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.

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 #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 #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.

Entry #6: The Age of Jstor and the Push for Free Scholarship

In the last twenty years the internet has helped to spread knowledge. And as that knowledge has spread the people who use the information, have begun to demand that the works online be available to all for free.

I find myself thinking about the idea of free information from two view points: The historian, who hopes to be published, and the Graduate Student, too poor to afford the access to todays scholarship after I complete my program. The Uni’s library is the the only resource I have to complete research and once my student tenure is over, I lose that access.

I read Roy Rosenzweigs’ article published in Perspectives on History, titled Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?, and the article made me think that no one has a clear idea as to whether or not the work of the Historian should be free. The two sides of the argument are that the historian aims for their work to be published but if the information was to be available to the public at no cost, how would the works be published. It costs money to publish the articles and books that historians work so hard to complete, and publishers rely on the profits to pay for the costs. Yet, the benefits of public scholarship is the chance for the expansion of the scholarship. People feed off of the information that they are fed. If we make more scholarship available to the public, one major benefit comes to my mind: more research. The thirst of knowledge, especially those who have extreme interest in the topics they are reading, tells the mind to continue the search for better findings.

Looking into the idea of free scholarship it can be determined that making the work of professional historians available to the public is not a plausible idea. For one, most of our work is on topics specified for people holding similar backgrounds to our own. At most points the public holds no interests in the topics that we may find relevant.

There would only be a few fields of study that would benefit from open access to scholarship and that is the sciences. People who are out of the academic realm that hold jobs pertaining to an ever-changing practical field. History is a field of interpretation, and scholars who would find the information useful in articles typically have access through their place of employment.

There goes to say that when looking into the case of Aaron Schwartz and his desire to make all information available for free, it was his belief that there should be open access, but I do not agree. It may be my field of study that shapes that opinion, but that is my opinion. A historians career is determined by who published the work, and how it was published. If the article was put forth in a journal like the American Historical Review a historian would be looked on more favorably for the work they release than if they were to publish in a journal that requires them to pay for the paper to go to print.

I will say that I do not believe that access to scholarship will ever be free, or at least it will not be for a while, because it would disrupt the field of study. It will change the scope of the scholarship and how it is understood by the public. Change does not go over well in the History field and giving free access to something like Jstor would cause chaos.

Entry #4: Wikipedia: Friend or Foe?

Throughout my time as an undergrad student I had been told by numerous professors to never use wikipedia. There was the assumption that Wikipedia would never be a trusted site for information. However, there have been times that I found the site to be useful. One being the cited sources. Wikipedia has always been my first stop for research.

Many times the sources sited on a Wikipedia page are great for starting research. The foot notes give some understanding of pivotal information and a good place to start researching a subject. With reading some of the text it is understandable to see that the text is great for a basic explanation of information.

It is a typical encyclopedia-esque explanation of a topic that gives a basic understanding of a topic. It is true that the text can be misleading at times but that can be attributed to one of the side effects of an open source website. There are numerous different people that are responsible for the content on a single Wikipedia page which leads to not so reliable information. But, it is the very open source style that leads wikipedia to being more reliable than other encyclopedia sites, like Britannica. There are more people editing and adding to the wikipedia site evolving the information to be accurate. There is the occasional vandal to a page but it is nothing that can’t be easily eradicated. Editors are patrolling the pages and keeping a close eye on what is posted and how accurate the information is, making the site more reliable than I had previously thought.

I visited the wikipedia site and took to looking at three webpages holding some sort of relationship. The pages I visited were, Counterculture, Beat Generation, and Counterculture of the 1960s. These sites served as a basic insight into a topic that I knew a bit about but hadn’t focused on in a few years and would serve for a refresher for some upcoming research.

As I looked at the pages, all three held similar components, they gave a quick understanding before breaking the information into sub-headings. The counterculture page served more as an umbrella for the other two pages that I had visited for this post. Even referring to the other two pages for further detail on those two focuses of the counterculture.

On the Counterculture talk page, the discussion is going strong people are trying to improve the site but it is proving difficult for the follow through for some of their ideas. At one point someone argues that the specific movements discussed in the article went into too much detail and there were too few movements discussed. Those were accurately played, as there have been numerous different social movements in the history of the world but the page only discusses five.

The article on the Beat Generation served as a sign of what the Counterculture page should structure itself as. It was broken down into sub-sections giving enough information without the text being too overpowering for the visitor to read. The talk section of the Beat Generation was more heated, with two people being in an argument over editing out Hatnotes. At one point a wiki-cop intervened. This is a downfall for constructive editing, the ability of the individual to work with another person to put forth information is extremely difficult due to our independent nature as human beings with our own unique thought process.

The Counterculture of the 1960s page was an amazing page. The topic of the 1960s counterculture has been popular among the people because of its occurrence only being fifty years ago. People who lived through the events of the 1960s are still alive and find it reminiscent to think back on the events. The Page is one of the lengthiest pages I have seen on Wikipedia six sections holding sub-sections holding sub-sections. The information is in abundance but it is portrayed in a manor that is easy to read and understand while visual cues are placed in the margins allowing for some primary source material to be available. It is also extremely surprising to not that there is a lack of talking going on between editors of the page. There are very few discussion threads that are being addressed in the active sense but the archive is similarly bleak. yet the talk page of the Counterculture of the 1960s page allows for an example of how to properly use the discussion threads: Constructive conversation driven by the desire to improve the articles content.

My recent experiences with Wikipedia has giving me the ability to put some added trust into the website. I may not take every word on a page with a grain of salt, I will interpret the sources and verify that the are correct. In other words I will continue to use the site like I had previously but with an understanding that the site holds some merit on the web as holding valuable basic information for the public. It may not be a hundred percent correct but it is important to understand that no site can be.

Blog #3: Social Tagging and Shared Authority

As I sit here, snowed in, in New England, I began to explore the citizen archive project on the National Archives website. The project can be greatly justified in its purpose and be extremely helpful to the public. I took part in a few of the tagging tasks dealing with World War Two posters. At first I had been unsure of the task set forth in front of me. I had some apprehension of participating in the project. My mind kept thinking, “What if I don’t know what to tag?,””What if I over tag?”.

Instead of starting of tagging I decided to see what had been done. I looked at the posters and noticed that the tags already added were vague and direct, which was good for simplicity but not for someone who is participates in specified researching. Historians rely on the web for a lot of their research and a database like the World War Two posters is an extremely important resource, the tags would be more helpful if they were more specific. Most of the tags that had already been placed on the posters had been simple like: Solider, World War II, propaganda, etc.

Yet, these tasks put forth by the National Archives are a great way to bring in the public. The different tasks of tagging and transcribing documents allows for public involvement that would not be possible without the internet. The missions that the Citizen Archive asks the site visitor to participate in are simple in practice and in thought. Anyone can participate in the Citizen Archive as long as they have a simple understanding of how to work the program and have some historical context to place on the analyzed texts.

The archive experiment offers an amazing spotlight into the question of shared authority. The indirect conversation that is established through the act of tagging and correcting transcriptions allows for an interaction between the historian and the public, but it is a limited conversation. The fact that the conversation is there and the interaction between the historian and the public dealing in a digital and archive fashion is an excellent occurrence. Many people do not have the opportunity to visit or access an archive but a site like the Citizen Archive Project allows for that chance.

Entry #2: The Evolution of History in the Digital Age

The digital world has brought about a lot of change in the field of History. History has always been seen as an academic field holding no real worth to the working class, but with the help of the advancements in technology interest has grown.

History is no longer being portrayed as just memorized dates and events. People are looking into the past through different avenues and technological advancement allows for that. Open source and open access sites are great for the field because they allow for mass consumption of information from all audiences and not just those that own a subscription to Jstor.

The digital age allows for easier research to be completed; with the creation of the simple google search researchers are able to look and find necessary information or searches in a matter of moments. Prior to the technology upgrade, hours would be spent in front of a book rereading text trying to find the evidence to support the research.

Researchers are not the only ones who benefit from digital history movement, Museums do too. When we think of museums almost instantly people get an overwhelming sense of boredom. The stigma that a static museum exhibit is the only form of exhibit is disappearing. Museums are creating interactive exhibits, some that even have online companions, helping to feed the desire for entertainment in many individuals, while also educating them in the process. (x)

So when we talk about these changes to the field of historical research it is important to talk about the quality of work. There have been arguments made that history published on the web holds less value than published in a book or journal. I see the argument to be incorrect. Just because something was published online does not downgrade the quality of work completed by an individual.

Yes there is an increase in the quantity of research online but there is no evidence to claim that the quality of work is worse than an article published in a journal. It is simple to come across false historical data on the internet. Yet, we are trained to weed out the bad and find the good. There is an abundance of good history online and it is available to almost every history buff in the world.

Entry #1: Blogging and the Historian.

Blogging has been a part of the internet craze from the beginning, or so it seems. With the coming of the Web 2.0 in the early 2000s blogging has begun to be prominent in daily life. Yet, just because blogs are a part of an active life on the web, does that mean that the Historian should use that tool?

Yes. It is my genuine belief that the Historian should use a blog to release their research to the public. By posting to a site like WordPress there is a better chance for a Historians research to be seen. Dan Cohen wrote an entry titled, Professors, Start Your Blogs, and in that entry he advocates for the blogging Historian.

Cohen made a list stating the benefits of blogging in the historical field. For one, posting to a site similar to WordPress, or something similar, allows for a graduate student to expose their research to the public. This can be beneficial when it comes to searching for a job or for feedback on completed research. I had attended the American Historical Associations Annual (AHA) Meeting in January of 2015, one session focused on Blogging and the Future of Scholarship. During that session, the speakers made sure to note that blogging can turn historians from beginners into scholars.

Having explained why blogging is beneficial to the grad student, it is important to know that others in the field can see the benefits of posting updates to a site. By posting to a blog, the scribe decides the topic and how to write about that topic. He does not have the strict rules of writing like an academic journal or book. The writer chooses the language. This does not mean that posting from blogs is better than being formally published in an academic journal or a book, but rather that a blog allows for exposure.

The Language choice is not the only choice that the writer makes. He also chooses his audience. He does not make an outright choice in who will be reading the article, but by choosing the topic addressed in his or her blog he is addressing a certain group of people. If I were to post a blog about anti-Semitism in Germany during the 1860s and how nationalism attributed to the increase in anti-semetic attitudes in the country, that blog would be geared to a specific person, someone who lives history, namely an academic. Yet, if I were to post to a blog about the home front during the Second World War, and keep the posts in a  simplistic attitude, the blog would have a wider audience because of the topics popularity in the public sphere.

Posting about any topic in the blog-o-sphere leads to an open dialogue among historians and the public. The commenting feature of a blog allows for the ability for individuals to talk about topics and argue for or against the findings in a post. The more academic posts can be eye opening to the amateur historian. This new form of shared authority allows for an open discussion on topics of interest to peoples.

Updating to a blog seems like a big commitment, which it can be, but as long as it is well planned out the commitment is not difficult. Posts are easy to write and they take very little time to complete. The creator of the blog manages the commitment. The frequency of posts depends on the person creating the posts. The blogger can choose to post once a week or once a month, but it is important to keep up to date with the blog in order to maintain its validity.

Overall, the benefits of blogging outweigh many of the downfalls. For one there is chance for an individual to jumpstart their career. There is the chance to create a dialogue between historians and the public, and there are personal benefits of not having the stress of publishing in a journal or writing a book.