Art on Call – Reflection

When I started this project in the beginning of the semester I didn’t realize how much of a passion project it would become. The more people I spoken to about Art on Call, the more frustrated I got about how no digital resource (or archive!) was available for people to learn more. I was more determined than ever to complete the archive, even if the completion date would be way after the last Digital History class. It was a huge lesson in how public work projects can be lost in time without proper documentation.

There remains no master list for every call box that was renovated, which remained the main speed bump for this project. I found an incomplete map on google M Maps that someone had put together, but mostly the callboxes have been located through trial and error.

Since I vastly underestimated the time spent walking through neighborhoods trying to locate each individual box, I got someone to partner with me on this project for the documentation portion. With their help, we have been able to tackle individual neighborhoods quicker, and therefore locate over 80 boxes during the semester. There are an approximate 150-175 boxes, so hopefully the documentation project will be complete by August of 2018.

The ultimate goal of this project in not just the documentation of these boxes, but also the digital archive that can be a resource to the greater DC community. I have created an open google drive folder that will contain mine and the project partners contact information, any resources I used to locate the call boxes, the master excel sheet of all the information (including pictures of boxes, locations, and descriptions), and also a folder of all original photographs that are named clearly and concisely. It remains public, but non-editable while I work on the project. At the completion I will allow anyone to edit it, so that if Art on Call gets picked back up and I am unaware other people can crowdsource it and maintain a complete master list.

Finally, the last portion of the project will be the uploading of all pictures into WikiCommons, so that the rights of the photographs are clearly in the public domain. This way they can be utilized in other spaces, including Wikipedia pages, blog posts, and publications. My hope is that this archive might inspire other community based nonprofits to work on it again, as there over 1,000 call boxes that have been stripped and primed but only ~150 boxes that have actually been renovated.

One thing I didn’t expect while working on this project was the clear redlining that happened with this project. It’s obvious that the only neighborhoods who could complete their project were ones with wealthy residents who could donate time and money to the project. While it’s a wonderful thing to allow individual communities control over art projects that represent their neighborhoods, it has to be clear that some projects should focus more resources to the communities that need assistance in the implementation of their ideas. These boxes are mostly located directly downtown or in wealthy neighborhoods in NW DC, including Georgetown, Glover Park, Cleveland Park, Tenleytown, and Woodley Park.

After talking to my classmate Lina, she inspired me to dedicate my research seminar into exploring community art revival in DC, particularly the redlining practices of renovated historical space. I’m hopeful that this project will not only end with a resource that people can use, but will also continue to inspire my work in other ways.

Project Rough Draft: Art on Call

This project has changed since my proposal blog post a few months back, but that’s a good thing. My scope now is now focused and I am determined to provide a useful database for Art on Call locations in Washington, D.C. It’s is frustrating that such a wonderful project doesn’t have a public database to begin with.

I’ve reached out to Cultural Tourism DC to see if they have a list of call boxes for their own record, as I would like to make this data base as complete as possible. For now I haven’t heard anything, but I will keep everyone updated in the comments if that changes.

I created a google drive folder that is open to the public, that people can see here. It contains an excel sheet, folder of all of the pictures, and the google my maps that someone created that contains about half of the Art on Call boxes.

Below you can see  some of the picture’s I have taken so far. Since the goal is to make this as accessible as possible I carefully labeled each of the Art on Call pictures in the following format: [Name|Front or Back|.jpeg. So example, the Washington Ballet Art On Call callbox has two pictures, one titled WashingtonBalletFront.jpeg and WashingtonBalletBack.jpeg. This way someone who was just browsing my drive folder could understand the organizational method I used.

The excel spreadsheet is something I hope to be able to give to the DC Public Library, so that they can have a complete data base for their collections. It includes the locations of the callboxes, the title of the call box, and hopefully will soon have an image of the front and back of each call box as well. However, I cannot figure out for the life of me how to insert a picture in the cell, even after two youtube tutorials. So if anyone has any suggestions – please let me know!

Once this drive in complete (or as complete as I can create it) I would like to be able to upload all of these images in WikiCommons. This way it available for the public under open licensing, and the images can be used in any way people want. As someone who has dealt a lot with photograph licensing this past few months, I can tell you nothing is more frustrating when you are working on something and want to use imagery , even for just non-commercial use, and you can’t find the rights or are denied non-commercial use.

WikiCommons will allow these images to live other lives in other people’s work, which is something I’m excited about.

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?

“Art on Call” (Abigail Seaver)

Washington, D.C. has some incredibly cool historic sites; it’s one of the reasons there are over 18 million tourists annually from all over the world. Some of the best historical projects in this city are off the beaten path, and many of them elude even longtime residents. My favorite one, and the one that inspired this digital history project, is Art on Call.

Art on Call is a call box restoration project that took place in the early 2000’s. Many neighborhoods around the city contain abandoned call boxes that were used by police and other emergency services. These were slowly abandoned as radios and cell phones took over our daily lives, and instead of uprooting them they city just left them unmaintained. There were over 1,000 boxes located within the city limits, and the organization Cultural Tourism DC refurbished 145 of them between 2000 and 2009.

Each neighborhood formed committees on how their individual call boxes would look, and then researched/commissioned different artists to carry out their plans. These neighborhoods include Capitol Hill, Cathedral Heights, Cleveland Park, Downtown, Dupont Circle, Forest Hills, Georgetown, Golden Triangle, Glover Park, McLean Gardens, Mount Pleasant, Sheridan/Kalorama, Southwest, Tenleytown, and Woodley Park. Most of them speak to the vibrant history of the surrounding land, with some abstract art projects also thrown in. Each also has a marker indicating why the art was chosen and its relevance, usually on the backside of the call boxes.

Unfortunately, there are no online resources for this project and it has remained dormant since funding was cut in 2009. As I have come across these while out in DC I have continually looked up more information on them, but have found nothing except for sparse websites and a few blog posts. Vox (a liberal online news organization) uploaded a YouTube video describing the project in detail, but still no online resource remains for people who want to see and experience these call boxes virtually.

Here is where I need the help of the class – I am going to pitch three ideas on how to create an online catalogue for this project, and I need to get feedback on which on people feel would be the most accessible for both residents of Washington, D.C. and online history enthusiasts.

My first step is to document as many of the existing 145 call boxes, taking a picture of both the art and the caption describing the context of the box. I will upload the pictures in Wiki Commons so that anyone can have the rights to use them, and then I would like to do one of these three options:

Option 1: Create a Wikipedia page dedicated to this project, linked from the general topic page for Call Boxes. I can create a photographic chart that people can scroll through that will provide them the neighborhoods, the photographs, and a written description of how the box was designed with the physical space in mind.

Option 2: Create a My Map on Google that allows people to see the pictures and a description of each call box through Google Maps on a browser or the app. Someone has done a variation of this, but many pins are missing photographs of the call boxes and none of them explain the historical context of call boxes.

Option 3: Use History Pin to upload and describe all the call boxes for people online and on mobile devices. I am hesitant to use this one because I feel like it is more limited to users – someone walking around DC and googling “random art call boxes” wouldn’t necessarily stumble across it.

This is going to be my final project, so your input would be most appreciated! And I am open to other options, so please feel free to lead me in a different direction if you have a better digital platform in mind.

Print Project Proposal: Wikipedia and Community

Wikipedia: love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. In theory, the website shouldn’t be so successful. A platform where anyone, living anywhere, can change anything on the website should lead to disaster. While Wikipedia is far from perfect the community built around crowdsourcing has led to a relatively stable environment that shares a large portion of the historical knowledge people look for when browsing online.

For my print project proposal, I would like to look at the American Civil War Wikipedia page and analyze two particular sections; the talk page and the sources. I chose this topic because it is, and has been, an event that is hotly contested. How does Wikipedia handle difficult subject matter? How has crowdsourcing allowed neutral, unbiased content to exist on a topic that is often contested?

Talk Page:

The reason I am so interested in analyzing the talk page is to fully understand the discourse behind the decisions made for the article. This is where you find contested information and page lock-down information. Considering that Wikipedia relies heavily on crowdsourcing, I am interested in seeing how many users are engaged on the talk page, and if it’s mostly different individuals or is it the same few users each time? How often was the article put on lock down, and for what reason? What current events were happening during the time that spurred this influx of edits or changes? How did people respond, and what was the outcome of these contentions?


The sources used on Wikipedia usually have to follow strict guidelines, but in the past few years it has opened up to include more materials other than primary sources. I would like to categorize these sources and to find out more about where people are getting source materials. I am interested in seeing how easy it would be to access the cited materials. Do you need access to academic journals or library databases? Are the sources purely academic, or do they include materials from popular culture? How are the different sources used and cited within the text of the article?


Hopefully by looking at these aspects of the Wikipedia article and not just the content or edit history I can gain a better understanding of the subtleties this website has that allows for such a successful crowdsourcing project. While it’s true that many classically trained historians may not need to worry about the information on Wikipedia, it’s the job of the public historian to help disseminate knowledge effectively and efficiently. Wikipedia can be an invaluable tool for that.