What struck me in the local and community history readings and sites was the passion that people have for their communities.
Tammy Gordon’s 2010 piece “Community Exhibition: History, Identity, and Dialogue” reinforces keeping one’s audiences in mind, one of the themes from this semester’s course. She uses the example of the Penderlea Homestead Museum as a way to begin a discussion about community history. Gordon helps us to remember whose stories local history museums are telling and the personal connections and interests of the local people who are participating in telling the stories (35). I like how she presents the history of local history and goes into detail about the visitor experience, especially the informal nature of these museums. Just as she begins with a case study, she ends with one about the IXL Museum in Hermansville, Michigan. Once again, we see how personal the community museum is and read about the importance of dialogue between curators and visitors. She concludes with an important commentary on the tie between this dialogue and tourism, a reality check which I was pleased to see.
There are so many sites to learn from, and The Portal to Texas History is a site that I spent a great deal of time exploring. It is an exemplary site which brings together the work of 346 partners from libraries, museums, archives, historical commissions, and churches. The collection is enormous and the metadata is quite extensive and detailed. I imagine dedicated people at each of these partner sites, as well as the creators, spending countless hours gathering objects, digitizing them, adding metadata, and working on all aspects of their sites. I think about how much training it took for all of those people to learn how to create the metadata for their projects. Work like this is a labor of love, and I am so pleased that The Portal of Texas History has been created to share their work. I’m sure that the large audience has learned quite a bit and will continue to do so.
The site’s thorough sections have given me food for thought about my own project. Among many other things, I like the way that that the site presents statistics. I have been working on adding analytics to my site, but I hadn’t thought of sharing that information. I’m impressed by how The Portal of Texas History ties pages together with links, Making connections between the pages is something that I have been working on. In addition, I appreciate the effort to add context to the collections. I plan to add context through my exhibitions and, as the site expands, I will add it to my collections. I love how the site uses the Texas Digital Newspapers Program for the “Check out the News From: ” in the Collection Highlights section of the Home Page, and especially appreciate the “This day in History” part of that section. Eventually, I will utilize my Neatline timeline to highlight the newspaper articles that I have found for the women in my project. I’d love to have “Women of the Day” and/or “Events of the day,” instead of just “Women of the Week,” and I will work those ideas into my social media strategy. I also found the Give Back section at the bottom of the Tour Section, which notes: “Now that you know the Portal a little better, we encourage you to think about giving back,” quite valuable. One option that it mentions is by “submitting feedback.” I have been contemplating using the Omeka Commenting feature, and this site helped me see that I do need to add it. As they utilize the site, I hope that many people will give back in at least one way, contributing to and continuing the dialogue about the history of Texas.
I plan to tell my Texas contributor about The Portal to Texas History and I aim to use it and other state portals in my project research. In addition to teaching me about Texas and inspiring me on my project, The Portal of Texas History gave me an fine example of what collaboration can accomplish!
I have librarian friends working on Digital Commonwealth, which, similar to The Portal to Texas History, “provides resources and services to support the creation, management, and dissemination of cultural heritage materials held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives” (Digital Commonwealth About page). I understand their dedication and the sense of community that the project gives them. Their conference was last week, and I know how excited they were about attending and speaking with other participants. I’ve also watched one friend prepare for historical programs related to her town, and I have seen her office full of historic newspapers. She is passionate about local history, and she is dedicated to this project and to meeting the needs of both online and on ground audiences. Knowing how busy she is, I realize that one of the challenges of of doing digital local or community history mediated by technology is finding the time to do it. Bravo to all of these people who are making such an effort!!
The second reading, also from 2010, is Lauren Gutterman’s “OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making.” Her piece shows how a community came together to create a web site to tell its stories. As Gordon does, Gutterman comments on the work of historians Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen. In this case, she notes that their 1994 work “found that gay Americans have an increasing desire to learn about their history” (96). OutHistory.org was created to serve this need and also to capitalize on this site’s “potential for political transformation” (96). Gutterman also presents the history of the field, highlighting the site’s founder, Jonathan Ned Katz, and what it does, as well as mentioning other LGBTQ sites. After discussing how this project is “At the Intersection: LGBTQ History, Digital History, and Public History” (97), she includes a detailed section “The History of OutHistory.org: A ‘HowTo’ Guide” (103). I appreciate the guide, especially the explanation of the use of MediaWiki, the section on the challenges of community history, and the advice she gives on promoting web sites. Both her admission that she made mistakes early on and her willingness to use those errors to help others are admirable. As I work on the marketing end of my site, I will be sure to heed her wise words.
The OutHistory.org site itself has a variety of ways to search and to participate, a Book Shelf, a Blog, a Contact Us section, and links to Facebook and Tumblr sites. The home page notes these categories on the left hand side and also features boxes for Browse, Timeline, Blog, and Book Shelf. In addition, it has “This Week in History” and “OutHistory Highlights.” The “Welcome to OutHistory” section includes just what readers of Gutterman’s piece would expect. It concludes by noting: “We believe that knowing this history can inspire and excite people, can rouse us to action, and can help us make a different future.” It was nice to have read about the history and creation of this site before actually viewing it. Both the intentions of the creators and Gutterman’s hard work on the marketing end are evident.
Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth is a fascinating study of an event and its historical memory, but it’s also a model for how to create a digital public history site about an event. After having created a series of events in 2008 relating to the history of the Riots, The University of Baltimore decided to devote a site to the topic. This site has tabs representing: Overview, Timeline and Driving Tour, Conference, Oral Histories, Art Track, Images, Archival Resources, and Links. The timeline provides visitors with events each day, then it switches to hourly reports on Saturday April 6, 1968, as the riots began. Attempting to meet the needs of various users, the Driving Tour has a print version and two different audio versions. Students were the ones who conducted and transcribed the wide variety of oral history interviews. These interviews are in pdf, while some also have MP3 files or web sites. Having trained students about oral history techniques and having watched and taped their interviews for an historical anniversary celebration, I’m aware of the degree of commitment needed from professors, students and interviewees. It’s wonderful to know that the University of Baltimore has found a way to share these interviews with the public. Including primary source photographs, archival resources, and links are, as the site notes, crucial for historical memory. As I work on my site, I will remember the detail on the timeline and will continue to strive to include as many primary sources as possible.
Another event from 2008, the “immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant” in Postville, Iowa is the subject of The Postville Project. That the creators of the site, Luther College and the University of Northern Iowa, have the needs of their community in mind is evident on the home page. They explain that in addition to presenting the history of the raid itself, they want to focus on the memories of community members. On the home page, the creators also speak about what the site will allow users to do: “The Postville Project allows users to contribute materials to the project, browse the collections maintained by the project, conduct research with a list of Related Resources and view raw video footage from Luis Argueta’s AbUSed: The Postville Raid documentary.” In addition to explaining the history of the project, the About page provides information for contributors, including the link : Yes, I have materials to share! That’s a personal and interesting way to gain contributors. I’ve recently added my Contribute page, and I worked to have a personal tone in it. I’m not sure if I will change to something like the above approach, but it is something to consider. As noted above, I am pondering my approach to feedback. One valuable thing that I’ll definitely learn from is the wording in the Feedback page from Rod Library at The University of Northern Iowa. I had not heard of this event before, and I am grateful to the site’s creators for sharing this information.
Virtual Watervliet is another fascinating site. Created by the Shaker Historical Society of Albany, New York, it highlights new technologies such as mobile and desktop apps, digital tools, and digital reconstruction as ways to explore “America’s First Shaker Settlement.” The About page discusses the site’s mission “to cultivate an interest in Shaker history while increasing awareness of the historic site of America’s first Shaker settlement and support for its preservation.” It also explains the digital technologies used, and, in bold, highlights users it considers crucial: “With a couple mouse clicks, the evolution of the historic site becomes visually accessible to people who participate in the Society’s education programs, to local residents and to virtual visitors around the world.” As Dr. Leon has encouraged us to do, Virtual Watervliet’s creators know who their audiences are and work to meet their needs. The site has biographies whose creation I have learned from and a timeline that I’m not yet capable of doing. There is much valuable information on this site for all types of visitors to enjoy and learn from.
Unfortunately, the site is also an example of the challenges of using technology in community history. I’ve noticed two snags on the site which must be great disappointments to both its creators and users, as they were to me. The first is that the 3D Tour has recently become unavailable, and the second is that Augmented Reality Channel is not currently available. After all of the hard work that went into creating them, technological changes have prevented these features from being used. The staff is now working to create new user experiences, and I hope that they will succeed in the near future.
After having interned at and worked at historical institutions focusing on Local and Community History, I how important these places are to their communities, and their communities are to them. The ever evolving digital technology offers many different ways to expand what Local and Community history can be. As we embrace technological opportunities, we should keep in mind that, for better or worse, technology changes. When it does, we should put on our creative and strategic thinking caps and get back to the drawing board!
Gordon, Tammy. “Community Exhibition: History, Identity, and Dialogue.” In Private History in Public: Exhibition and the Settings of Everyday Life, 33-57. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2010.
Gutterman, Lauren. “OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making.” The Public Historian 32.4 (2010)