Practicum, Week 2: Kevin Lukacs

Hey classmates. This week for practicum we’re looking at two GPS history sites, and a word cloud generator. I had fun looking at these, and I’m excited to demo them in class.

PhilaPlace

PhilaPlace is a GPS-based self-touring website that presents the history and stories of two Philadelphia neighborhoods. Old Southwark and Greater Northern Liberties have been home to immigrant and working class communities but are being affected by gentrification. PhilaPlace uses the resources of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and community sourcing to offer dozens of neighborhood stories.

The site is a little difficult to navigate, and some of the features seem to be missing. The bulk of the site is dedicated to location-based stories, presented as a blog. Stories contain pictures, short text, and a map location for each entry. Some stories claim to have oral interviews, at least fifty-one, but accessing the interviews was not possible.

Philaplace also offers resources for educators. These programs and activities seem interesting but are not currently accessible.

While some of the services PhilaPlace offers are not available, the basic function of the website is pretty valuable. Their collections present hundred of photographs of the neighborhoods’ history, and the stories could be invaluable to Philly residents or curious web surfers to explore some of the unknown parts of the city. Each article comes with a list of references for further research for students or amateur historians.

The blog also offers unique opportunities for community members to have themselves heard. Contributing a story is a relatively simple process. This story about Soupy Island was contributed by a student from Drexel University. Most stories have been added by the Historical Society, but the potential for having a community platform is in place.

PhilaPlace is a project with a lot of potential, that still seems like it needs a bit of work. While this project focuses on two neighborhoods of Philadelphia, History Pin has a much more global perspective.

History Pin

History Pin is another GPS-based history site, designed for creating digital collections and digital tours. Part history project, part social platform, History Pin collaborates with thousands of organizations and takes contributions from any member willing to create a pin.

Creating a history pin is incredibly simple. An account needs to be created, as well as a collection or tour for pins to be added to. Contributors can request to add pins to established tours and collections or create their own. When demoing the site, I chose to make my own tour to see how that process works. Creating a tour simply requires a title and a description.

Creating a pin first requires some type of media or a block of text. I uploaded a picture of Butler Little Theatre’s first performance in 1941. The BLT is a community theater that I did several projects with prior to coming to American University, and I still have some photographs and written material on hand. I included a short description of my image, and then added a GPS location pin. Pins can either be exact addresses or general locations. And that was it. I created a pin for the BLT. It’s an incredibly easy process, aided by a series of tutorial videos available on the history pin website.

The play was “The Night of January 16th,” and it was performed in the court house. The Theater had yet to locate a suitable, permanent venue.

What’s great about History Pin is it’s free and accessible platform. Individuals and small organizations can have a set up like PhilaPlace or Cleveland Historical, without needing to commit as many resources. Organizations like The Museum of Connecticut History now have a digital platform, and all it takes is a few minutes to sign up.

Wordle

I think word clouds are dope af. You put in a bunch of text, and generate an image made from the most used words. Facebook has done it for a “year in review” type thing. I remember reading a tips and tricks for writing that suggested putting essays/scripts into a word cloud generator to help find a central theme. My employer, President Lincoln’s Cottage also uses a word cloud. They generate an image monthly to gauge visitor response to an opening question. Word clouds. They’re dope.

This is the Lincoln’s Cottage word cloud from the week prior to January 13th, 2018.

Word clouds by themselves can have limited impact. There’s an old Woody Allen joke about speed reading. The general gist and the relevancy here is that you could put War and Peace into a word cloud, just to find out that that huge book has something to do with Russia. The information presented in a word cloud needs context, or a way to find patterns. Doing a single word cloud of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural doesn’t have much value, but a word cloud of all of Lincoln’s speeches provides insight into themes and word choice.

I’ve kept to writing about word cloud’s generally because I could not get Wordle itself to run on my laptop. I tried three different browsers (Chrome, Edge, and Explorer) to no success. So, here’s a list of Wordle alternatives that may actually work.

That’s my contribution to this course’s practicum. PhilaPlace is an interesting look at urban and local history that could provide a great platform for the community. The massive infrastructure of History Pin could be invaluable to small organizations and is very simple to use. Wordle did not work for me, but if used correctly, word clouds can create wonderful visual aids.

Let me know what you think! What other organizations have you see use History Pin, Worlde, or a website like PhilaPlace? What are some benefits to doing GPS based history? Will I get a stern talking to for using “dope af” on a graduate level classroom assignment? Leave your thoughts below!

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