Engaging with the Public at a Small Museum

As noted many times in the blog prior, I am a graduate student at Central Connecticut State University, but what is different now is that I am currently completing an Internship. When it came time to finding an internship I had been very selective of where I wanted to complete my research, and one thing that I found was that I wanted to be some place where I would learn. Upon a long ponder, I found that the smaller the museum the more I would learn. I had found an internship posted on the New England Museum Associations website from a Historic House museum, The Dudley Farm Museum, that I found to be just what I was hoping to be a part of. The internship incorporated everything, and seemed to hold a lot of favor in archives and collections.

This internship has taught me a lot of how to deal with the public, and children (especially this past weekend) when the venue is not dedicated to their age group. This past weekend was Early Guilford Days, a program that included all of the five museums in town with the hopes of bringing in new attendees and possibly their families. Each site hosts an activity that was geared to children and their parents, our site hosted 19th century laundry. Kids came and were given the chance to wash table clothes and towels the same way that their moms would have done in the 1800s. They loved it. Kids were encouraged to get their hands dirty and they learned something. Some kids had so much fun that they wanted to do their laundry that way at home! Of course their parents shot that notion down quickly. They were engaged and excited by what they were learning. We made sure to point out the past verses the present to bring to light how much has changed, and many children as young as four were understanding what we were teaching them. We had children who were around three that were doing the work but not understanding the context which was to be expected.

But excitement grew around noon when it came time to put the farms oxen in the Yoke for their training session. Kids were able to watch one of the Farms volunteers train the two oxen to work with the Yoke. The oxen have plowed the farms and down work to help the farm be maintained. After they watched the oxen at work the kids ran toward the baby lamb, who was being fed by a volunteer who was able to talk to them about the baby. Not many people realize that this Museum is a working Farm run off of volunteers, and many of the visitors were able to see that this museum has so much more to offer the community than being a historic home.

This past weekend I have learned that engaging children in activities that can be turned into a learning experience needs to be one of the main goals of an establishment because then not only can community awareness go up but so can attendance and donations. Many people were donating money on top of paying for admission. They saw us a resource that they could use. We have open fields that we encourage families to come and use, facilities that can be rented for events, and a hiking trail. One of the greatest things this weekend was that we noticed that not only were the kids having fun and learning but the parents were having fun with their children and creating memories that can be taken with them.

Also we learned that there is a certain age group that events like these are geared to. In many cases, that age group is from about 3 or 4 to 12. That young age that is not clouded by immediate boredom present from lack of television or internet.

Overall, community engagement cannot hinder a historic institution because it allows the museum to reach the public and present what they have to offer those who might find those offerings interesting and useful to their lives. Many times people don’t realize that Museums have more to offer than just items collecting dust.

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A Changing Site

As my class has ended, I have come to the realization that I would like to continue this blog but in a manner encompassing more than just Digital History. I am a Historian, a Public Historian, and a Digital Historian. The limitations of this blog being strictly for Digital History have limited my posts.

From this point on posts to this site will be all encompassing. I am hoping to have a more well rounded look into what I am studying as well as what I am doing the Public History sphere. Please bare with me as I make the transformations and continue to follow along for an interesting look into a graduate students understanding of History.

World War One Remembrance in New Haven through Memorials

The time has come to reflect and look back on the First World War. We know it happened and we know that many lives were lost but as time has past we have grown further detached to the war. It was not a part of our lives. There are no living survivors of the war still alive in the United States. But because it is the centennial we look back and reflect on the fight, those who served, and those who died fighting to preserve our freedom.

Yet, how do we recollect the war? We place monuments and plaques in the hopes that someone will read them and learn about the war and its affect on a neighborhood or town. New Haven is no different than anywhere else in the United States. New Haven is a small city, it is full of history and Yale happens to makes up most of downtown. Driving through the city monuments and memorials can be seen frequently, which led me to wonder if any were erected in honor of the First World War.

After a lot of research, it was determined that New Haven has five monuments devoted to World War I. There are three monuments but also two small plaques. Each was put into place to honor a lost soul(s). There had been so much death in the first world war. In many cases, especially in France, an entire generation was killed in action or because of war related illness.

The two plaques are located in small communities in New Haven, one is by Morris Cove and the other is located in Triangle Park. Both were placed by their communities to show their anguish over those in their communities who died. The stone in triangular park reeds “Dedicated to Veterans of WWI, 1914-1918 who were from the 32nd Ward.” The one located in Morris Cove area is posted at the entrance of Lighthouse Park, the stone states “For those lost in WWI, 1917-1918 Not in Vain they Served.” Those simple acts by their community allow us to see how those communities had been affected by the war, their pride and their sorrow evident in their thoughtful dedication.

The three monuments were more prominent in the community. They can be visible while driving through the city or by a simple walk. The three monuments are, the Yale World War Memorial, the Timothy Ahearn Memorial, and the World War Memorial Flagpole. All are meaningful and hold an important light into the war’s effect on the city.

The Yale Memorial is large in size but can only be seen while walking through campus. Located by the dinning hall and library the monument sits in a courtyard of the buildings. Made of limestone, it was dedicated on June 19, 1927, Pillars hold up the  names of the four major battles that American troops had been involved in:. A cenotaph is in front of the pillars completing the memorial which states “In memory of the men of Yale who, true to Her Traditions, gave Their Lives that freedom might not perish from the Earth, 1914-anno domini-1918.”

The Timothy Ahearn Memorial was a monument commissioned under the New Deal’s Federal Art Project to honor a New Haven hero. Timothy Ahearn stepped up to battle in Verdun, leading his comrades after all of his commanding officers had been killed in action. During that battle he even saved a man who was badly wounded. He had passed away in 1925 due to a war related illness. To honor his heroism the statue was erected in his honor. Located at first in West River Park it was moved and rededicated to the corner of Derby Avenue and The Ella T. Grasso Boulevard in order for more people to see the memorial. Two thousand people had attended the monuments including his close relatives. The monument consists of his figure writing for reinforcements to his commanding officer placed on a stone which states “Timothy Francis Ahearn, Company C. 102  US Infantry 26th Division, He best exemplified the spirit of the Yankee Division”

The last memorial, is the most prominent. Located in the center of the New Haven Green is the World War I Memorial Flagpole. The monument’s intent can go unseen from faraway but from close up you can see the importance that the monument held. The monument had been commissioned ten years after the war had ended and dedicated memorial day March 30, 1929. A parade was held and thousands attend the ceremony. It was a moving day as the relatives of two hundred sixty one men who were killed in action sat as honored guests. The memorial consists of a monument and flagpole atop of the stones. Designed by local architect Douglas Orr, the stone holds the names each of those two hundred sixty one men. The stone was seen as “Simple and effective” by the New Haven Register journalist that recalled the dedication twenty five years later.

These memorials are important to a community, they show the impact of an event on a city or neighborhood, and the citizens. As time passes people grow detached from events or people from history because they made little to know impact on their lives. But it is important to still remember those people or events because they show us who we have become. The past has shaped us as who we are and it is important to remember this instances good or bad. So when passing a memorial stop and look for you may find a name on a stone that holds a similar one to your own.

We remember the past through these memorials to be sure we never forget the heroism and horror that coexist in order to preserve our livelihood today. We must try to remember these memorials and plaques, even though some have already been forgotten because it is how we honor those who bravely stood to fight.

Entry #13: Teaching the Digital Humanities

In Todays day and age it is hard to think about teaching without using the Digital Humanities. I have a family member who is a freshman in high school and has difficulty hand writing papers or even using a book for research. The only time she uses the library is for the computers. Everything is done digitally.

As technology advances we become more reliant on those new advances to complete our research and teach our students. I am aware that my introduction to this post makes it seem that I am against using the digital humanities in teaching but that can’t be further from the truth. It is my belief that the the digital humanities should be used as a teaching supplement.

I had read the article for class by Jeff McClurken titled Teaching and Learning with Omeka: Discomfort, Play, and Creating Public, Online, Digital Collections and it had explained to me that there are people out there that, unlike me, are uncomfortable with using the digital world to complete research or even submitting a paper. It adds a level of discomfort by opening up the student to a new realm of presenting their research. They have the freedom to choose how to present their findings. They can be imaginative; something that is not very common in History.

That is partially a reason for the discomfort of the public. There is a set way in the field of history and most of the time that is because the discipline has a strict way of completing research and presenting that work to the public. Historians are easily spooked when you take them out of their comfort zone and that is just what the digital revolution has done. The Web 2.0 has advanced the field of study much to the dismay of many people in the field because they are not used to the accessibility that the internet has created.

It is our duty to teach the forthcoming historians how to use those tools to their advantage because without them there is a chance that their abilities as a researcher will suffer. If they want to be a teacher themselves they need to learn the tools offered in the digital realm because without that knowledge there is a disconnect between the teacher, their material, and the students. There are students in high school that don’t know how to write neatly because a majority of the writing that they do is by typing on a keyboard. I have a cousin who is a freshman in high school who relies on the instant gratification from the internet to gather in formation and create a historical understanding of the past. She does not realize that my generation is the first to have limited access to the tools she has on an iPad during class. The differences between todays ideas of history and technology is vastly different because the two are so interwoven now.

The Digital Humanities are something that teachers need to embrace and teach to the coming generations because it promotes individuality in a field filled with a direct path but also it opens up the doors for different way of understanding the world. Digital humanities allow for a world to connect and understand the past.

Entry#12: Big Data in the Digital Age

There has never been a topic more frightening to me than Big Data. I had gone to the Digital History Workshop at the American Historical Associations annual meeting and attended a session on Big Data. I had known nothing on the topic and information was being shoved down my throat. That session filled me with dread when it came to this weeks discussion.

It wasn’t until this week though that I began to truly understand the benefits of Big Data and how it works. Maybe it was the way the session was held (with me already having an understanding of what Big Data is), that hindered my interest in the topic but now I can see the fun in understanding and using big data. I’ll admit that I sat in class looking at the websites we were discussing on my laptop and played around with the Google-NGram Viewer and used works that I found interesting and even some that dealt with topics from my two other classes. The site is fun to play with because of its simplicity and its purpose. I remember sitting in the workshop session and discussing the importance in seeing when a term begins to be used but also understanding that the term can change meaning over time and that you need to be aware of those changes because the algorithm that picks out the words from the texts is not. It just states when the word is used, with no formal understanding of the texts.

I then moved on to Wordle. The site was interesting, but I could not get the program to function. I began to perceive the site and its purposes as being a simple form of text identification: It was a simple word cloud creation application. I had seen sites similar to Wordle in the past but this site seems to be the creation of people who knew the importance of text mining and tagging. My only issue with the site was that it would not run the program on my macbook. I don’t know if it was a simple glitch on my computer alone, but it hindered my experience on the site.

Big Data is a big topic in History and it is one that should not be ignored because every field of study uses text-mining in some form at some point. Historians need to learn to use the digital revolution to their benefit because it has already made our field more interesting. Big Data allows us to look at trends throughout the world and see the effects of a word in a certain period of time. This is an extremely interesting premise to look at and interpret. The digital revolution has helped the field of historical research get more in-depth and more complex. We need to embrace sites like Google-NGram Viewer and Wordle to help us in our research and findings.

Entry #11: Using Digital History to Understand History

When we study certain topics in history there is a feeling of disconnect. There are points at which we have a difficult time understanding the past because we are not connected to certain events that we try to look at. We look for ways to bring that connection back and one way that is able to happen is through the internet. This blog has talked in lengths about the benefits and disadvantages that the internet has in learning about the past but the different formats of presenting the information on the web allows for an insightful experience.

Looking at different Digital History websites and seeing what they offer, it is evident that there will be a wave in interest in the field of history because the internet offers new and insightful ways of looking at the past. For one, there is the Digital Harlem project. The project is a great tool for people interested in New York’s history, specifically Harlem. The site allows for an individual to put their pasts online for everyone to see. People look at those experiences and are able to look at places and see how things have changed or even just recall their youth. This brings interest to the topic and people are able to relate personally to the past.

The Digitizing Mount Vernon website is another great site for the modern digital historian. The site is a part of the historical site in Virginia, and uses this digitalization of the estate to reach the public that cannot visit the historical site physically. The site renders the plantation into a 3D model that simulate the feeling of being inside the house that the first president had lived in. Through this platform the model is displayed in a format that is pleasing to the eye of the younger generation. The kids that are in high school today are learning to type more so than write their own notes. They spend their lives on a computer and looking at information on the web 2.0. Sites like Digitizing Mount Vernon attracts students of all ages to the site because it is fun and interactive, as well as pleasing to the eyes, and while looking at the site it is hard to see that you are learning while fiddling with the site.

A site that holds a different experience but instigates the same interest into historical inquiry is the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, The purpose of the project is to produce a “digital re-creation of John Donne’s gunpowder day sermon”. This site was first shown to me at the American Historical Association’s conference in a pre-conference workshop on Digital History. The project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is one of the best digital history sites to be produced. The site is full of some of the best virtual recreations that can be found online. If anyone has a few minutes to check out the site it is evident that the site can consume your time because an hour or two later, you can still be looking at the site fascinated by what it holds. The information is invaluable, and recreates a moment in seventeenth-century British History that I had never studied.

Sites like those listed above allow for an expansion of interest in history. They produce more information that is vital to the academic historian but more importantly the information that they feed to the public is absorbed (most of the time with out realization) and create an interest in a topic because of the new and innovative ways that they portray the history. Digital History is an ever changing field an the sites listed above show how those changes have helped create more interested parties.

Entry #10: World War I Project for Digital History

My digital history course is working in conjunction with the Connecticut State Library in an effort to unearth facts about the state and its World War I involvement. There are many different projects that the individuals in class could choose to be apart of. I had a very difficult time choosing which piece of the project I would like to work on. I am a fanatic about digital history and World War I which made it hard to choose.

The class was given numerous project choices including but not limited to working with the Historypin channel for the state initiative, solider/citizen profiles, community profiles, metadata creation, outreach and Digitization events, and lastly memorials. My choice was a difficult one to make but I decided to do two aspects of the project: taking an inventory of memorial in New Haven and gathering their history and metadata creation.

I started on my research for the memorials in New Haven and my findings have been good. I will say that I am a little behind in my research but this week I hope to make strides in the topic. So far I have done basic internet research and sent out an email to the New Haven Museum and Historical Society for any information they may have on the various memorials they have in the city. I am  I still have to find a way to get information on the memorial at Yale. I have to contact Yale archives for information on the memorial.

I would also like to do a solider profile. I would like to do one from my home town or New Haven but I want it to be a name of someone lost to the war lifted off of one of the memorials I have inspected. This project will be an excellent look into the local life during the War and how it impacted the community.

This project is going to need a lot of time to work on in a very limited time frame but it is a challenge I am willing to accept not just because it is a class assignment but because it brings to light information on a war that is generally ignored by the public. The First World War is the most significant war of the modern age, because it bought about many of the advances in warfare.

Entry #9: To Omeka and Beyond!

This week we looked into the use of Omeka; an online tool that helps to make databases and archives online, and available to the public. The site is perfect for institutions to put their collections online and allow the public to see what they offer.

I started fiddling with the site in preparation for this post, and in all honesty, I’m not a big fan. The site is complicated and bulky and limits activity on the site with a free account. Yes most sites do that but Omeka seems to be ultra restrictive with limitation on data and themes as well as the number of sites that can be created under an account. Sites like WordPress offer some limitation but I can create and modify simply with no concern of payment unless I wanted to. Omeka seems to be the opposite, if I want to complete something of good quality I have to pay.

But Omeka has its uses. It is an excellent outlet for the small museum or archive that allows the public access to their collections. Omeka is a complicated site but it can do wondrous things. I has looked snooped around the showcase portion of the site and located a few interesting sites: Heroes and Villains: Silver Age Comics at Atkins Library, Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the turn of the 20th century, and The Land of Penn and Plenty: Bringing History to the Table. All these sites were examples of what the site is capable of doing for an archive or museum.

The sites I looked at were produced on paid accounts, they were much more in depth than the simple sites allowed through a free account. The Comics archive is an look into a topic that is extremely popular to look at now, comics have begun to show their place in history in the last ten years. This archive plays off of that importance and the public interest to gain viewers which is necessary for an archive to gain an audience.

The Gilded Age archive is an excellent site, it is in-depth and offered a look into one of the most well remembered eras of New York’s History. The archive carries many different pieces, mainly fine art, from different locations together into one narrative. The site is like walking through a museum but it contains more pieces than a museum could carry in a single exhibit. It is an excellent example of how Omeka can be beneficial to an exhibit when not everything can be displayed, the audience still can experience the work.

The final site is The Land of Penn and Plenty, this site is a good start, it is the showcase of a smaller institution using the site for their benefit. It is more of a archive of paper than that of collections like the previous two sites mentioned. It gives information and a couple of images as well as some excerpts from resources that the institution has available giving an overview of the land use in Pennsylvania. The site looks like it needs more though, even with the amount of work they do have posted there is something missing.

All in all, the sites listed and explained above are excellent examples of what Omeka is capable of. I may have to explore the site some more in order to change my opinion of Omeka but the site seems worth it. I will continue to attempt to get the site to function for me in a way I can understand because it holds so much value in the public history field. Institutions can set up accounts and show their archives and collections to other people who might find them interesting or useful. Omeka is a resource that the museums need to recognize, especially the little institutions.

Entry #8: Podcasting History and History in the Public

I sat in class last week for the first time unsure of what to say. The head of CCSU’s History department Katherine Hermes lead class discussion talking about historians having a public persona. She hosts a podcast dealing with new books in law and is active on social media sites managing material related to native american legal history. Her presence online is noted and has gained followers and with that she has learned what it is to be a Historian in the public.

With today’s technology it is very difficult to hold a private life online, especially when the internet can help to advance a career and get word out. So being a historian in the public sphere can help but also hurt our careers. It is essential to monitor what is posted on sites like Facebook and twitter, and how we interact on those sites with our audience because one miss step and all our handwork can be worthless. If a historian is to have a public persona it is important to maintain that identity in a professional manner that can not hinder their livelihood, but in a way that can also engage the public.

One way that many historians have now turned to is Podcasting. Podcasting is a form of a radio show broadcasted over the internet instead of the airwaves. Personally, I like to refer to a Podcast as an audio blog. Information can be DC_HH_iTunespacked into a single podcast that can highlight a certain topic while also engaging the publics interest. One of the best podcasts dealing with history is Hardcore History by Dan Carlin. Dan Carlin is able to add great emotion to important historical events while narrating an in-depth look into historical events. His most recent podcasts deal World War I, the five part series is long but completely worth listening to. Carlin talks about almost every possible topic dealing with the war giving a concise history of people, battles, and the home fronts. Hardcore History is an excellent podcast but it is also one that stands alone as a lecture series. There are many different types of podcasts with topics in history.

Another excellent example of a historical podcast is Backstory. A podcast released by the American History Boys, these podcasts feel less like a lecture and more like an experience. The open dialogue between the anchors of the show allows for a NEW_logoforItunes_mediumless formal narration that still relays information to the public. It is an extremely engaging podcast that goes off popular interest that are not always as heavy as First World War, for example the episode titled “The Future Then” deals with the ways in which America viewed the future in the past. Backstory uses a format that is comfortable for the public to listen too, its laid back vibe is more welcoming to a wider audience because its typical podcast fits into a span of nearly a single hour. A single hour is just under the same amount of time it takes to commute into New York from New Haven via train, which many people have similar commutes through out the country, and the world, many of which would enjoy listening to a podcast like Backstory, that is relatable and informative.

With podcastspodcasting there is a need to maintain a public persona that coincides with the persona portrayed on the podcast. It is maintaining that persona that can attribute to an individuals ability to produce trusted interpretation or just information. As historians we hope to educate the people around us on topics that pertain to their lives and a great way to do that is through podcasting but only if we maintain an exterior that will allow for that information to be perceived as good than everything we release into the public must be treated as such.

Entry #7: History and Social Media… Two Peas in a Pod!

History is making its way into today’s web 2.0 culture and it is being more readily available to the public because of said transition. That is to say that in today’s standards for historians is to have an online persona.

I will say that I am at fault for my own online persona as a historian. Prior to taking this class and attending the American Historical Associations annual meeting I did not have a presence on the web in relation to my intended career. I have a twitter, a Facebook, a LinkedIn profile, a tumblr, and other various profiles on other social media sites, but I have not used them to benefit my career. I had never thought of the prospect of putting my own work into the product of the web 2.0. It wasn’t until taking Digital History that I created a blog and posted on a weekly schedule.

I see this blog as a gateway to a better career. For one I can post updates to my research for insight and help when I’m stuck but ultimately having a presence on social media as a historian is beneficial in the long run.

Looking at the sites and profiles that I follow I see a blueprint as to how to run and maintain a presence on social media as a historian. I look at Liz Covart’s twitter as the perfect #twitterstorian profile. She posts frequently giving historical facts as well as using the site as a way to promote her own research.

Twitter_logo_blueI look at other people on twitter for examples of how to promote my own research and what I discover is that just using #twitterstorian can promote your work and help establish a following for not just my twitter but also my blog. Undoubtly, historians look at the hashtag to see what work is being done and click on links. That motion of clicking a link to an article or a blog post can link your research to many people because even though we have social media we still rely on word of mouth for our research to be read by others. By also promoting our research on sites like twitter and Facebook we create an open dialogue with the public talking about the subject and informing the public on something they might not have previously thought about.

Social media is an outlet for everyone but it is a great outlet for historians. Its a wonder why so many historians have not posted on sites like twitter, because the benefits far out way the disadvantages. I may be new to the sphere but the benefits that I have had encourage me to continue with my blog after the requisite time for my class.