It ain’t over

It’s always around November, December that I get this feeling of finality. Of endings, of wrapping up. Part of it has to do with the time of year and January acting as a form of re-set. But it also takes shape in the form of courses. Assignments seem more stressful but there is also a sense of relief once they are done. One thing I am really going to miss at the end of this term is the Digital Public History course. I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now if it weren’t for the course. While it is an assignment I’ve also found it to be a really helpful way to work through concepts and ideas that I have had during the semester.

The digital public history classes have also given me a different understanding of potential. We are constantly learning about technologies and mediums that are relatively unexplored. There was always the feeling that you could make the technologies work for whatever purpose you wanted. I think that is why I had a hard time settling on a tool to use for my final project. Just about everything we covered displayed so much potential. I also think it is why I was initially drawn to Storymaps and why so many of my classmates have chosen to work with this tool. Storymaps is essentially a blank canvas for content but users do not have to worry about html or coding if they don’t want to. In the end you still end up with a product that looks polished and can very easily be educational.

I’m writing about the semester wrapping up because although I will no longer be taking a Digital Public History course I hope I do not lose sight of the things I have learned in it. I am hoping that in the courses I continue to take I will still be thinking of ways to apply that content to different digital technologies. There are also other technologies out there that I have yet to explore and I would like to continue staying up to date on developments and their potential applications. Despite my current struggles with Processing, I hope I continue to explore it as a tool. I feel I have only scratched the surface of what is possible with the platform. But the main thing I have learned from exploring Processing is that expanding your understanding of how it works is really quite easy. The Coding Train is an impeccable resource and I would be so lost without it.

There is really no reason for me to stop learning or stop thinking about these things. I just know that I have a tendency to focus on things that are immediately relevant. And I write this because I sincerely hope that I will not do that.

Mostly, I really hope I keep up with this blog. I may not post very frequently but even once a month I think would help to clear my head. There are times when after doing readings or after discussions I have so many extra thoughts bouncing around in my head. They are not always fully formed and I would like to explore that as well. For my sake I think it is also helpful to have this as an outlet.

Some topics I would like to continue exploring:

  • The body in the museum/institution, how can public history help to ameliorate gaps in accessibility?
  • Environmentally conscious heritage, is it even always ethical?
  • Youtube as a platform for Public History, is it effective? can it reach a wider audience?
  • Songs and collective memory, is there a way this can be manifested into a Public History project?

These are just a few ideas and I have no doubt that next semester will provide me with even more inspiration.

And here’s a song about moving on which is a nice way to look at endings:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E7rUemfC-A
(also because there’s a Fleetwood Mac song for every occasion)

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Social Media and the Institution

Today I thought I would focus on things I have learned while being a Research Assistant at Eldon House. Some of these things seem intuitive but I had not realized exactly how vital they are to operations. And some of my misunderstanding just stems from my own use of different platforms. Specifically social media platforms and how the use of these changes when it is for an institutional purpose.

I have accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter which I check quite frequently. But in terms of posting and adding my own content I am rarely able to post more than once a month. In fact, I often let multiple months go by without adding anything new. This could stem from a few hangups, maybe not feeling like something is interesting enough or up to a certain standard of quality. For my personal accounts the effect is quite harmless. No one is depending on me to post and my followers (i.e. my friends) will be quite supportive of my content if and when it comes out. Based on my social media use I assumed that institutions would be similar. I imagined museums and heritage sites’ posting schedules would be more frequent than mine but not significantly.

I was so wrong! For museums to remain relevant on social media they must have a targeted and consistently adhered to posting schedule. Based on my experience at Eldon House these posts often happen once every couple of days or once a day. And it all must take place across multiple social media platforms. In hindsight, this all makes sense. Institutions don’t necessarily have the emotional draw of friends and family members the same way a personal account does. The account for a museum or heritage site has to stay within view of its followers and contribute something of interest to keep them hooked. While working at Eldon House, I have observed that there are multiple ways to do this. Staying aware of anniversaries and events is a very helpful tactic. If your institution can be interesting in the context of different holidays and events that opens up avenues for many other visitors. Challenges or countdowns can also be very effective. A challenge can provide a sense of anticipation in users who are following closely.

Viewership is another hurdle that museums face. Social media has proven to be a tool that is without (many) barriers. The age of social media users is all over the place which means that posting has to target a wide age gap. I suppose every post does not have to appeal to every person but it would go a ways to keeping your users involved. The question then becomes, how do you appeal to such a varied group? How do you keep language user-friendly and interesting?

I think all these questions are interesting to me because I previously helped run the social media accounts for my Department Student Council during my undergrad. These accounts were targeted at those within the Art History department, who were all around the same age and all engaged in the same activity. The content was mostly memes and reminders of upcoming events. For this particular following the content was fine but if I try and apply that same thinking to an institution it would probably not be well-received.

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 10.04.16 AM
My attempt at making a meme for the Art History DSC

But then you have institutions like the Museum of English Rural Life who receive widespread notoriety through the use of memes on their Twitter page. This use of social media allowed the museum to become relevant to an even larger audience. So I think the reality is that there is no set script for social media use and the institution. But it is clear that a regular posting schedule is essential. I have learned a lot from observing the posting patterns at Eldon House and I would do well to follow a lot of their habits. For now I will rely on my friends and family to give me those precious likes we’re all fighting for.

Before I close I want to touch on some of my final project work in Processing. I’m not going to elaborate too much (because that’s what the essay is for). I have been enjoying working through some of the more difficult aspects of Processing. My product feels like it is mostly aesthetically pleasing and not necessarily educational in any way. So I will be working on that a little bit more. But I thought I would close with some songs that have been helping me as I attempt to process Processing:

A tune for when you start and are feeling good about your work – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZV5tgZlTEkQ

A tune for when you encounter that first error message –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XFfUt7HQWM

A jam for when you’ve lost all sight of what you’re doing –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyquqw6GeXk

And the song that comforts you when you find your way again –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvxagNIBVLU

AR and the Body

The inspiration for this post comes from Helen Papagiannis’ AR Stories site. Papagiannis focuses on AR and its many applications but the article that caught my eye was Augmented Reality Storytelling: The Body and Memory Making. This article examines the ways in which Augmented Reality experiences invoke the body and require the viewer to use their body in order to take full advantage of the interactive experience. The active involvement of the body caused me to wonder how AR can be used as a source for inclusion or exclusion.

In society and in many spaces there are moments where bodies are invoked, sometimes involuntarily. For certain marginalized groups of people the body can become a battleground and a source for prejudiced behaviour. Discrimination against bodies often arises from the gender binary. Whether people fit into this binary or not they can still feel alienated because of it. More and more it is important for spaces and institutions to become non-binary or at least attempt to be. I am wondering if AR can assist in doing this.

AR, as it exists right now, is not exclusively for video games but has been shown to be a useful tool in the future of games. Video games, for a long time, have been seen as a masculine field and pastime. This outlook is fortunately changing and different groups are now taking advantage of gaming and the wide range of stories available to them. But I think it should be noted that AR as a tool for gaming could, by association, potentially be used with a more gendered lens. In this scenario, this application could prove to be exclusionary for many people.

But if I learned anything from our class discussion, it is that AR is still full of possibilities. And I think even when AR is applied to games this does not necessarily limit its potential in any field (including gaming). The body’s presence as a key part of Augmented Reality means you can tailor experiences to involve the viewer but alter their surroundings. By altering a user’s surroundings can we also provide a different perspective? AR on its own is arguably non-binary. It shouldn’t really refer to anything outside of itself. When programs are created using AR do they automatically take on some significance within the existing gender binary? I think you could argue they do as most things in society are currently still defined by typical gendered views/language/etc. But is there a way to take the gendering further and program a wholly masculine-feeling or feminine-feeling experience? Could a user get an understanding of a different existence in the world through programming? Could we strip away gender altogether and program a non-binary experience?

B fernandes
Part of “As One” another project by Brendan Fernandes aimed at animating the museum.

I regrettably don’t have answers to these questions nor do I have ideas for how to program something of this nature. But I wonder how these concepts can be applied to the museum. For many users a museum space can be alienating because of their bodies. This is often due to lack of representation. AR could be able to act as a means of providing representation through user’s interaction with exhibits, artifacts, etc. Through Augmented Reality you could assist user’s in seeing themselves in the museum space. This could be done perhaps in reflecting people within different time periods and exhibit spaces. Interaction with objects could also prove useful. Building off some of the work of Brendan Fernandes in the exhibition Lost Bodies, user’s could animate or re-animate the objects. We have often talked this semester about what is lost when artifacts are put behind glass or on the wall, never to be used. Could AR be used to re-animate the objects and give them use again without fear of damage? I think this particular avenue would depend upon the object as I do not know what the ethics are surrounding a digital recreation of something that had a past life or spiritual significance.

I have no idea how viable any of these options are and I think a lot of institutions are already doing things similar to this. But it’s really exciting to see where AR started and where it has to go.

Today’s song doesn’t really have to do with the above, it’s just what I like listening to:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3KXCn7Kha0

An Intro to Processing

This week we had the opportunity to explore Processing in our digital public history class and I am extremely stoked on it. Before exploring this software my understanding of coding was very abstract and something that I absolutely never thought I would be capable of. I am a visual learner and have always had to work very hard at grasping more advanced mathematical concepts. So in my mind coding was never something that would be accessible to me.  The format of Processing has completely shifted my perception.

Processing, as is explained on its website, is a software that is aimed at designers and visual creators (for lack of a better term). The language is extremely easy to follow in the context of a digital medium or platform and I was amazed by how much could be produced with the knowledge of simple commands. Before our scheduled class this week we were instructed to download the software and go through some of the introductory modules if we were interested. I attempted a good portion of the tutorial and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The videos in the Hello Processing module are easy to understand are explained very clearly. It is hard to explain how it felt to input some basic commands, and lines of code and see a result appear before me. I couldn’t believe creating something, even something basic, on a canvas felt so easy. Below I will include a screenshot of one of my first Processing Tests.

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 10.34.09 PM.png

While this test was just aimed at trying out the commands and doesn’t serve any functional purpose it felt like an accomplishment. I should add that I am still impressed that even something like this looks visually interesting even though all I coded were the shapes, colours and attached the motion to my mouse.

These tests were also helpful when it came time for our class where we began to work on more complicated projects. During class we once again started with the basics with the goal of working up to creating maps. The idea was that maps could be potentially helpful in the context of our final project in the course. This more advanced side of Processing was still very legible and intuitive. I should mention that we did not come up with the commands for map making on our own. We were very fortunate to have the assistance of Devon Elliot, without whom, I’m sure we all would have been quite lost. Devon was so helpful at explaining the function of commands along the way and pointing us to extra resources.

Considering that I was blown away by that first test imagine how I felt seeing a map of Canada on my canvas that also included coloured points for a list of Historic Sites. I am still floored. Truly, I never thought these things were this accessible and I would suggest that anyone who is curious play around with it.

I am now trying to think of ways that I can apply Processing to my final project. The main motivation behind using Processing for this would be because I enjoyed it so much but I am concerned that I do not have the skill level required to do what I want (yet?). My original plan was to work with Storymaps through GIS, another platform I really enjoyed exploring. For my proposed project Storymaps is probably a better fit but I am not quite ready to give up the Processing dream. My final project is centred around juxtaposing landscapes, as articulated by different cultures at different historic times, with the actual landscape, as seen on a map. Storymaps would be an ideal tool for creating this but I wonder if there isn’t some way to use Processing as well. More updates to follow.

Above is an example of the content that would be enhanced by Storymaps or Processing in the final project. I am going to link the Hello Processing tutorial as I have already linked Processing above.
http://hello.processing.org/

And here is an ode to Processing and my attempts to make it work for my final project:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PueK3Jz–r8

Public History and Environmentalism

A few experiences over the past couple weeks have left me seeing various connections between Public History and a lot of environmental movements. This has left me wondering, is Public History inherently environmental?

I recognize that this is a bit of a broad categorization to make. Many disciplines are also partially environmental or attempt to use this lens to in relation to research. Part of Public History’s environmental link could just have to do with those doing research but I think there is more to it than that.

One area where I believe environmentalism can be seen is in the prevalence of walking tours. Walking tours act as a way to introduce groups to a different side of a community or city by foot. The subjects of walking tours vary, with haunted walks being very popular and available in many different places. Tours offered by The Haunted Walk are quite well-known and available in many cities. Walking tours are not just a way to learn about ghost stories. Under-represented histories and alternative histories can also be placed in the spotlight through a walking tour. The experience of a walking tour is often aimed at providing the audience with something they cannot experience inside an institution. These tours look at buildings and sites that were used in one context before and often have a different purpose at the time of the tour. A walking tour is an important public history tool because of its ability to engage groups who might otherwise not be interested in learning these histories.

Walking tours are also environmental because of the nature of their structure. Visitors gain access to the stories by foot and by physically walking to the areas. This method of transportation is obviously lacking in harmful gas emissions but it also provides visitors with an understanding of history that is accessible through other means. The tour can act as a starting point for showing people historic sites that might be hidden within their surroundings. Walking can cause people to notice plaques and monuments that are not obvious when driving a vehicle. This mode of transportation also allows people the freedom to stop and engage with what they find along the way. These tours are also often free from the hassles of parking. While it is not unlikely that patrons might drive to the starting point of the walking tour depending on the location they might look into other options. Many tours take place near or in the downtown of cities and communities. With parking being expensive or hard to find patrons might be encouraged to take a bus to the tour thus also reducing their carbon footprint.

Recently, when walking around my hometown of Ottawa, I was surprised by all of the different monuments along the way. Many of these monuments I had never seen, partially because I have perhaps not explored my own city as much as I should have. Another reason why I had not seen these sites has to do with accessibility. I have driven around these areas countless times but only had time to observe and interact with the spaces when I was walking.

Beyond walking tours, the trip we took to the Oil Museum of Canada also had me thinking about environmentalism. I was shocked to find that the oil spring that the museum sits on is home to many hiking trails. The trails act as a way of preserving the natural ecosystem, which includes lots of different species. In a seemingly unlikely place we still see an impressive example of preservation. I think this speaks to the potential that heritage spaces have, as agents of eco-friendly efforts.

These are just a few examples of how environmentalism can be linked to Public History. I think a few of these present difficulties for accessibility, whether that is based on the price of a walking tour or mobility issues. There are also definitely many other applications beyond just what institutions and companies are capable of but this is what has been on my mind over the past little while.

In honour of all things green, another tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8yQuivSEio

Exploring Omeka

For a few weeks now I have been interested in looking deeper into Omeka and the way that the site works. The site is listed as a platform that can be used to create digital exhibitions and showcase pieces within a collection. With a rainy night in store I felt it was a good time to sign up for a free trial and see where it takes me.

My original thought was that the site was aimed at a wide range of users from museum professionals to members of the public wishing to catalogue their own objects of significance. After looking more closely at the exhibitions on “Showcase” it is clear that the platform hosts mainly professionals in the museum field as well as academic researchers, both students and teachers.

I do not possess the rights to any primary source information that I have done extensive  research on. My experiment is therefore going to be a bit different from the examples that Omeka provides. The sign up itself is relatively straightforward and within a matter of minutes I was staring at a blank page with a prompt reading “add site.” This prompt takes you to a page requiring a subdomain name as well as a website title and description. With the knowledge that I would (hopefully) be able to edit later I settled on the title: With a Little Help from My Grandparents. In trying to think of items of significance that I could possibly use as source material, I realized that many of my family heirlooms are in fact primary sources. So I now have sample material to post about thanks to my grandparents’ impressive record keeping.

I then set about trying to edit and customize the website. Given that I am only using a trial version my options are a bit limited but there were still some decisions to be made. Similar to many blog hosting sites you can edit the header and icon photo and add in more descriptions.

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 9.20.19 PM
My Omeka page with a test header image added in.

The editing process for the base look of the site was easy to understand and this extended to the adding of content as well. In order to add content you have to add new “Items.” I think I take things quite literally so I added a physical item but the criteria could clearly be used in reference to written documents, photographs and the like. The item I used as a test is an old Singer sewing machine given to me by my grandmother. I had to fill out many sections about the title, topic and creator of the object, as well as the provider. The website provides you the opportunity to really go into detail about what you are posting and I barely scratched the surface with the information about my object.

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 10.09.22 PM
Entry for the sewing machine listed on my dashboard.

Ideally, I would have added a photo to accompany my description and the website makes it very easy to accomplish this task. Surprisingly, an old sewing machine is not at the top of the list of items you need for grad school. So the sewing machine sits comfortably at my family home and a photo will have to wait for another time. One of the reasons I wanted the photo was for the opportunity to create something that felt more like an exhibit. Many of the examples I looked at were even more compelling because they featured images of the source material (letters, photographs, etc.)

I am still coming back to my original perception of Omeka and it makes me think about the types of platforms I would like to see online. My ideal method of cataloguing or posting about my grandmother’s sewing machine would be within a more communal space. I wonder if there would be an audience for an Etsy or Pinterest formatted website where users could instead post their own records of historical significance. The website would not have “like” or “sell” options because of the hierarchy that would create. This tool could also present some problems for archives with people believing that their records are already immortalized. But I also wonder if this maybe already exists? Would love to hear from anyone if they know of something like this!

Lastly another song, with a title that relates nicely to family objects, the rest of the song less so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZamEcNgtw4o
(The version done by Naked Eyes may be more popular)

 

Out of the frying pan

…and into the fire! I think Tolkien accurately sums up the transition from undergrad to graduate studies with this chapter title from The Hobbit. Fortunately I have this blog which provides me a space to catalogue my experiences as a graduate student within the MA Public History Program at Western. I am Henrietta Roi and I am originally from Ottawa. I graduated from Queen’s University in 2018 with my BAH in Art History. Outside of school I worked as an interpreter at Fort Henry National Historic Site and volunteered with the Kingston Association of Museums. This experience allowed me to be introduced, albeit unknowingly, to the field of public history.

I am comforted in knowing I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed and that this is quite a common occurrence. But I also know I will need a space to visualize my ideas and physically write out how I am feeling as I approach certain projects. The prospect of undertaking projects that involve actual community interaction has me extremely excited.

Now that I am beginning my studies it seems that public history is inescapable. One aspect of the discipline I had not considered until looking over course options was digital public history. Once again, I feel I have interacted with digital public history in various ways unknowingly. For example, in December 2017 I was able to watch the Halifax Explosion as re-created by CBC in a 360 video (Link below). The experiment was an interesting way of re-examining the event in a digitally legible format. Now that I am beginning my courses I realize that compatibility is an increasingly big issue within the digital public history sphere. In the case of this video I ended up watching it because my parents were trying to watch it and could only get it to work on my computer.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSuX9RvLq54

One thing I hope to be able to integrate is my Art History background. I am already sure that it will assist me in a few areas of study as I am sure I will explain later. The digital public history course also consists of a few creative projects so I am looking forward to those as well. Luckily, there is also the McIntosh Gallery on campus that I have already had the privilege of visiting and am sure I will visit again.

As a way to wrap up this week I will leave you with a tune that sums up my initial feeling of being overwhelmed as I look towards what I’m sure promises to be an exciting year:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYQFTbLKNcg