Digital History PSA: On May 21st, the Atlanta History Center will be live-blogging the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917.
The Center for Public History & Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University has developed a mobile app (appropriately named Cleveland Historical) stocked with historical tours of the city. Each of the app’s 20 tours guides users through “layered, map-based, multimedia presentations” that include historical photos, interpretive text, and even videos. This kind of walking tour eliminates the need for volunteers or scheduled tours, allowing any smartphone user to explore the city at their own convenience and pace. Not only that, but the app connects to social media sites so users can connect with the various establishments involved and update their friends with sweet, sweet historical tidbits.
The app offers tours on a variety of topics allowing users to tailor their experience to whatever appeals to them at the moment. Visitors to Cleveland might take advantage of “Libraries, Archives, & Museums” or “Music History & Venues” while history-buff residents might be drawn to a more in-depth examination of their city’s development in tours like “Civil War”, “Conflict”, or “Cleveland Food Traditions”. Whatever topic users choose, they will participate in a digital narrative of the city. Maybe a skilled and passionate tour guide could recreate a version of these tours with copies of photographs and a knack for dramatic interpretation, but the collection and presentation of these materials in a digital format does the job much more elegantly. The wealth of information about the city that is available in the app makes the narrative flow well, and the addition of multimedia historical resources keeps users engaged and interested.
Though Bryan Alexander outlines several of the key issues facing augmented reality (design flaws, geolocation complexities, bandwidth caps, intellectual property concerns, etc.) in his book The New Digital Storytelling, Cleveland Historical appears to be successful. The app is available for free for both iPhone and Android users, making the history as accessible as possible for any who knows it exists.
The Theodore Roosevelt Center recently launched their completely redesigned website. Working with an outside web development company, the TRC increased their site’s functionality as well as visual appeal. Now, each part of the site is easily accessible, important information is highlighted on the homepage, and visitors can go directly to the digital library–one of the TR Center’s most valuable collections. The scrolling bar across the top calls attention to recently changed parts of the website and can be easily updated by staff members. Maybe it’s because I had to navigate their old site and know the incredible improvements they made, but the redesigned version is one of my favorite websites created for a historical institution.
Online archives and databases are, largely, ugly. It’s true. Anyone who has spent significant time searching through pages and pages of results knows this. One thing I truly appreciated in the website update was that the overall aesthetic of the homepage transferred to the Digital Library. Again, this part of the website is easily navigated and incredibly user friendly.
(Screen shots link back to their live website.)
Umberto Boccioni, F.T. Marinetti, and Gino Severini hit 1.21 gigawatts across Giacomo Balla’s 1914 painting, Mercury Passing Before the Sun.
Flickr has a clear objective of making the process of sharing photos easier and faster, but my favorite components are the curated photosets pulled from various users. Maybe Flickr pulls photos at random from the multitudes that are posted every day, but the “Interesting Photos from the Last 7 Days” provides an interesting glance at the world in one click. If you’re not happy with the results, you can reload for another “interesting” set.
After reading a number of articles about virtual reality and its potential value for the museum world, I found myself wondering about the nature of museums themselves. Maurizio Forte–after exhausting his readers with jargon-packed musings on the “ecology of the Virtual” (brave his article Ecological Cybernetics, Virtual Reality, and Virtual Heritage if you want an explanation)–posits that museums already act similarly to Virtual Realities. He suggests that by taking artifacts out of their original contexts, museums become neutral, social spaces where visitors can develop their own understanding of the objects. Although historians and curators attempt to provide as much historical context and cultural information about the pieces in their collections, the museum gallery inherently provides a different setting in which visitors will observe and scrutinize artifacts.
What do you think about the museum as a supposedly neutral space? Do you think virtual reality could enhance your museum experience by providing a different sort of context for artifacts?
The New York Public Library has posted a series of old stereographs turned into animated gifs. You can make your own or view the collection at their website.
This week’s #HIST479 assignment: lurking (on Twitter).
I capitulated to the forces of Twitter roughly two years ago, and lurking has largely defined my Twitter activity since that day. I’m a pro. Sometimes I lurk so well I even convince myself that @kelseywa doesn’t exist. To date, I’ve averaged about .71 tweets per month. That number drops to approximately .17/month if you exclude replies and retweets about the official suggestion to omit the Oxford comma (I have feelings about this.) In an attempt to actually find some use in Twitter, I’ve purged the list of people I follow and added a number of cultural institutions, archives, and professional groups. #oxfordcommaforever
After a few days of actually checking Twitter, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information posted. It seems like following more than a handful of organizations and/or people means there’s no way to keep up with the announcements, conversations, and links to blog posts or articles. Tweetdeck was definitely helpful in cutting this down to a manageable amount from the accounts and topics most interesting to me, but that only seems to take me farther from the original idea of Twitter. In fact, it made me want to eliminate 90% of the people I follow so that my newsfeed reflected the condensed version I’d created elsewhere. My primary complaint is that so few tweets seem to be content intended for Twitter. The homepage reads like a heinously abbreviated RSS feed. I understand that it’s tempting for institutions to treat Twitter as a series of links back to their “real” websites due to the platform’s immense popularity, but it’s all too easy to ignore these posts in the mire of the feed. The institutions that have actually drawn my attention are those that, instead of constantly directing me elsewhere, embrace the 140 character limit and share quick thoughts on their subject.
While I think I’m stepping back from Twitter for a while, I have come to appreciate its value as an avenue for announcements and a source of interesting reads on a slow afternoon. I’m not sure that’s using the platform to its fullest potential, but it does provide an easy way to get a number of different perspectives on any given topic (#owls #publichistory #election2012 #dubstepcat…for example).
The stereoscope–something most of us might be more familiar with as the View-Master 3D–inspired debate over the truth of vision and what exactly it is that our eyes perceive from the world around us. Debuted in the early nineteenth century, the device brought scientists, photographers, and countless others into the discussion of optics, vision, and what it means to observe the world. In her article, From Phantom Image to Perfect Vision, Laura Burd Schiavo traces the stereograph’s influence on the argument that human eyes can observe objects as they exist, but her analysis of the device expands far beyond the stereoscope itself into a commentary on the supposed neutrality of media in the historical record and even scientific inquiry.
The mid-nineteenth century preoccupation with vision and optics affected much more than the scientists interested in the mechanics of sight. Artists and photographers alike began to assert their own versions of truth in vision, and the public had clear opinions on the debate. An emerging group of Impressionists (and their numerous progeny) painted in a style they imagined to be a more realistic representation of the world because it captured the process of seeing. Photographers of the age claimed to capture unmediated images from the real world–a product to which the public responded favorably.
The first stereoscopes, scientific and technical pieces of equipment, gave rise to doubt and uncertainty that the world existed as one perceived it. This new medium allowed for the manipulation of images to create something that did not really exist and, as a result, “challenged the equivalence of the exterior world and the retinal image.” Suddenly one could not trust that the image he perceived actually existed that way in nature.
After commercial photographers adapted the stereoscope to use their photos instead of basic drawings, they popularized, packaged, and displayed the newest technology at London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition. This updated format and audience played directly into photography’s supposed complete accuracy of representation. This presentation even took the argument one step further, completely opposing the stereoscope’s technical origins and roots in questioning the concept of visual truth:
The parlor stereoscope and its views enacted a confidence in vision and in the transparency between the object and its representation.
Schiavo examines the stereoscope’s transition from obscure technical tool to popular parlor toy in light of its changing meaning to question the neutrality of new media in the historical record. She argues that as mediums such as these become pervasive cultural elements with their own invested meanings, they can no longer act as “technologies through which empirical truths are revealed.” While well-documented in the case of the stereoscope, I’m not quite sure how applicable this is to (my very inadequate conception of what is) contemporary new media. I’m interested to see if this kind of analysis becomes more valuable as the semester continues and we discuss other aspects of new media.
Hi, my name is Kelsey, and I never knew college without Facebook. From the moment Twitter began, I was constantly aware of the 140-character updates on the minutia of my friends lives. In high school, I could read their (probably-all-too-personal-to-be) online journals. Now skype, gchat, and blogs play a large part in keeping me connected to friends and family across the country. Social media has, for better or worse, acted as a major mode of communication for what seems like a ridiculous portion of my life. Then sometimes I think: I’m only 22–maybe it’s ridiculous that I didn’t have a web presence before I hit double-digits (AIM by age 8, a MySpace by 12, and a LiveJournal/Tumblr by 14 as seems to be the norm. That is, if you don’t count your parents posting sonogram pictures on Facebook as having a web presence.)
As pervasive as social media has been in my life, I never really considered what it could mean beyond immediately knowing what my friends were eating and just how delicious it looked until I started looking for jobs near the end of college. Museums, archives, historic sites, and professional societies that interested me maintained blogs and twitter feeds that actually posted things I wanted to see. Online exhibits from the West Coast made material available to me that I’ve yet to make time to visit in person. A digital archives initiative in North Dakota employed me as I traveled between Chicago and suburban Georgia for a few months last year. The professional possibilities of new media are astounding, but my exposure to current trends is severely limited.
All this is to say that I’m interested in using new media in ways that will contribute to the field and continue to make history and its stories available to a wider, more global audience. I cannot, however, promise that I won’t document the world’s most perfect fried green tomato sandwich should it find its way to my plate.