been used for anything else since the Civil War? What happened to the landscape during reconstruction, the roaring twenties, or in the era of the greatest generation?

“Haunts: Place, Play, and Trauma” takes an interesting angle to getting the public involved in places and finding the secret information on spaces and letting the user add to it. But I have to ask the question that is posed in Gowalla article “ok, so what does any of the have to do with educations?”  The ideas in the Gowalla article are excellent. I think museums lack interaction with the visitor. Creating applications that not only engages the visitor, but also encourages going to other museums. This is excellent. These could give a much needed revival to museums if provided to the public. It would “market” to younger audience.

For the Play the Past website, I think the idea is great. My favorite part is it allows for
“guest authors” encouraging users to not only engage with history via games, but add their thoughts to it. As for the youtube music video, I loved it! I posted it on my facebook. The comments on the video were intriguing, several high school age students posted their history teachers should them this and debate had been raised about slavery. I think the mask of a username on a website may allow for these high school students to voice their thoughts that they may otherwise be afraid to speak in class in front of their peers. There is no way I can prove they were high school students, but their arguments and answers mirror that of a textbook. So maybe they are listening in class. 😉

Landscape as a historic document

The things that struck me most about the readings for this week was the idea of landscape as a historic document. As I went through the other chapters, I found myself going back to this idea and wondering how “our” landscape would be read a few decades from now. Would graduate students from a “Intro to Thirdspace Studies” be wandering around, looking at what was left, constructed and preserved from the 20-teens? The Boise metro area, as it is now, has such as strange variety of landscapes/thirdscapes. Parts of the city strive to stay sheltered in their track-home, built-to-suit suburbia. Ranches, pastures, farms and fields seem to be in the most random places- acting as a reminder that Boise wasn’t built on microchips and french-fry empires. I hope that those places, from farms to mansions, will remain in place, giving something for students of landscape history something interesting to study. Maybe it would be just as revealing, though, if these spaces were gone in 60 years. Richard Schein discusses racialized landscapes, and says they “can be seen here as a kind of autobiography, in that each captures social or cultural norms, values, and fears.” (p.217) I don’t think this only applies to the racial boundaries within a city. Things that we find important enough to keep, or suitable to go away, says just as much about who we are.

If there are students looking at Boise a generation or three down the road, I think they will have their work cut out for them. Our landscape is a confusing, but telling document about who we once were and what we hope to be.

The long and winding road

Like others have mentioned, many of these readings have brought a flood of road trip memories from childhood back to the forefront of my mind. I remember long rides in the hot car through the desert on the way to southern California to visit my Grandparents. For much of the way, we would drive on what used to be the iconic Route 66. My Dad would tell us why the road was important– how during the Depression people used it to escape the Dust Bowl, how it provided economic opportunities, all things that my siblings and I couldn’t have cared less about at the time. But the road is a theme that we encounter all the time, in movies (Rebel Without a Cause, Forrest Gump, Thelma and Louise), lyrics (country songs are full of them) and literature. Usually they are a symbol of freedom and possibilities.

In chapter 5, I was introduced to “odology,” a term I have never heard before. Although my inner-roadtripping child can’t believe I’m saying this, linking the study of roads and what they mean for American culture is an intriguing topic. Davis, on page 65, says these roads “would reveal that, despite its reputation…the strip was a vibrant social and economic space that fulfilled important civic functions.” I think approaching the study of the landscape from any of the four approaches discussed in chapter eleven would open up a door to understanding the automobile culture, and American culture as a whole. It ties into our everyday lives, entertainment, economy… Our love affair with the open road is an aspect of history that I certainly haven’t thought about, but is clearly a worthwhile subject.

My dad would be proud.