"Consistency in presentation content and tenor across interpretive media thus remains an issue warranting attention by park administrators." Coslett, Daniel E., and Manish Chalana. "National Parks for New Audiences. Diversifying Interpretation for Enhanced Contemporary Relevance." The Public Historian 38, no. 4: 101-128. November 2016.
While the staff at the Whitman Mission National Historic Site have made several strides in presenting the viewpoints of both the Native Americans and the missionaries, the inconsistency is frustrating. For instance, the authors note that one sign still illustrates the attack on the Whitmans with a floor plan showing the exact locations of their deaths. While the easier route would be to remove this sign and replace it with something less graphic, it is also an opportunity to address how the events of the killings have been treated in the past. This same approach is taken with the audio tour and could easily (although possibly impeded by bureaucracy) be applied to the signage. The authors mention that staff are sensitive to these issues and would like to see changes. They also suggest a more diverse staff. Looking briefly at Canadian websites (due to some shared experiences with Native Americans or First Nations), they offer cultural sensitivity training for many of their government employees. For example, the police are offered a course called Aboriginal and First Nations Awareness. Similar training for staff at national parks and sites in the US could also be helpful.
Answer to at least one of the following questions:
- What elements of historical thinking have remained at the heart of history teaching over the decades?
- How have history teachers responded to technological change in the 20th and 21st centuries?
- How have external expectations constrained teaching and learning in history, and how might the digital turn disrupt those constraints?
There are constraints on teaching and learning in history (and in general) because of standardized testing which requires students to regurgitate certain facts/content knowledge. However, I have seen acceptance of technology in the classroom which is encouraging. As our readings point out, the incorporation of digital tools at the K-12 and undergraduate levels have not been a wholesale by-in. In contrast, it it a smattering of hopeful examples a here and there. However, I see hope for more significant changes because of the changes in how graduate students are learning. (Once upon a time) when I started a PhD program in art history because it seemed like the logical next step, the way to learn was still information passed down directly by my advisor. Who were the Victorian-era paint companies to needed to look at? Which London galleries should I focus on? Looking at homes of 19th-century artists was difficult since many of the buildings were radically altered or no longer existed. In one of our previous classes, I examined Bowdoin College’s DH project the London Gallery Project. Even 15 years ago, I was only seeing a small glimmer of technology being used in such ways. This makes me hopeful that we will see changes in how history in taught. While students will still need guidance with concepts like procedural knowledge and information literacy, they are coming in with a lower threshold of learning when it comes to technology. I can envision this comfort level as being a future advantage.
Reading about the Occupational Folklore Project from the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress seemed like appropriate timing given a recent conversation with an established architect who has been practicing in Charlotte, NC, for the last 40 years. While in the process of discussing a potential donation to the library, he remarked that history has shifted to tell the stories of “everyday” people and that he thought we were better for this shift. To paraphrase slightly, he said that the stories of those riding the bus were being told and not just the stories of those driving the bus.
Granted, this project is tied to the earlier work of the Library’s American Life Histories from 1936 to 1940 through the Federal Writers’ Project for the U.S. Works Progress/Projects Administration (WPA). This connection is also fascinating because we can see how the “pre-digital” history of the Library has led to this new project following current technology trends.
The details of the project address many of the issues that results from community-based projects (e.g. inconsistencies, extensive processing, complicated technology, daunting or off-putting policies). The idea of creating an easy-to-use but regulated interface creates amazing potential for similar large-scale projects, especially considering the increasing lack of funding resources (and seeing that this was funded by the IMLS made it all the more disheartening since this resource is being de-funded). Years ago, I remember looking through LOC photographs on Flickr and having problems reading the images because of the abundance of social tags that appeared when hovering the mouse over the image. As a result, I found it interested that they used the term “social cataloging” here instead and base this vocabulary on the LOC subject headings. This addresses the inconsistency often seen in user-submitted and unregulated tagging projects. Adapting technology to allow for this control has hopefully helped the project avoid problems like StoryCorp (as discussed in our earlier reading) which requires extensive processing to make the files accessible. Even considerations like only accepting one audio type and requiring that contributors use their file naming conventions helps.
Looking at the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer in comparison provides an interesting contrast. The article “OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free” addresses two topical issues right now: open source and access. Its user-focused approach also made ease of use an important goal. They wanted a tool that was simple to use and simple to implement. By focusing on how the tool can be used by those outside their institution, they are also trying to move away from the many silos that have been created in this technology-focused environment.
It’s fascinating to see the different iterations of local history in the chapter “Community Exhibition: History, Identity, and Dialogue.” Examples ranged from the more expected house museums to galleries in churches like the Second Church of Newton, Massachusetts. For many of these smaller museums, an engaged and friendly staff is almost as important as the exhibits themselves. These museums provide a human connection as seen in the 2006 survey of small museums.
[It] confirmed the reasons visitors like learning history in these settings...Many cited services that appealed to more basic human needs: connection to other people. "Friendly staff members and volunteers," "staff friendliness and knowledge," and the "small size, friendly volunteers and staff" are what appeal to visitors in these settings.
The question then becomes how to translate this appeal to the online setting. While it is “easy” to think about digitizing local history objects (artifacts, oral histories), it it harder to capture this personal appeal.
Oddly enough, reading about the history of local history also made an episode of the British television mystery Midsomer Murders make more sense. One character looked down on another because he was studying ancient history while she was “merely” studying local history. I am pretty sure the word Victorian was used as a derogatory term in his description.
The importance and value of Outhistory.org is reflected in the growing focus on LGBTQ history. This can be seen commercially with the 2014 film Pride about the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign in the UK in the 1980s and the new ABC mini-series When We Rise tracking key LGBTQ activists from the 1960s til today. It is especially impressive that founder Jonathan Ned Katz was able to build this project without the institutional support of a college or university. It is also interesting to see a history project for whom “history” is rapidly changing. The project is essentially a combination of history and current events.