Videogames, Interactivity & Action

This week’s readings all have to with how things like play, video-games such as 텐텐벳, and the Internet are mediums that can be used by historians, archivists, librarians, etc. to communicate about the past. These readings explore different types of interactive transmedia, exploring their unique features that can make them great tools for introducing larger audiences to the past while also discussing the challenges that come with using these mediums.

Critical Play: Radical Game Design by Mary Flanagan

Flanagan’s book, rather than being about video games as I first suspected, is actually a rather complex deep dive into play. In the first chapter of this book, Flanagan nicely lays out what the book is about, defines important terms, and poses questions for the reader to think about whilst reading. These things help prepare the reader to sift through a lot of fairly complex information, theory, and discussion on play and critical play. Not only will you get a good commission when you play spin oasis, but you will also get a lot of entertainment.

On the very first page of the book, Flanagan poses this question: “What if some games, and the more general concept of ‘play,’ not only provide outlets for entertainment but also function as means for creative expression, as instruments for conceptual thinking, or as tools to help examine or work through social issues?” (pg. 1) This question immediately provokes the reader to think about what Flanagan is trying to discuss and explore throughout the book. As Flanagan states in chapter one, Critical Play “investigates games designed for artistic, political, and social critique or intervention, in order to propose ways of understanding larger cultural issues as well as the games themselves” and it explores “historic instances of artists using play in their work.” (pg. 1-3) Flanagan makes clear that the ultimate goal of Critical Play is to “examine the ways in which individuals and groups involved in creating and playing games have worked, and are working within, social, political, and cultural systems. Their critical radical play can be considered the avant-garde of the game as a medium.” (pg. 15)

The important terms that Flanagan provides and defines in this chapter are: 

  • Artist: Flanagan defines artist as someone who is “creating outside commercial establishment, and, often, those who are ‘making’ for ‘making’s sake.’” (pg. 3-4)
  • Play: Although Flanagan discusses the various scholarship that has evolved from the attempt to define play, she ultimately seems to settle on the definition that most anthropologists and historians agree upon which states that “play is central to human and animal life; is generally a voluntary act; offers pleasure in its own right (and by its own rules); is mentally or physically challenging; and is separated from reality, either through a sanctioned play space or through an agreed upon fantasy or rule set.” (pg. 5)
  • Critical Play: According to Flanagan, critical play “means to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life,” and it is “characterized by a careful examination of social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces.” (pg. 6)
  • Games: Flanagan defines games as “instances of more-or-less constructed play scenarios” and as “situations with guidelines and procedures.” (pg. 6-7)
  • Technology: Flanagan believes that games could serve as a kind of technology themselves, and that games and play “with their emphasis on order and conventions, act as technologies that produce sets of relationships, governed by time and rules, played out in behavioral patterns.” (pg. 8) 
  • Subversion: For Flanagan, a subversion is “an action, plan, or activity intended to undermine an institution, event, or object.” (pg. 1o)
  • Activist Game: Flanagan defines activist games as “characterized by their emphasis on social issues, education, and, occasionally, intervention.” (pg. 13)

Chapters two through seven cover the “historic instances” of artists using play and provide historical context for critical play. Flanagan explores playing house, board games, language games, performative games and objects, artists’ locative games, and critical computer games like those available at delhi satta king. Throughout each chapter, Flanagan explores how “art and social movements” have engaged with each genre of game that she discusses. 

The book culminates in chapter eight, in which Flanagan provides a critical play method that she believes should be included in the traditional game design process. Her critical play method can be seen laid out in the chart below, you can see it compared to the traditional model. With this critical play method, Flanagan hopes ”that other practitioners, artists, designers, scientists, and researchers will be able to question and elucidate many of the so-called ‘norms’ embedded in our current play frameworks and technology practices, ultimately including a more diverse set of voices in the game design community and a wider spectrum of game experiences.” (pg. 252) Ultimately, Flanagan’s critical play method stresses human concerns and “a new awareness of design values and power relations, a recognition of audience and player diversities, a refocusing on the relational and performative as opposed to the object, and a continued and sustained appreciation of the subversive.” (pg. 261)

Mir & Owens, Modeling Indigenous Peoples: Unpacking Ideology in Sid Meier’s Colonization

In this article, Rebecca Mir of the New-York Historical Society and Trevor Owens of the United States Library of Congress (anyone ever heard of this guy before? he seems familiar) look at the 2008 game Civilization IV: Colonization. Simply put, the game allows players to colonize the Americas. Colonization sparked controversy from the beginning. On one hand, there were many people who believed that it was fundamentally wrong to develop a game in which players engaged with the act of colonization; on the other hand, the president of the company that developed the game maintained the stance that the game did not endorse any strategy or action and that the players made their own moral decisions. The authors argue that neither position is entirely correct.

The authors analyze “how design decisions shape players’ interpretations of Native American cultures and the history of colonial encounters” thus revealing that, despite what the game company’s president said, the game’s model does, indeed, inherently suggest “certain strategies and positions and thus shapes player agency and action.” (pgs. 91-92) Colonization presents its players with an ideological model of the world and interpretation of history, and this particular model “restricts potential readings to a limited and Americanized colonialist ideology.” (pg. 92) Colonization allows players to see the world from the ideological perspective of a colonist power, and as the players engage in the disturbing views and horrific acts of colonization, it can provoke feelings of guilt. The authors claim that that provocation of guilt “suggests a potential for games that portray disturbing points of view as potent vehicles for exploring the past and understanding a more nuanced history.” (pg. 93). 

Mir and Owens pose the question of whether Colonization players are given enough agency to make decisions about “reenacting the history of colonial encounter.” (pg. 93) While Colonization players can explore certain alternative histories, the game has a strict win condition in that a war of independence must take place. The authors question if players can, instead, if players can avoid the traditional historical interactions with Native Americans; therefore, the authors explored the rules through which Colonization defines what players and Native units can (and cannot) do. In many ways, it can be argued that the ideology of colonialism is written into the game’s code. Colonization was not a result of a program made from scratch, rather the engine/code from Civilization IV was built upon to create Colonization. Another interesting aspect of the game’s code is that the source code delineates “normal peoples” which are the units that players can control, Native peoples, and Europeans–both of which are controlled by the computer. Native peoples, therefore, are–at code level–othered in the game. The game also–at code level–“systematically and explicitly restricts things like civic development from Native cultures.” (pg. 96) Overall, Colonization presents cultural transmission as only going one direction from the Europeans to the Natives. 

 Mir and Owens believe that the game does have redeemable qualities such as the feelings of guilt that the game evokes over both the evil that is wrought by the player throughout the game as well as thoughts of how history has been whitewashed. However, the authors conclude this article by stating that, ultimately, the problem with Colonization is that it is not offensive enough, it does not, for example, include the devastating effects and realities of either disease or slavery in the Americas.

Nakamaura, “Gender and Race Online”

This chapter evaluates the state of race and gender within the world of console gaming, and it identifies many of the reasons for the pervasiveness of both sexism and racism within the gaming world. Another major element of this chapter is the discussion of how racism and sexism have not only flourished on the Internet but have, in many ways, defined it. Nakamaura, through the use of many different studies into the subjects of racism and sexism, reveals some of the biggest issues in the gaming community in regards to sexism and racism. Adrienne Shaw’s 2011 ethnographic study revealed that women and girls tend to identify less as gamers and underestimate or under report the amount of time that they spend playing video games. On the other hand, men and boys will more easily identity as gamers even if they do not frequently play video games because it allows them an avenue to connect with masculinity. Gaming culture has produced a “new type of male identity, that of ‘geek masculinity.’” (pg. 82) Various studies showed both that non-white men are “better-represented” in the gaming world and that non-white youths play more video games at home than white youths. Despite those two statistics, the majority of black and brown representations in video games, for example, continues to be in the forms of criminals, gangsters, and athletes, and there has been a distinct lack of non-white avatars or playable characters. (pg. 83)

Nakamaura details the two understandings of racism that were detailed by sociologist Ashley Doane: one, that racism  is made up of personal, individuals instances of prejudice, hatred, stereotyping, etc. and two, that racism is systematic and that racism is persistent and pervasive in social practices such as housing and education. The gaming world is certainly filled with individual examples of harassment, but there are also “systematic practices such as the exclusion of non-stereotyped characters of color and women from the game texts and storylines themselves are part of a harmful racial discourse as well.” (pg. 84) 

This chapter also looks at abusive language that is racist, sexist, and/or homophobic in nature and which is dismissed by many (mostly white men) as being “trash talk” that is an inherent part of gaming culture. Many blogs and forums have been created in order to discuss and catalog this kind of harassment due to a systemic ineffectiveness from the gaming industry to regulate hate speech and abusive language. 

WNET, Mission America Online Games about American History + the NEH Digital Programs for the Public Grant Guidelines 

Grant Guidelines:

  • NEH’s Digital Projects for the Public is meant to support those projects that are interpreting/analyzing humanities content via digital platforms and formats. Here are the shoulds each project needed:
    • To demonstrate the potential to attract a broad, general audience (online or in-person)
    • present analysis that deepens public understanding of significant humanities ideas; 
    • incorporate sound humanities scholarship; 
    • involve humanities scholars in all phases of development and production; 
    • include appropriate digital media professionals; 
    • reach a broad public through a realistic plan for development, marketing, and distribution; 
    • create appealing digital formats for the general public; and 
    • demonstrate the capacity to sustain themselves.

WNET, Mission America Online Games about American History Grant Application

This grant consists of the WNET requesting funding from the NEH for Mission America, which is a “ground-breaking multi-media initiative to help young people ages 9-13 learn American history. Chosen as the launch project for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American History and Civics Initiative, Mission America centers on five free online games set in different eras in U.S. history” (pg. 1) The five missions are Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820), Slavery and the Abolitionist Movement (1801-1861), Development of the Industrial United States (1869-1900), Emergence of Modern America (1890-1919), Emergence of Modern America (1890-1919), The Inter-War Years (1919-1940). Each mission is a character-driven narrative that is meant to supplement “the social history approach of middle school history.” (pg. 7)

The ultimate goal of this project is to “advance humanities education by a sophisticated use of interactive media to engage students in learning and analyzing U.S. history.” It wants to use gaming, the most popular medium amongst students–to immerse children in history. (pg. 1) Mission America aimed to provide students with new kinds of experiences and avenues through which to “grapple with a multiplicity of perspectives on historical issues.” The project offers: an innovative format, a curricular basis, a proven model, and wide distribution. (pg. 2) The main proposed audience for this project are fifth to eighth graders both in schools and outside of them as well as teachers, libraries, and PBS outreach stuff who wish to use the materials to engage students and young learners. (pg. 10) 

Mission America was designed with theories in history education and technology and “teacher input about the skills and concepts important for students to learn history” in mind. Moving beyond the concept that games can be a great supplementary tool for learning, Mission America is based on theory that gaming itself creates “new and richer contexts for learning.” (pg. 5). This game has three main learning goals: “learn the story of America and the ways Americans struggle to realize the ideals of liberty and equality, understand the role of ordinary men and women, including young people, in history, develop historical thinking skills that increase historical understanding and critical perception.” (pg. 5-6) Key design choices to promote the chosen learning objectives are: Authentic content, Narrative engagement, Avatar, Vocabulary support, Social context, Flexibility (pg. 9)

Initial testing of the game in classrooms revealed two significant findings: “first, players liked Mission America regardless of their gender or gaming experience” and “second, students regularly asked for more missions to play, not just at school but at home.” WNET’s game-based learning theory was also supported by this initial testing. (pg. 11) The distribution plan for Mission America is for it to take place over four years with outreach being done through PBS stations, the Mission America website, and partnerships with national organizations in school and after-school programs, libraries, etc. (pg. 12) The production and roll-out of Missions 1-4 “will take place over three years, beginning August 2009. NEH funds would support activities from April 2010 through March 2012.” (pg. 19) The second half of the document is a fairly extensive design document that goes into greater detail about what Mission America will look like, what it will do, and how it will function. 

Mobile Media, Place, and Mapping

This week’s readings were all about space and how we interact with it mediated through digital technology. There was a mix of theoretical and practical reading, starting off with the theory bits that took me a million years to read, followed by several specific examples of implementation of mobile digital tools for historical institutions and projects. The readings all emphasized that mobile media isn’t creating brand new spaces or opportunities, but providing new ways to modify previous methods of historical storytelling and audience engagement. While mobile digital media allows new interactions with and in space and ways of practicing history in different contexts, they also do consistently point out possible shortcomings and places for possible investigation as digital mobile media continues to evolve at such a rapid pace.

Mobile Interface Theory, Jason Farman

First off, this book is dense y’all. I’m not the most theory-oriented reader and thinker, so it took me some time to get through and I may struggle at times to summarize his main points, so bare with me! The point of the whole book is to show how digital mobile technology has uniquely impacted the process of social and spatial meaning-making in and around specific locales. He provides a broad definition of mobile media, stating that it is clearly not unique to the digital era with examples like subway signs, identification cards, and more. The distinction that matters to this book is the connection between mobile media generally and the growth of pervasive computing and how this new connection has shifted how we interact in and with space.

The first chapter then lays out his theoretical framework of what exactly space and embodiment are and how digital technology is used to create space and facilitate embodiment. In his eyes, space isn’t just a neutral thing that exists, but is created through the use of space, and embodiment is the use of space by someone that creates meaning, both for the space and the person. Embodiment also doesn’t just happen in physical space because space isn’t just physical structures, so digital devices are used to create spaces that facilitate embodiment and meaning-making just as much as any physical location. The last major point he makes is that although embodiment is gained through sensory experiences, it isn’t objective and self-contained, but created in a specific cultural context that inscribe meanings, influenced by how our own cognitive subconscious filters information, how we interpret gestures, language, clothes, ethnicity, gender, etc.

The proceeding sections of the book explain how digital mobile media has influenced space and embodiment in different categories. First is mapping, where he explains how mobile mapping like Google Maps has seriously changed how we navigate and interpret space around us particularly in unfamiliar places, and how interactive maps that allow for community contribution facilitate new meaning-making for individuals and communities as well as constant redefinition of space. Next, he talks about how locative social media has created a new connection between space and personal definition, with social media now able to track and share where you are in a way that ties it to your larger identity. The fourth chapter covers immersive gaming, focusing on how AR games can essentially project new meanings on space that would otherwise not be there, but also how interactions in and around these games and how you play them are informed by your previous knowledge and interactions with that space. The fifth chapter is based on asynchronous time, how mobile technology creates forms of interaction like texting that aren’t based on doing something at the same time as the person on the other side of the interaction, and how that impacts what we consider “presence” in any give moment and context. The final chapter of the main body of the book is about mobile devices as reading interfaces that can be used in the spaces being written about, providing community history in a markedly individual way, creating both proximity and distance for the user.

The conclusion then focuses on obsolescence and how it is connected to the idea of progress and forward movement. He argues that continued and rapid obsolescence is encouraged by the idea that things need to keep somehow progressing and changing is a misunderstanding of motion in the first place. He argues that “dwelling” rather than constantly pushing for progress and growth is a form of movement in itself, just like how your arms are moving against gravity when you hold them still straight out in front of you. This, he argues, will allow us to further engage with digital technology as a positive space for embodiment just like any other space that we use.

“New App City,” Durington and Collins

This reading is also in a more theoretical lens, this time focusing on anthropology. While in South Korea, Sam Collins downloaded an app from the Chongno District Government called “Chongno Alleys” that had several tours meant to highlight lesser known landmarks in the district. The app is based on mapping and gamification, providing stamps for each stop the user makes along a tour and allowing the user to create a gallery for each location, comment on a specific location, and post directly to social media. While using the app, Collins noticed several unexpected occurrences. At times, his phone’s GPS would not accurately pinpoint his location, leading to a lot more blind wandering by Collins; and other times the map wouldn’t be entirely accurate, leading him to several dead ends or random gardens. Unexpected encounters with secret service agents surrounding the South Korean President’s house in the neighborhood undermined the sense of idyllic patriotism the app provided.

This experience les to Collins and Durington contemplating the usefulness of these sorts of apps for anthropologists and their ethnographic research and publishing. Apps provide a coherent structuring of narrative, space, and practice, and their imperfections when implementing those narratives as a mapped tour can draw attention to tensions and alternative meanings of spaces when considering differences between symbols on the map and physical structures in space. These apps also allow the broad use of different kinds of media in the same space. Once the maps are put together, analysis of how much people actually follow the paths set out for them serves as research in itself, providing instant feedback on your work, and space for collaboration from the prototyping phase through publication. Ultimately, apps like “Chongno Alleys” provide a path towards engaging public anthropology outside of print publication.

“What is the Spatial Turn?” Jo Guldi

Turning a bit away from anthropology towards a different theoretical current, Guldi starts off explaining what the “spatial turn” means, briefly explaining ways space was being considered and reconsidered between the 1840s and 1980s. Starting in the 1880s, scholars of several different fields began exploring space as something that is manipulated, rewritten, and experienced by communities, promoting terms like “commons” and “pseuodenvironment” to emphasize the collective, artificial redefinition of space. Moving to the 1970s, and who else could come into this discussion of collective space and power but Foucault (who I can never truly escape). His work along with that of many other French philosophers at the time began emphasizing the connection between power and space. This didn’t rewrite earlier concerns, but instead shifted their focus to interrogate the role of capitalism, surveillance, and power in and on space. Digital mapping tools that emerged in the 1960s and beyond allowed for even greater interrogation of space through these lenses by historians and social scientists, as this technology allowed them to broaden their scope to global patterns and hone in one local space in much more detail.

From this broader history, Guldi situates the first major “spatial turn” in this work between 1880 and 1960, when national boundaries, state surveillance, private property, and considerations and perspectives of landscapes were all in deep turmoil and constant change. This era, according to Guldi, deeply influenced the interdisciplinary developments in spatial theory and practice that emerged in the GIS (geographic information services) era that followed.

“The Spatial Turn in History,” Jo Guldi

Blessedly (for me anyways) turning away from the more theoretical realm, Guldi them explains the different ways landscapes have been constructed and utilized in historiography. Landscape writing that emerged in the mid- to late-1800s was integral to constructing the nation for audiences, painting the image of a single, monolithic shared space that was theirs as members of that same nation. These narratives were constructed by historians traveling throughout the nation they were constructing, doing deep archival research to provide their narrative the objective authority of an atlas. This process borrowed local histories that had already constructed local identities, tying them together and creating a larger national identity from those sources, emphasizing landscape rather than family to allow for more universal relatability across a wider audience. City histories emerged around the same time to challenge these national histories, providing a narrative that was more focused on middle-class actors and a more specific landscape. This split between national- and city-based histories remained in social science practice in the time that’s followed.

There are three main moments that are contenders for when representations of imaginary spaces were initially used to convince strangers they had a broad common experience. The first is the Renaissance, when phenomenology emerged and questioned when the modern landscape occurred, using linear narratives and idealistic representations of landscapes and cities to build the illusion of political consensus. The second option is focused around World War I, emphasizing not just the romantic construction of shared space but when that space was directly used by states to mobilize their citizens in the war effort. Notably, monuments to soldiers and national heroes were an important representation to encourage political mobilization. The third popular option is looking at the modern landscape through the economic and political influences under the modern infrastructure state, connecting the landscape changes that came with modern transportation networks, national parks, civil engineering, and modern urban planning as one broad political and economic moment.

Mobile for Museums, Leon, Brennan, Lester, and Odiorne

Moving away from both theory and historiography, this paper focuses on implementation methods for integrating mobile devices into museums, especially those working with a low budget, small staff, or limited technical expertise. Their first general pieces of advice are to focus on the experience you want to provide over the specific tech itself, and to function under the assumption that tech will become outdated within a few years so you shouldn’t drag your feet on figuring out and developing things for the museum for too long. A couple of things worth noting that interestingly illustrates this point for them in the time since this article has been written are that A) they emphasize the role of iPods specifically for audio work, while iPods have just recently gone entirely out of production, and B) they mention QR codes as something that may emerge as useful but is in early stages as of writing, while now museums, restaurants, artists, and all other kinds of spaces and creators use them as a major way of sharing info and work.

They then go into two main categories of recommendations, the first focusing on Infrastructure and Technology. First, they recommend developing for browsers rather than operating systems for easy cross-platform use, although it also comes with limited multimedia implementation. They also recommend making sure the content made for mobile devices isn’t just useful in that space and context, but can be repurposed for several different venues. The other major category of recommendations they make is content and implementation. First, they suggest having projects that aren’t just focused on in-gallery experiences. Second, they recommend that mobile elements aren’t just one-way—museum providing content and narratives to guests—but are used to encourage and solicit feedback on and interactions with the related displays and exhibits.

The final part of this piece is an outline of how they implemented these recommendations as examples for museums and other spaces that may want to use them as a starting point. Worth noting is that they did so using pre-existing software frameworks, allowing for a low barrier for entry for museums, and letting the creators share their code directly to further facilitate easier implementation and collaboration between themselves and museum developers using this as a jumping off point.

“A Place for Everything,” John Russnick

At one point, John Russnick considered comparing old-school curators with Rip Van Winkle in a post-mobile device, modern museum, but has since realized that they are, at worst, essentially just cranky Scrooge-types in the newer environment. In his own work, he’s seen how technology has positively impacted museums and audience engagement, so really his concern is not whether collections can or should work in this mobile space, but how. The opportunity he sees for collections in this space is how digital tools can make objects that need to be kept on a pedestal, behind glass and ropes, with tons of security safeguards more real and accessible while still following long-term preservation standards. Russnick sees AR as a particularly important tool to do just that, and theorizes it would reveal the shortcomings of the museum’s collection itself. By mapping where the objects they hold would physically belong or match up to, it would likely reveal the bias the museum’s collection has towards straight, white, middle and upper class communities and histories, but making that map public would also allow for users to fill those gaps themselves, making the museum’s collection a much more collaborative space. Ultimately, he concludes that digital technology doesn’t limit the usefulness of collections, but can create new avenues of thought by implementing that collection in new, more collaborative and thought-provoking ways.

“Listening to the City,” Mark Tebeau

While the last piece emphasized the use of physical collections in mobile museum projects, this article focuses on oral histories and their role in interpretive practices. Tebeau does this by focusing in on the Cleveland Historical Project, which is a mobile app and website that shows Cleveland histories through several types of media, especially sound, that can be explored as a tour or through searches and tags. It isn’t just based on a single person or institution’s research either, but instead with the help of hundreds of students, teachers, and community members who have contributed stories. This project emphasizes the use of oral histories to move away from an over-emphasis often placed on visual representations of history, utilizing understandings of the aural and how listening can evoke memories and a sense of place and space that is not possible through images or writing.

This has long been central to the theory and practice of oral history, but the emergence of digital and mobile technology has revolutionized the accessibility and usability of these oral histories generally and as part of more comprehensive projects like Cleveland Historical. Mobile tech in particular allows oral histories to even more effectively evoke memory and engagement with space through listening, by facilitating listening in the spaces the oral histories are about in the first place. This can draw attention to what has stayed the same in a space, as well as how much a space has changed over time, and can encourage listeners to consider their own personal connections to the space, narrators, and stories. While it can be useful to locate oral histories in that manner, it isn’t necessarily always a good move, especially when stories may be too broad to be tied to one location or that location may be physically inaccessible. They also implemented the oral history principle of “shared authority” in their collection methods, training community members in documentation methods—especially oral histories—so they could collect materials and interviews amongst themselves rather than having an outsider come to get them. This also extends to the curation of materials, which is a collaborative and dynamic process that allows for changes and reinterpretation after initial publication of materials. This project ultimately brings together and adapts oral history principles to function in a digital public project that wouldn’t be possible without mobile technology.

The Mall, Museums, and Adornments

This week I will be reviewing three different resources and demonstrating how to use them.

Mall History

This is an interactive website that provides a map with both commonly known and unique stories of the national mall. This website comes from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media with funding from the NEH. The map is the highlight of the website with 346 different pins. The website is meant to be used either on mobile when you are at the mall or on desktop to explore from the comfort of your own home.

Mall History Interactive Map

First, click on the Maps tab at the top of the page. Let’s pick a pin to look at. Since it’s Cherry Blossom season, let’s click on the Jefferson Memorial. There are 3 pins in this category, I’m going to select “Cherry Tree Protest at Jefferson Memorial Site” At the very bottom of this page there is a view more info button, which gives you additional detailed information, including citing their sources.

Cherry Tree Protest Pin

There are several other features on the website. Under the Explorations tab there are a collection of questions answered in blog style responses or activities like scavenger hunts. Under the People tab , there are photos with names of people who have historical connections to the mall like singer Marian Anderson who gave a concert in 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The fourth and final tab is the Past Events Tab. This provides a timeline of events that relate the the creation of the mall or significant events that occurred on the mall.

Overall, this is a really fun resource for Mall History that gives you commonly known info and some off the beaten path histories. The map element actually works quite well on mobile, which is a huge plus. This project is no longer updated as of 2014, so any events after that would not be included (like Jan 6th, for example).

Will to Adorn

The will to adorn app is companion to the project The Will To Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity, which documents and preserves the diversity of African American identities as they are presented through various adornments such as clothing, jewelry, and hairstyles. This project comes from the Smithsonian folklife festival of 2013. The app provides a space for people to share their own stories about their personal style and how it represents them. The app is no longer available for download but the website provides a brief overview. From what I gathered you can record your own voice answering questions and also listen to others who have provided recordings. There was also the opportunity to upload photos as well.

Museum on Main Street

Museum on Main Street is part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. This service brings thoughtfully designed exhibits to small town America. The website provides all kinds of resources for educational outreach in rural areas including acting as an online archive which documents the stories of those who live there. There are starter kits that provide a pre-constructed exhibitions or an opportunity to collaborate and develop your own.

Example of a Starter Kit for an exhibition on labor history

There’s a lot of content on this website which makes it a standout resource. The last things I will mention is the Road Report Blog, which tells stories from the traveling exhibitions. There’s also a podcast which features stories from rural America, both of these resources, while fascinating, don’t appear to be maintained, hopefully a revival of these resources is coming in the future.

Reading Response: Digital exhibition, hypermedia narrative

Guiliano Chapter 9 “Storytelling” 

This chapter of Guiliano’s work, A Primer for Teaching Digital History, focuses on the ways in which students can narrate their own version of historical thinking. Guiliano opens the chapter with the now iconic cultural touchstone of Hamilton and shows how this phenomenon is nothing new, citing many other iconic history-based works. In my opinion, you could make an entire top 20 list of just Vietnam War movies. But what does this have to do with digital history? Giuliano ties the entire chapter together by citing how many different formats, from the TV show Drunk History, to games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization, and even projects such as the podcast Ben Franklin’s World, are all examples of digital storytelling within the medium of history. Even though some are more liberal with their depictions of history, they all invite audiences to engage with history. Guilano then goes on to highlight why digital storytelling is such an effective tool for students. Specifically, it allows students to give their work more depth and interact with various forms of scholarship. All of this helps students think more creatively when interacting with sources and how many layers there are when creating works of history. Basically, footnotes are boring, but hyperlinks are rad. Of course, there are also drawbacks to this type of work; when you can interact with infinite audiences, it can become hard to narrow your work down. One key to using these resources effectively is to make sure your audience is clear. This has me thinking about my own digital storytelling as I trek across the District of Columbia; who would want to watch this, what would their motivation be, and how do I make it accessible and entertaining for them? Ultimately I find this article does a great job of explaining digital storytelling as a tool and how to use the tool effectively. 

Big Data, Little Narration 

Big data, little narration asks the thought-provoking question that classic archives have been asking since their inception. How do we make sense of and provide context for a collection? Through a faux text message conversation with Dragan, we see that concepts such as context, authenticity, and representation are difficult to discern in the digital age. For example, is it authentic to recreate the site as it would have looked in the late 90s, or is it more authentic to see it as it would appear on a search engine today? I think this article demonstrates how context can enhance digital content; for instance,, Dragan discusses how they create the Geocities webpage screenshots displaying the webpage, which invites new internet users to engage with the content. Instead of showing an interesting fact or common searches locking the user into whatever question was asked that was out of their control, the Geocities page lets future historians cringe enthusiasts or just nostalgic millennials ask questions and interact with the data in a more meaningful way. 

Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory  

For our purposes Re-Collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory chapter 2 focuses on the concept of social memory and how it relates to the preservation and the challenge that new media presents within this space. Rinehart invites the reader to inspect how society thinks of and remembers itself and what we can do to help preserve that notion here in the present. By using Toy Story as a case, student Rinehart shows that digital preservation can be a funky practice. Determining which copy is the original, in this case, film versus digital copies, and how preservation still needs to occur regardless of that process. The rest of the book investigates how technology, institutions, and law also affect the idea of preservation and social memory. 

Getting to the Stuff: Digital Cultural Heritage Collections, Absence, and Memory

Getting to the stuff does precisely what it says and attempts to show how cultural heritage sites such as museums and archives can show their stuff off in a productive manner. What I appreciated most about this article was the amount of clever data-driven research that Sheila embarks on for this project. Using case samples from actual museums gives valuable insight into the field’s current state. In addition, the article asks the very important question of what other conversations a museum can join, where conversations can happen, and how museums ensure their content can exist outside of a brick-and-mortar building. Grappling with these questions is imperative for a museum field now entrenched in the digital age.  

Museumbots: An Appreciation

What do we choose to see when we enter a museum? As someone who now works behind the scenes in what is possibly the most boring role in a fascinating institution, the amount of gears that turn to put an object in front of a visitor is staggering. Museumbots, in many ways, eliminate the human aspect of the museum field; rather than a hand-selected, carefully displayed work, it tweets pictures of just about anything and everything. Lubar not only raises the point about how carefully curated a museum is but also invites conversation on what else could be made random and highlight fascinating aspects of a museum. By using museum bots to showcase the variety of what a museum holds, it invites audiences who would otherwise not know they were represented in a collection to your institution. 

Curating in the Open: Martians, Old News, and the Value of Sharing as you go

This article by esteemed digital historian Trevor Owens focuses on the importance of sharing your project as you go and the interesting ways audiences react to curating media on a digital platform. Throughout his conversation on the virality of delicious Martian vegetables, we see that content does not have to exist rigidly in a vacuum that no one can see until the fully polished piece is finished. Rather, sharing content allows audiences to find and interact with whatever themes or issues you are trying to present. In this way, digital media can be a place to post your ideas, progress, concepts, or even your problems. By not pushing this material but still making it available, you can see how an organic audience understands it, what lessons they take away, or the public perception of your work. 

The Searchable Museum

The National Museum of African American History & Culture created an online exhibit as a “place to explore history and culture through an African American lens”. The site is split in four sections:


The constellations section offers multiple artifacts or stories that reveal themes related to the African American experience across time and genre.

If you click on a constellation, such as James Baldwin’s 1965 password, a web of resources pops up alongside it, showing the wider understanding of the object.
I clicked on the top right icon from the first screenshot and you can see it prompts you with a link to further explore the exhibition where the image is from. Not all the related content surrounding James Baldwin’s 1965 Passport had links to external sites, some simply offered a paragraph of more information.


Currently, there are four exhibitions posted on the Searchable Museum. Slavery and Freedom explores the history of slavery in America, with focus on the stories of the enslaved. This exhibit offers a more nuanced approach of who helped shape the nation of the United States. Making a Way Out of No Way is an inspiring exhibit devoted to African Americans who strengthened their communities through networks that cultivated economic and social successes. This exhibit shows how these individuals paved a path for broader social change. Spirit in the Dark examines Black music, activism, and popular culture through the diverse aspects of the Black religious experience. Millie Christine focuses on the lives of enslaved conjoined twins, Millie Christine McCoy. The twins were born a decade before the Civil War and their exhibit explores the themes of family, profit, freedom, and slavery in the 19th century.

All of the exhibitions are created differently on The Searchable Museum. Slavery and Freedom begins with a short video clip to welcome the viewer to the content. The exhibition then has four parts, with each part containing multiple chapters that detail the information further.

The opening video for Slavery and Freedom.
Here are some of the chapters for the first section of the exhibition.
Here is a closer look at the chapters. You can see they continue branching off sections to fully examine the history of the topic.

Making a Way Out of No Way also begins with a short video clip, and then is separated into themes.

Here you can see some of the themes that Making a Way Out of No Way shows. Spirit in the Dark and Millie Christine similarly presents their exhibitions by exploring themes.


The stories portion of The Searchable Museum focuses on “Lesser Known Stories” and stories from the “Present to Past.”

“Lesser Known Stories” presents the page in the screenshot above. On your desktop, you can scroll down and see dozens of boxes that detail different stories.
After clicking on one of the boxes from the “Lesser Known Stories” main page, a new page will pop up that offers more in depth research on these often forgotten stories. This screenshot is from Bridget “Biddy” Mason’s page.

The “Present to Past” page focuses on different areas and show different aspects of systemic racism and how it has developed over time.

Learn More

“Learn More” includes two sections on “How We Know What We Know” and “Resources.” “How We Know What We Know” focuses on the methods, tools, and sources that are used to study African American history and culture. “Resources” allows for viewers to dive further into the history and culture of African Americans. The resources reveals where The Searchable Museum found all the information for their exhibitions and provides access to those sources and additional sources for those interested in investigating more.