Mobile Media and Interpretation

Mobile devices are by far the most utilized and most convenient means of transferring ideas and gathering information.  Most people today have one and most people who do are proficient in using the technology.  Because of this, mobile technology can be a terrific partner to a historical organization or mission.  It allows museum authorities to meet audiences where they’re comfortable and to convey information in ways which are easily searched and consumed.  Our authors this week address the many ways in which historic organizations can use mobile technology to educate and engage their audiences.

Matthew Durington’s New App City discusses the Chongno Alleys app which offers an interpretive tour of Chongo, Seoul.   This app is designed by the city government for a Korean audience, and is, in fact, only offered in Korean.  Additionally, Chongno Alleys is an interesting digital tool because of the way it interacts with meat space.  Chongno Alleys uses geolocation to bring a user around Chongno, offering destination suggestions and interpretation based on where a user is physically located.  It allows a visitor or resident to move through the world and gain new understanding not based on where they could go but based on where they have gone and are now.  As a traveler walks through the spaces, Chongno Alleys destinations are marked as “visited;” the completionists among us will be prompted to see more of Chongno.

Leon, Brennan, and Lester also write about the application of mobile apps in public history.  Mobile for Museums reimagines mobile phones not as a tour guide itself but as a useful aid to using a historical location.  Omeka apps, mobile sites, and use of native mobile apps are all user-friendly platforms with a lot of potential for interpreting sites, objects, and events at a site or museum.  The authors in 2009 imagined that audiences could select items in the museum ahead of time about which they wanted more information, then sending the information to their phones, then going to the museum to see the object with more context.  This view of mobile phones is about as adorable as the act of printing emails, which is to say it shows its age.  An audience today is more likely to use their phone for research as they would have, until recently, used their audio guides; they will look things up when they have questions.  I have never before reading this 9-year-old article heard of anyone with an Omeka app, but I’ve known and seen a lot of people who have been glad that a museum has information about their collections online and willing to use their phones as audio guides if such interpretation exists.

Medium, written by John Russick, makes many similar points about accessibility and space as do the other articles.  What Russick adds is a refute of the fear that with phones and mobile media, nobody will visit museums and nobody will want to see real collections.  He argues that mobile media in no way detracts from the experience of seeing original artefacts and can even work as a sort of interpretive hype man—once people know something about what they could see they’ll be more eager to go and see it.  Mobile media makes it easier to tell stories and to reach a wider audience and ultimately easier to connect people to spaces.

Finally, Mark Tebeau’s Listening to the City; Oral History and Place in the Digital Era ties last week’s readings with the themes of this week.  One place mobile history tends to lag is in its use in oral history.  Tebeau writes that most of special interpretation of history takes place by sight, but that there’s a great deal of potential to interpret history by the sounds of the voices and stories of those who lived the history of the geolocative spaces.  Use of oral histories to anchor a person to a greater understanding of a location is a beautiful idea with incredible immersive possibility.  It’s the sort of project I would personally enjoy consuming.

Altogether, these articles link story to space in a way which would be impossible without the ability to carry knowledge.  These projects are all intrinsically linked to a person’s ability and willingness to move through space, and far from making objects obsolete these platforms make historical interpretation more accessible to a wider audience.  I leave you with a few final questions;

  • To what extent do you think location aids in the telling of stories; what do mobile devices do that a home computer can not?
  • Some of these articles are a little dated; in what ways would you give some of their ideas a little nudge into the modern day?
  • Given the opportunity to make a project specifically for mobile, what would you interpret and how would you interpret?

Practicum: Museum on Main Street and The Will to Adorn

Museum on Main Street

This project is working to bring the experience of the Smithsonian to rural communities all across the United States. The Smithsonian works directly with local government and humanity councils to provide quality education to towns with populations under 10,000 individuals. This project also helps to inspire more local history by providing resources to collect oral histories and physical archives to curate exhibits on both small and large scale.

This website has six main goals:

Share the Smithsonian, Inspire Communities, Broaden Interest, Motivate Museums, Collect/Curate/Share for Rural America, Provide Resources.

The website is easy to navigate, depending on what you want to do on the site. They have resources like exhibitions, resource center, and an educators tab front and center on the site. If you are interested in visiting an exhibit near you, or want to see what has been done in the past, all the information is quickly accessible.

One of the most successful parts of the website is the individual exhibit pages. They are thoughtfully structured and provide a snapshot of all the different components. You can see an overview of the content, images, a touring schedule, and on some a video trailer with community members who donated the primary sources. Each page ends with an exploration of themes that each exhibit covers and gives snapshots examples of why these themes are important.


To upload your story is incredibly intuitive for the user; creating an account and validating it took only five minutes. Once that is created you have access to upload or “tell your story” on the website. Not only will it be archived, but each submission has the potential to be used in a traveling exhibit. Each exhibit will also include components on site to gather additional archives for each town they visit.

I think that Museum on Main Street has lofty goals and yet they still end up meeting them. How would you condense their six main goals into only a few that better portray what the organization does for communities across the country?


The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity

This is an app based digital project from the Smithsonian that is working to catalogue the stylistic choices of member in the African American community. It’s basically an oral history app where you can upload your own interviews and listen to the archive stored on the apps database. The project is in conjunction with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2013. They felt this research would help to explore the diversity behind every day American experiences.

I’ve downloaded it on my phone to see how it works and unfortunately it is clunky, slow, and awful to use. The website itself that links you to download the app is sparse, and has broken links imbedded in the text, which is never a good sign.

So you open the app, and it looks like this. You have the option to share your story or listen to stories that had already been submitted.

If you are listening to stories make sure you have headphones in, or are in a place where you don’t mind that audio is playing. As soon as you hit that button stories start playing, and you cannot choose them. You can pause or start them and that’s it – which can be very frustrating on an app that is slow and sometimes unresponsive. You can narrow down the stories based on a few different variables including gender, geographical location, and age.

To share your story is simple, you input the demographics or yourself or the person you are recording and then go ahead and answer one of the prompts you can see below.

While I love the idea of this app, it’s better in theory than in practice. It seems like the database is hard to navigate, and while it is good for casual use I would be interested to see how researchers could gain access to the archives.

Is this an app you would download and use?

Should Sound Studies Survive?: HiPSTAS and the Fight for Oral History Preservation

In my previous post, I mentioned that audio-video recordings are one of the most underutilized forms of historical sources according to Michael Frisch. In the coming years after Frisch wrote Oral History and the Digital Revolution, this would remain true. In 2010, the Council on Library and Information Resources and the Library of Congress released a report (The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age) that claimed cultural heritage institutions would stop preserving sound archives if students and scholar did not start utilizing them. In response, the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin and the Illinois Informatics Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign decided to create the High Performance Sound Technologies for Analysis and Scholarship (HiPSTAS). Originally funded by the NEH, archivists, librarians, scholars and students came together to discuss how audio collections could be made more accessible and how to create a suite of open-source tools to foster such scholarship. Through this dialogue, all participants from affected fields were able to relay their concerns with organizing as well as accessing sound artifacts.

According to HiPSTAS’s grant proposal, “there [was] no provision for scholars interested in spoken texts such as speeches, stories, and poetry to use or to understand how to use high performance technologies for analyzing sound” (1). This can be seen in Wendy F Hsu’s Digital Ethnography Toward Augmented Empiricism: A New Methodological Framework, as she hoped to, “spark[ed] some interest in creative engagement with digital methods in ethnography,” by explaining a methodological framework for using audio files. Writing in 2014, Hsu saw the potential for work with audio files and felt similarly as the people behind HiPSTAS that some sort of structure should exist for first time users of these audio sources. In particular, Hsu focuses on sound-based cultures that can be found on the internet. She listed a lot of different sites and resources where she conducts her research, which was interesting since Hsu mentioned our two practicums for this week, Audacity and SoundCloud. As Hsu states, “Digital technologies afford us the capability to engage with empirical data in multiple modes and at multiple levels.” By examining bites of sounds through these technologies, there is potential for deeper cultural understandings. However, this can only be accomplished if there is an understanding across the board by researchers and cultural heritage institutions of methods of best practice to utilize audio collections. This was the main purpose behind HiPSTAS.

Since 2013/2014, HiPSTAS has come through on its promise to offer guides and tools to work with audio. Introducing the HiPSTAS Audio Toolkit Workflow: Audio Labeling by Tanya Clement reviews the new application by HiPSTAS mentioned in the title and the workflow for deconstructing complicated audio files. By creating tools for students and scholars to use, the task of searching through audio files will not seem so daunting as long as the steps that Clement provides are followed. In this particular application, the audio project focused on distinguishing sounds, from the main voices to background noises such as applause. By inventing technologies to process the distinctions between these sounds, oral histories will gain a clearer focus in instances where numerous sounds exist on one track. As this project was from just a year ago, it appears that HiPSTAS met its goals and cultural heritage institutions will preserve sound archives as students and scholars start utilizing oral histories more in their research.


  1. Have you attended any conferences or taken any classes where oral histories were used? How were the used, explained, or described to you?
  2. Do you think HiPSTAS met their goals? Is there still more work to be done?
  3. When reading Clement’s steps, did the workflow make sense to you? Do you think you could conduct research on sound collections with this knowledge?

Sterne, Format Theory Post

Hey, it’s me again! Because we both accidently wrote posts about the same reading, Kate and I broke down the second half of the readings for this week to blog about before class on Wednesday. Sorry again for the confusion! This blog post is about Sterne’s Format Theory chapter in his book about the  history of the MP3.

Before reading this chapter, I had only really thought about MP3 audio files in terms of technology like the ipod (RIP). However, Sterne sees the MP3 as the “point of entry into the interconnected histories of sound and communication in the twentieth century” (2). In the chapter, Sterne emphasized the historical roots of the MP3, especially the strides made during in researching auditory perceptions during the devlopment of the telephone. I thought this was interesting because I tend to think of the MP3 has a relatively new technology, but Sterne shows readers that telephony and the “peculiar characteristics of its infrastructure are central to the sound of most audio technologies over the past 130-odd years,” (3)  that can be seen in the MP3 audio format.

Sterne states that the history of the MP3 belongs to a general history of compression (5) .  As people and institutions have developed new media new technologies, they have also sought out waysto make this new media more efficient. I learned that MP3s discard the parts of the audio signal that are unlikely to be audible to us and reorganize redundant data in the recording to make  the file smaller, meaning it takes up less storage space. The fact that MP3 audio files can do this, demonstrate that the MP3 “carries within it practical and philosophical understandings of what it means to communicate, what it means to listen or speak, how the mind’s ear works, and what it means to make music (2).”  MP3 files are not just files on a computer, they reflect entire histories of sonic practices that can be traced back to over a hundred years ago.  Considering the importance of MP3 audio files within the practice of oral history, it is important to understand the history that makes MP3 files possible. 

Questions to consider:

1.  Sterne calls the MP3 the world’s preeminent audio format in this moment, until it is eclipsed by something better and more efficient. Is there any current audio formats that you think can rival the MP3?

2.  Sterne states that we should be more confortable talking about the  changes in format, similar to how we discuss the history of visual art or printing, what might be the benefits of this? Challenges?




Week 10 Practicum: Audacity


Audacity is the other practicum we are learning about this week, in relation to oral histories. Audacity is an easily downloadable program that you can use on your computer. The purpose of Audacity is to create an edited/final version of an oral recording.

While you can use Audacity to record, I would not recommend it. I have not used Audacity to record and most oral historians I’ve worked with would advise against it as well. You have to connect a microphone, instrument and mixer before you can start recording and that is all dependent on the sound quality of the equipment you are using. It is much easier to get a recorder and conduct your interview on that and then import it to Audacity. 

Once you have your recording and it’s on your computer, usually as .wav file you can import it into Audacity. Audacity will import files out into mp3 files, so you can use it for that if that’s all you need.

This is what Audacity will look like when you first open it. Once you import a recording it will look like this: 

To import audio, you’ll go to ‘File’, then ‘Import’ and select the audio you want to bring in. 

After you do that, you can add new tracks-this is under ‘Tracks’ and then you’ll select ‘Add new’. You’ll select ‘mono’ if you want to have a one new track. Stereo allows you to have more than one. This is the next step if you are planning on cutting and editing your audio, for example is there a part of your audio that you want to cut because your interviewee says something off-track, or there’s a really long silence. You can also move parts of the audio around-say take minutes “2:24 to 4:50” would have a nice lead in by minutes “8:16”, you can select and edit certain parts of the audio to sit right by each other.  Now this is all for one audio recording. If you have done three interviews and you want to have one final recording that includes all three, you’ll use three different tracks to come up with a final version.

When you’re working with different tracks, you can mute one so you can listen to the audio on just one track. It will look like this:

You are also able to zoom in on Audacity to see second by second plays which makes the selection and cutting of audio easier. 

An important tip about Audacity: you can’t start another function after playing the audio. If you hit the play button, and then pause, you must hit the stop button before Audacity allows you to do another function. 

When you are ready to export your audio from Audacity you will go to ‘File’, click ‘Export Audio’ and then you can export and save as whatever file you want.  

Unfortunately, you can’t save what you’re working on from Audacity. It does not allow you to save an edited audio file so make sure when you start using Audacity you have allotted a certain amount of time to complete what work you need to do, or you can export what you have completed and just re-insert into Audacity the next time to finish your work.

Audacity (like most of the practicums we’ve had) is hard to explain in a blog post. I’m a visual learner and so it’s easier for me to explain Audacity by walking through the steps. Audacity is also a program that is a lot of trial and error. I learned how to use Audacity by just consistently messing around with it. Even I still don’t know everything about it. I have found an Audacity Wiki tutorial page that goes through any problem you could possibly encounter on Audacity.  Feel free to use it for anything you’re doing on Audacity. There are also really good Youtube tutorials on how to use Audacity if you are ever feeling stuck.

P.S. I am including files of my first project using Audacity during my undergrad. It’s a compilation of different audio examining the memory of individuals on 9/11. You can browse through and see the different steps from my first audio to the final version. Please no judgement, I thought it might be helpful to see how I learned how to use Audacity.

Alright…well those are the two files of my mid-term project. The different final versions are too large for this site…oops!