Giving us the tools… but does everybody need them?

Create a website? Hah.

Design a concept model? Hmm.

Map a wireframe? Well, lets see…

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Personally, picturing my ideas digitally, on the Internet, or visually technical is a daunting thing. It speaks to our class’ questions of “do historians need to learn this?” Or “should I master this skill or will someone else do it?” Meaning, will the historian responsible for curating the content be the same team member to design the digital aspects? Will creating a spatial history map and analyzing one be part of the same process?

As a journalist, I’ve always thought that streamlining the project would make me a more marketable candidate and ultimately more successful. For example, the ability to pitch a story, write the article, shoot and edit the video, and upload it to a digital platform comes from a set of dynamic skills that are all needed to produce a journalistic project…. especially with today’s push for immediacy, ongoing budget cuts, and a much more accessible publishing process.

In Dan M. Brown’s “Communicating Design“, he gives audiences the tools to build the skills necessary for creating a work of digital scholarship for the masses. In his very jargon-y discussions of deliverables, competitive analyses, wireframing, and user-needs documentation, Brown enhances the technical skills of all those reading his book. In a practical sense those doing digital research can find the tools needed for contemplative and successful web presentation in the pages. However, the important lessons I found weren’t very technical at all…

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Brown writes, “Innovation moves fast online. Regardless of how the design process evolves, information about how other sites address the problems you face will always be valuable, because it keeps you abreast of the latest trends in technological change. With innovation comes a change in landscape,” reminding readers to acknowledge they are not creating in a vaccuum–everyone else is learning and changing at the same time and that important information can be learned from all.

Similarly, “Methods come and go, but documents appear to remain more or less consistent… Different people prefer different tools, but the choice of tool should have little impact on the message and purpose of your documentation,” cautioning that at the end of the day, you can’t get too caught up in the minute details of the presentation tool, but rather stay grounded in the importance of the actual research and information.

After reading Brown’s book and considering it’s implications on my own future career, I wonder if the pros of a much more individualized job outweigh the benefits of the collaborations that stand as hallmarks in many digitized historical projects. Meaning, is conforming to new societal standards and financial pressures worth more than the costly process of group work? Or does the nature of the web eliminate both the tangible and theoretic price tags in a much faster way than before?


Digital Public Library of America defines new digital scholarship

In 2006, Roy Rosenzweig asked if History could be open source and in 2013 the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study answers: “Yes, absolutely.”

On Thursday, April 18th, 2013, the world’s first “large-scale digital public library” will open to the public. Instead of swinging its doors wide and hosting a party, the Digital Public Library of America will go live on Thursday– inviting the Internet community to scan, scroll, and click through thousands of digitized and digitally born materials for free.

"The time is right to launch an ambitious project to realize the great promise of the Internet for the advancement of sharing information and of using technology to enable new knowledge and discoveries in the United States"

“The time is right to launch an ambitious project to realize the great promise of the Internet for the advancement of sharing information and of using technology to enable new knowledge and discoveries in the United States”

The DPLA will not be a Wikipedia-type resource. The library will feature collections of materials already published without inviting users to create, comment, or control the content. However, as Rosenzweig explained that Wikipedia was important not only as a product, but also as a process, I think the same could be said for the DPLA. On it’s own, it will be a great resource for historians, students, and digivisitors alike. However, as a process, the DPLA highlights the ongoing conversations on defining “digital scholarship” and creations of Chuck Tryon’s “networked public spheres”. 

The organization created six workstreams as committees working to build the DPLA and answer questions collaboratively. The most important of which included “Audience & Participation” and “Content & Scope”.

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“The Content & Scope workstream will identify content and articulate a collection development policy for the DPLA by confronting questions regarding management of and access to distributed materials, research, and data curation. It will undertake research that is relevant to core objectives, collect data concerning how many books and other materials exist in US libraries and their copyright status, and conduct analyses of already-digitized collections in the US and abroad.”

Within the Content & Scope workstream, members designed the “collection development policy” featuring a list of Potential Content. Some of this content are primary sources that have been digitized and some are works that have always been digital. As blogs begin to find a home in the DPLA, the lines between traditional forms of scholarship and blogging begin to blur even more (Tryon). By placing these blogs in a “networked public sphere” (the DPLA), these digital blogs and writing “can combine with the practices associated with scholarly production with the benefits associated with public engagement” (Tyron).

Additionally, the creation of this library can only encourage the process of “crafting scholarship designed specifically for the electronic environment” (Thomas) and taking advantage of these new platforms and audiences. I think the Library will only reenforce Thomas’ ideas of “casting aside the comfortable” to “discover the that the openness of the digital medium is what allows us both to create vibrant new scholarship and speak to a rising generation of students”.

So I wonder, will becoming included in the DPLA add an air of legitimacy to these online blogs, personal or otherwise? Will this affect traditional “professional culture” (Rosenzweig) or redefine the “practices for scholarly communication” (Tryon)? Will online publications, by invitation or not (or I guess by virtue of the Internet, generally not), be considered under the temperamental tenure process if housed in the Digital Public Library of America?


Curating the Cool: How museums use new media to stay relevant

These days, it’s all about being relevant. Whether you’re a social media maven, a small business owner on Main St. USA, or an age-old institution, the key to staying competitive is making it, becoming, and keeping relevant.

In terms of historical organizations, educational collectives, and museums, building a community (virtual or physical) is the first step to meet the audiences where they are and get a real understanding for how they interact. In Dana Allen-Greil’s and Matthew MacArthur’s piece on “Small Towns and Big Cities: How Museums Foster Community On-line” they explain how museums are moving away from the expert-novice relationship and closer to a “whole person” type of approach. From the “Gesellschaft” of city life interactions and into the “Gemeinschaft” holistic community, museums are engaging in social media platforms to engage guests and make them part of curatorial community.

Matthew Fisher in “Online Dialogue and Cultural Practice: A Conversation” from “Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World” calls attention to the need for “an energized space between the traditional authoritative voice and the crowd-sourced, democratized voice of non-experts” to communicate together.

In order to do this, everyone seems to have three ideas or necessities for success…

  • Allen-Greil and MacArthur write of Maxwell Anderson’s call for museum experiences to be “tactile, sensual, and visceral”
  • Fisher explains that to change the relationships between museums and visitors there needs to be “dialogue, engagement, and where you enter with an open mind with a capacity for a variety of voice to be heard.”
  • Maxwell Anderson demands, “documentation, meaning, and representation”
  • Kathleen McLean calls for socially-situated learning centers for, “interaction, conversation, and reflection”

All of these perspectives seem to have one thing in common– find out what the visitors are interested in, have them talk about it, and reflect together (curators and guests alike)… in other words, become and stay relevant to the visitor.

We see this same trend arcing over business models and types of all kinds.

In the quest to “stay cool”, NPR stopped by the most recent South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. Hosting a launch party for “Generation Listen”, NPR’s new campaign targets 20-something listeners’ ears and tastes (and eventually their wallets too…) while calling out to “join the tribe”! On their webpage, they even write, “It’s time for us to get better at finding you where you are and what is most relevant to your lives. And when we get there, we want to hang out — whether in cyberspace, over the air, or through events — and exchange ideas and smart conversation.”

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Similarly, in late 2009, the Rosenbach Museum and Library cultivated a website dedicated to the 21st Century Abraham Lincoln. The website, while providing historical information and education, was filled with user-generated content from videos and podcasts to internet memes and puns. The website is a clear example of engaging in new media to make Abraham Lincoln (a figure we learn about over and over and over again) cool, relevant, and perpetually interesting.

A picture from the "Found Abe" portion of the website where users can upload pages, videos, or images of where they "Found Abe" on the web!

A picture from the “Found Abe” portion of the website where users can upload pages, videos, or images of where they “Found Abe” on the web!

NPR, like the Smithsonian, is a cultural institution that packs some serious authority with their name. One curates history,  the other music, but both traditionally target a pretty similar audience. In a new media age, both of these organizations are looking for what NPR calls the “younger, intellectually curious types” to participate, value, create, and engage in the futures of both NPR and institutional museums.

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On a different note, I have a few questions for you all! We all hear the praises of a democratizing collaboration where experts and novices join together. In these more conversations settings  (blogs, comment threads, Twitter feeds) where there is a diffused authority, is there also a lessened responsibility? What standards are curators held to, not only on their personal platforms, but when acting under their organization in a casual context?


Smithsonian “Recruits the World” in new mobile app

The newest version of the Smithsonian mobile guide is just one app out of hundreds dedicating to “putting the Smithsonian in the hands of the people” according to Nancy Proctor, Director of Smithsonian Mobile. The app, not available for the public yet (but the original can be downloaded here), comes in both Android and iPhone platforms and includes features for all events, special exhibits, museum FAQs, and even scavenger style games for museum learning.

I would expect to use this app before I got to the museum to answer questions about photographs, hours, special events going on, etc. I love the idea of a self-guided tour based off your own phone/headphones instead of having to rent one. In terms of usability, I rate this app highly. The filters to search different combinations of museums is great and the sidebar menu is pretty self-explanatory. The “tips and photos” section was more commentary on how people liked the museum than user-generated tips/tricks, so personally I wouldn’t use it for much, however in the “commenting age” it is a good way for people to engage conversationally.

Android main navigational sidebar

Android main navigational sidebar

Comments / Tips page

Share Tips / Comments Page

Design-wise, I understood where to go, how to search, and generally understood the layout and command buttons. However, on the Android-screen, I thought that the four main squares were linked to interesting pages about the facts, not just a visual representation of information.

Android Hompage

Android Hompage

My first major suggestion is about maps. I want more. I want GPS-style maps inside the museums that can take me to the Ruby Red Slippers or Moon Rocks. I envision maps laying out different events, quickest routes to bathrooms, and where I am in relation to other cool exhibits. Currently, the maps feature gives a Google map for the “all museums” feature and just static floor plans for each museum filter. Without being able to zoom in or paw around, it felt stagnant and distant.

The second major critique is that of practicality. I really enjoy the historical information but as a museum-visiting tourist there are far more realistic things that I need to know about… like where the bathrooms are (in combo with a more dynamic map), where the cheapest parking could be found, or best wheelchair accessible areas.

Finally, add an augmented reality feature for Android please!


Spatial Histories: A Layered Look in one Location

Where are we going? Why are we getting there? Where am I coming from? Who else has gone this way? Where were they before? Where are they now?

No, these aren’t just the questions running through my mind and the heads of countless other college seniors in their spring semester on the eve of graduation… these are the questions also asked by spatial historians everyday in the creation of visual representations of spaces across time, across communities, across trends and themes in history.

Richard White in “What Is Spatial History” as part of Stanford University’s Spacial History Project describes the subject by five major indicators. Spacial history is at it’s core collaborative (much like most digital histories and archives are), dynamically visual, dependent on new technologies, continually changing and shifting, and has a defining “conceptual focus on space”. Concerned with movement not time, spacial historians pile on maps and databases to create a layered image.

These layers represent three major types of spacial histories:
spacial practice: movements from one place to another on a micro of a macro scale… think bedroom to kitchen when you’re hungry, house to grocery store when you’re out of food, and the trip that orange makes from Florida to your shopping cart when it’s being grown/produced/shipped.
representations of space: these are the bureaucratic, government organized categories of space. think zoning regulations, city planning, traditional creations of living spaces, etc. White says these spaces “conceive an order to shape what is lived and perceived”.
spacial representations: what bring the movements or spacial practices to life or the whys behind where you went… the symbolic representations of the locations like a church or a school and what defines it.

The map depicts distances to nearest McDonald’s. Throw in layer of available food resources and education, another of economic demographics, and one more with obesity rates… you’ve got yourself some serious social McSpatial history!

Altogether on a single image, you’ve found yourself with a layer for the legitimate zoning of an area, addresses of communities, local events that have taken place, and the demographics of a particular location… looking pretty similar to what Stephen Robertson and crew found in the creation of “Putting Harlem on the Map”

“Nightclubs, Speakeasies and Buffet Flats (Search Places, Location Type=”Nightclub” + Location Type=”Speakeasy” + Location Type=”Buffet Flat”, Digital Harlem, accessed August 10, 2011, http://acl.arts.usyd.edu.au/harlem/)”

Robertson helped create the first real digital geospace- a visualization of the Harlem renaissance including information mainly associated with addresses… think legal information about building permits and ownership, crimes of all sorts, housing demographics, but also social information such as dance halls, speakeasies, political gatherings, parades, etc. The result provided new information about an era that has been widely studied. For example, by compiling all of this seemingly dissimilar information on the basis that it shared a common space, Robertson drew new conclusions about the black community in Harlem, a greater white influence than previously thought, and different racial tensions (white owners of night clubs and private black “buffet flats”, white drivers and black victims of traffic accidents).

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Facts are facts… until you put them on the web…

In terms of advice, Cohen & Rosenzweig’s chapter on “Owning the Past” sure gives some good stuff. When I reading, I found myself asking, But what do you mean copyright law is up for discussion? To me, the law has always seemed fairly black or white. But in an age of new digital histories what used to be periods are now question marks, what used to be only found in libraries accessible with permits and passes is now viewable from a cafe or a couch on a personal computer with a wifi connection. And, as the authors write, “But copyright law, like history, is subject to conflicting interpretations as well as sharp contention between advocates of the rights of the owners of intellectual property and those seeking to enlarge the public domain.”

So does this mean that my cohort of online listeners and I can indulge posting music we enjoy on our blogs, sites like Youtube, or other places? Eh, not exactly write Cohen & Rosenzweig… Instead, most of the framework for copyright law still exists (ex: Fair Use: “the idea that limited borrowing from the work of others was acceptable when that borrowing produces something new and useful”) even though the web provides a new platform.

Though the chapter provides insight into the status of copyright law and ownership on the world wide web, it must be remembered that it was written in 2005… besides electing the first African American President, finishing the Harry Potter movie series, having a Pope die and another resign, and the demigod that is Beyonce spawning a child… a lot has changed since then!

For example, Cohen & Rosenzweig expound on a subject that affects many historians online: facts. They write about the fact that public facts exist in the public domain as facts, not with any add creative integrity or art. Therefore, they are free to use and abuse (well, not really abuse…) at will, with or without the permission of the author or gatherer…

However, in Craigslist v. PadMapper, the online “do good” giant filed a lawsuit against the apartment mapper website claiming copyright infringement for the site and their postings among others. PadMapper was using the postings on Craigslist to create visually friendly maps for users to scope out and find empty digs in the area. The case highlights the ebb and flow of copyright law by asking the question: what is a fact? Is an apartment listing a fact? Or is it a piece of material shaped by the poster? Is Craigslist similar to the phone book in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service (1991)? Padmapper argues that it exists as a new creative way to access the information that Craigslists holds… an argument backed by web developers all over in an attempt to allow search services to keep accessing results from Craigslist.

Similar to the copyright laws it’s disputing, the Craigslist/Padmapper controversy is still up for discussion. However, the end result will undoubtedly shape how companies in the future can use and “free-ride” from the hardwork of others. As Jeff Roberts puts it, the question now has become, “Is it possible to protect companies from unfair free-riding without also also depriving consumers of new innovation?” 


Bringing Brazilian Beats into the Beltway… Batala DC!

Coming up from the L’enfant Plaza metro, the 80 member female drum corp Batala can be heard long before they can be seen. Their signature Afro-Brazilian rhythms pulse through the early Saturday morning air outside Hancock Park in SW DC as passerbys and tourists gather sporadically to watch, take a photo, and tap their feet to the beats.

Batala Washington DC is just one sister band of the International Batala Organization with bands in France, San Francisco, New York, Belgium, and of course, Brazil! Founded in 2007 by 15 members, the band continues to grow their roots in the District and is open to any female interested, regardless of previous musical experience.

Batala is as much a community organization as an international one. They have performed at local universities (including annually at AU), the 9:30 club, the White House, and local festivals and parades. They’ve been invited to play at the Marine Corps Marathon, national Puerto Rico Day, and even at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.