Making a Public Commons

Hi all! I know this is coming in late, so I’ll be brief:

Recently, I was asked to think about how a museum could go about building a public commons — a digital project that would give museum staff and its surrounding community the ability to share news, jointly contribute objects & stories, and curate online exhibitions. I’m wondering if anyone coming to Pensacola this week is working on a similar project, or is interested in talking about both the kinds of technology (web-based platforms, CMS, etc.) and the strategies this kind of project would require.

Digital historical interpretation + representing/explaining the historical process

I come to the THATCamp as a novice in the field of digital history, so even just learning the basic lingo and hearing about the range of others’ projects will be new and useful information for me.  I do however have two areas of particular interest that led me to sign up for the workshop:

 1.  Using digital software & applications as tools for the public interpretation of specific histories.

 What kinds  of digital software, applications, or other products are being used/can be used to interpret particular histories for the public?

  • What are their basic features and how do they work?
  • What are their relative strengths/weaknesses and possibilities/limitations for use in interpretive projects? 

 Application in my own work: 

I am particularly interested in applying digital tools to the interpretation of contested histories; indigenous, colonial, and postcolonial narratives; multidisciplinary explorations & interpretations of place; and intersections between local and global histories. 

Currently I’m interested in how the past is being interpreted & represented in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and how historical understanding might work either to perpetuate or mitigate social divisions since the end of the Troubles.  I’m especially interested in how Irish, Ulster, Northern Irish, and local histories are represented in Belfast’s public places and mapped onto the landscape of the city.  

More proactively, I want to explore how historians, community leaders, and artists in Belfast might work to reinterpret their collective past and reimagine their historical identity in ways that complicate & contextualize the simplistic & divisive narratives that have dominated public historical understanding … and how they might insert & embed such re-imagined histories & identities into the public spaces and public life of their city.  

I’d like to know what kinds of digital tools and applications might facilitate such a project.  Tools involving various kinds of mapping, layering of data, and mobile access seem especially relevant, but there might be others I’m not aware of.

  2.  Using digital tools to represent the process of historical interpretation itself, and to educate students and the public about the practice of history. 

It seems to me that digital software & applications might also provide powerful tools for representing the nature of the historical process itself, to students in our classrooms as well as to public audiences.  Trying to describe foundational concepts of historical analysis and key aspects of historical practice through words alone (whether written or spoken) has its limitations.  So I wonder, how might digital history help us, as history educators, to represent and explain: 

  • the nature of historical context … and the practice of contextualization
  • the multiple experiences of, and perspectives on, any single historical event
  • the selectivity, partiality, & incompleteness of historical evidence … the practice of analyzing & interpreting primary sources … and the process of constructing historical narratives
  • the complex relationships of historical cause & consequence
  • the interrelationship of political, economic, social & cultural forces within processes of historical change 

When I try to explain such concepts & practices to those who are not professional historians, I find myself resorting to drawings and metaphors of things like overlapping circles, layers, and lenses.  I’d like to find some digital tools that might help represent and explain the historical process in more compelling & enlightening ways for those who don’t understand it. 

I’m looking forward to meeting and working with everyone next week!

— Julie Davis, Asst. Professor of History, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University

Mobile WebApp Framework for Walking Tours

I posted this as a comment on the original post about “we want your ideas”, but that sort of got buried, so I’ll repost and add to it:

“Hand-held computing and historical walking tours/podcasts: How can we provide a platform independent multimedia experience that can be easily adopted by historic sites and towns?”

I would like to exchange ideas and experiences people have had creating mobile apps (iPhone, Android, or a more generic WebApp) for creating walking tours. When I have students work on walking tours right now, we tend to simply create downloadable podcasts and use the cover art function to display photos or maps. This works relatively well, but I have been wondering if there was a way to make this more dynamic. I’d also like find a way that this approach could be adopted at a low cost for museums to use within an exhibition.

Some background: Last May I was in Erfurt Germany and visited the new Jewish museum, which had an excellent walking tour of the exhibit that used iPod Touches in the place of an audio wand. The problem for me, however, was that it was clearly a “hacked” iPod app – or some sort of magic that I am unaware of that does not allow you to ever access the home screen. The app was “locked” in a sense. I looked up the company that designed the app and it is an entirely proprietary product that they create for museums. As such, it would be a large financial investment for smaller museums and historical societies that would like to offer such tours.

I know that there are others interested in mobile apps (or off-the-desktop-computing as the current turn of phrase is) and wouldn’t mind combining my interests here with others who are also interested in all things mobile.

Mapping history & Digital Public History


I’m looking for what I missed in THATcampFlorence last week: an atelier about how mapping history data’s with open access layers and free programs. With Google Map/Earth ? Using Maptiler ? Using Georeferencer from new mapsto old maps and vice-versa ? Creating Maps with batch geo Looking at openly accessible historical layers ? Where ? Anywhere on the web ? Idea is not only to place historical data’s within a proper historical map but to buil historical maps where to embed multi-media documents, texts, sources and compare with different periods. What about this web site: ? Are they similar scholarly examples for US History different from the use of maps within Valley of the Shadow for example, the war of secession has been scholarly mapped in digital histopry projects for example ?

Another interest would be to define more precisely the concept of Digital Public History looking at what Digital History is about: what would caracterize digital PH which would not be part of Digital History as such ? Should we use what we could say between Public History and History and apply it to the digital world ? I quote here Dan Coen’s blog defining -shortly- Digital Humanities. I substituted only the word Humanities by History. ( construed, digital history is the use of digital media and technology to advance the full range of thought and practice in history, from the creation of scholarly resources, to research on those resources, to the communication of results to colleagues and students. Should we adress it the same way replacing history by “public history”  ? Any conceptual framework, literature to look at all together ?

Serge Noiret,

Thinking Mobile

Am coming to NCPH this year to talk about Cleveland Historical, a smart-phone app we’ve developed at the Center for Public History + Digital History. It sits atop modified Omeka install that has been tricked out in a bunch of nifty ways. CH1 is available now for iPhone; download Cleveland Historical, it’s free.

Actually, the app is only a small part of our story–the digital in the humanities. As we’ve developed the project, we’re exploring the dynamic process of digital (his)storytelling in mobile environments. For almost a decade now, we’ve fancied our work (oral histories, web exhibits, community festivals, and street-based kiosks) as exploring the dynamic ways urban historians can curate cities. What we’ve discovered in mobile is an entirely different dimensionality, one that is hard to comprehend if you’re *not* mobile, and, not so surprisingly, most of us aren’t when we’re exploring mobile sites. But, I digress

CH2 (version 2) is imminently available (perhaps full iPhone version for conference and beta Android release) for iPhone and Android, will have social networking functionality, and enhanced tours, as well as a lovely companion website.

If you have an Android phone, by the way, and want to see the Android alpha at work, it is pretty robust, though the design elements aren’t fully in place, let me know. I will happily email it to you.

Cleveland Historical is the first instance of a broader vision, that we’re calling Mobile Historical. (Nobody has yet talked me out of that name just yet, though our design firm is testing alternatives, I’m told (and those CHNMers have cornered the Swahili market.))  We’re moving toward an open-source and/or hosted version of Mobile Historical for the fall and are working with some professional communities (scholars and museums) interested in beta testing and helping us work out the kinks.

THATCamp offers a great place to get some really sharp insights about the marketplace of needs and uses.  Also a great chance to talk about some of the intellectual challenges we’re facing in other projects at the intersection of Public History + Digital Humanities, which I will write under a different post.

At the moment, I am contemplating pulling some images off of Panoramio, taping myself asking questions, and building a quick interpretive (or more like multimedia question) walk of Pensacola, perhaps as a demo of how easy Mobile Historical will be for students and communities.

The challenge, it turns out, is both the technology and the conceptual reframing of public history in mobile spaces.

EDIT: So, as my own way of testing, I quickly added a couple narratives (too rough to be stories, more like a historical invasion) about Plaza Ferdinand and St. Michael’s Cemetery. If someone was up to it, we could take our phones and head out into the city and encounter some landscapes, take photos, and record ourselves–and create a couple new sites, thus curating together??? Very much an unconferency thing to do!

Digital history for Civil War medicine

Erin McLeary and I are working on a long-term exhibit on Civil War medicine in Philadelphia, which will open at the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 2013.  The exhibit, titled “Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia,” will take a broad view of medical care and bodily experience during the conflict.

We are investigating innovative ways of presenting material on a website and perhaps also via smartphones, though we have a limited budget.  The exhibit space itself cannot easily accommodate computer kiosks, though we are planning to continue using guide-by-cell tours, which have proven popular at the museum.

A few potential projects:

1) Using technology to explore myths versus facts

I recently chaired a session on medicine at a symposium on the public history of the Civil War at North Carolina State University.  One of the speakers in a session about Lincoln made the point that dull facts cannot displace colorful or emotionally charged myths; you need to give visitors better stories than the ones they walked in with.

For our topic, the myth that injured soldiers “bit the bullet” to undergo amputations is particularly intractable.  In fact, anesthesia (ether or chloroform) was almost universally used for surgeries in both North and South, and the great majority of surgeons were not untrained hacks.

We’d like to consider constructing an interactive website or smartphone application that would enable visitors to investigate the myth of “biting the bullet” and to access compelling, true first-person accounts of anesthesia and surgery, told from different points of view (surgeon, patient, nurse, etc.).

2) Using technology to link the past and the present

In our medicine session at the NC State symposium, George Wunderlich, Director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., spoke about how the museum interprets the many aspects of current medical care that originated in the Civil War period (for instance, organized ambulance services and emergency room protocols).  This is an approach to medical history that particularly resonates with present-day military doctors and other medical professionals.

We would like to find ways to help visitors of all sorts to make these kinds of connections between now and then.  On a website, for instance, we could show a period image of a wartime field hospital or general hospital, then overlay it with present-day images and explanations of the war’s medical legacy.  The challenge will be to tell gripping stories rather than simply presenting facts.

3) Using technology to build research archives

We are also interested in exploring low-cost, relatively fast ways of building rich, easy-to-access archives of documents and images for further research and study.  Since the Civil War inspires so much detailed historical and genealogical research by amateur historians/lay scholars, there should be ways to make the sources we’ve used to construct the exhibit publicly available to them. Such an archive could also be useful for teachers and students. Ideally, the archive should also let visitors add their own materials (or links to materials) and their own annotations.

We welcome your comments and suggestions!

Looking for female roommate for Tuesday

Hi all,

I hope it’s appropriate to post this here – my conference roommate and I have just realized that we got a day out of sync with our hotel room planning, and I find myself needing to figure out accommodation for Tuesday night, when I’ll be arriving late.  I can extend my existing booking at the Crowne Plaza for that night, but would prefer to split the cost if I can.  Are there any other female THATCampers who would like to share a room that night?  Alternatively, is there anyone who already has a room but would like to share the cost for one night?

If so, please email me at cstanton[at]  Thanks!

What Cathy said!

I also posted this as a “comment” on Cathy’s post, but suddenly wasn’t sure if I needed to be logged in to post it that way (which I wasn’t).  So, sorry for the repetition, but this is a response to Cathy’s post:

Cathy, I have seen some exciting things done with Google Maps/Earth API to create the kind of thing you are talking about (not that I know, really, how to do it), but we might look at some of the possibilities together:

Also, did you see this site dealing with visual depictions of what was there in the past?

An online public history portal

I’ve got a million and one things to do before the conference, so I hope you’ll forgive me for keeping this short and sweet!

I’m interested in talking about how we can create a sustainable and accessible online community site for public historians to gather and share resources and to discuss public history practice. In this session I’d like to: 1. Figure out if there is broader interest in this idea, 2. Discuss out what platforms would work best to foster that community and allow for wide participation (a group blog? a wiki? something else entirely?), and most importantly 3. Discuss how we might get this off the ground and make it sustainable. I’m looking forward to having some great discussions with you all on Wednesday!

History disasters

Recently we’ve seen number of natural disasters with heritage casualties as well as human ones, but it’s been hard to find and keep up with information about what’s happened and how we might help.  And when history organizations face a disaster, how can we best get the word out about what’s happening and what help we need? Let’s talk about how better to gather and share public history institution disaster info.

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