Final Project: The Past That Haunts Us

Bryce Thomas

Hello everyone!

My Final project is a online exhibition on the history of ghost tours called “The Past That Haunts Us” that sought to explore the importance of ghost tours and their history. To create the project I used ArcGIS StoryMaps and it was much easier to use than I thought it would be. In my project I was able to explore how ghost tours interact with concepts like memory, place, and history as a field. I then used a combonation of words and visuals to create a slideshow exhibit.

One thing that suprised me is how easy it was to find sources for the subject of ghost tours. I also found that ArcGIS StoryMaps is easy software to use once you play around with it for a hour or so. I think the hardest part was narrowing down information into an exhibit and formatting some of the sources for the project but I think I figured it out. I hope you all have a wonderful summer and I’m so glad that I was a part of such an smart and amzaing class as this one. So before I link my projects and leave I would like to thank each and every one of you for a wonderful semester and I hope I see you again in the fall.

My poster:

My Project is Linked here

Practicum: The Will To Adorn App

Note: I was unable to access the App as it is not currently offered in the U.S. App store. All information is based upon its website and App store description.

Today I will be walking you through the Smithsonian Folkways app that they created called The Will To Adorn.

Viewing Page from App Store

First, to run the app you must have an Apple device such as an IPhone that is able to download the app. As stated above, I was unable to get the app as it is not currently being offered by the U.S. App Store and so I was unable to get the app myself. However, I was able to find screenshots and other useful material for this practicum elsewhere. The Will To Adorn is probably best described by The Will To Adorn website as follows: “The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity is a multi-year collaborative folk cultural research and public presentation project initiated by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Through the work and perspectives of museum, academic, and community scholars, and community-based cultural practitioners including artisans and designers from across the nation, this project explores the diversity of African American identities as expressed through the cultural aesthetics and traditional arts of the body, dress, and adornment.”(Diana N’Diaye). The project seeks to address identity and culture and provides ways through the app for the public to be able to submit their own photos. This in essence is a public history project, as it is history by the public, for the public.

The App Store has screenshots of their product that look like the picture below:

Screenshots from the App Store

This app allows for audio recordings based off questions centered around dress and expression. This seems to be the only thing that the app is able to do, along with allowing people to listen to other recordings. However, the website seems to be where the real action would have occurred.

Bottom half of the Homepage for The Will To Adorn

The website allows for people to see things like related articles, research tools, pictures, videos, and more. However, it does not look like it has been updated in a few years, and I could not figure out how to get a login to see if anything was behind the login wall. In addition, the other pages all say to contact an individual if you are interested in the project, and so I was unable to see any of the other tabs work much. Regardless, I think that this was a unique concept that is pretty cool.

Digital Archives: Kimberly Christen “Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia”

Link to article:

In Kimberly Christen’s article “Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia” we see how digital archives and communities can work together to overcome problems often associated with traditional archives. Christen starts out the article acquainting the audience with the fact that certain restrictions that surround traditional archives make it harder for people, especially Indigenous peoples, to access archival material related to their communities. Three challenges given are distance, poverty, and education and these are similar to challenges articulated in Jarrett Drake’s article. Christen then goes on to point out that digital archives can overcome these challenges by increasing accessibility, but then shows that there is such a thing as too much accessibility. To combat this Christen shows that community based archives built and curated with the community that archivist work with may be the key to helping share Indigenous artifacts while allowing control to remain with the Indigenous communities, barring stronger measures such as repatriation of artifacts.

To illustrate this point, Christen writes about a project that she worked on called the Mukurtu Project. The goal of this project was to create a digital archive for the Warumungu-kari community in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory Australia that would allow for community based sharing with the Indigenous community and the outside world that was built and controlled by Warumungu-kari community customs. Some of the things that Christen had to keep in mind when working on this project are interesting as they relate to things that we as historians must remember when dealing with communities that have been negatively affected by structural inequality. First, the digital archive website had to be user friendly as the Indigenous community had low literacy levels and low levels of skill with computers. Therefore, simplicity in the user interface was key to making it accessible not just for viewing but for uploading content. Second, the website and archive itself was built to Indigenous community protocols and customs with community stakeholders involved in the entire process. This means that the Indigenous community was able to “take back” control over their history and artifacts by building a space that was dictated by their customs and not those of oppressors.

As a result, the website that was created was built to allow for community participation along community lines. What I mean by this is that the Indigenous communities involved were able to create a space that they could upload, share, and comment on familial artifacts and engage in community preservation of culture and history on their own terms. One thing I found when reading the article is that the user interface requires that an person create a profile that then puts them into a certain status that decides level of participation and viewing based on Indigenous customs. A person could be an community member, traditional owner, or elder. What struck me the most about these levels is that all could participate in uploading and commenting, but the levels decided certain viewing and editing privileges according to the custom of the community. An example of this is that only elders can edit/view certain sacred objects. In addition, men and women are only allowed to view certain artifacts and cannot view artifacts that are identified with the other group. As for non-community members like ourselves we would only be able to view things that are designated as “open” in the archive which means anyone can view the object. The author closes by saying that this has allowed community members to share and engage in dialogue with each other and the outside world.

Digital Archives: Jarrett M. Drake Article on “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archive Repositories

Link to the article:

In the article “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archive Repositories by Jarrett M. Drake we find the concept of archives viewed through the lens of community based work and the Black Lives Matter movement. This article reflects briefly on Drake’s experiences with helping to implement a community based archive in Cleveland on the subject of police violence before moving on to the subject of traditional archive repositories and the Black Lives Matter movement. Drake explores what archives need to keep in mind before engaging in work centered around community activism and social justice movements, and he highlights the Black Lives Matter movement as a central point of the article.

First, Drake notes that two preconditions must be met before he thinks traditional archives should begin to take on work related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Drake tells his audience that they must confront their own institutions complicity in structural inequality and to build trust through allyship. This was something that I found interesting in that this is exactly what archives are now trying to do for all collections, and is part of the larger idea towards understanding how historians have been complicit in structural inequalities most often associated with the “academics in ivory towers”. It also points to problems that digital archives are currently facing when it comes to working with communities. I thought that one thing that was most interesting is that Drake is saying that these are things to consider for archives that are going to work with movements and communities such as Black Lives Matter, but he believes that independent community archives should take precedent over more centralized institutions. This brings up one question that I had on my mind as I read this: What does everyone think of the idea of limiting who can do what when it comes to archives?

To continue, two concepts that traditional archives must look into are, as Drake articulates, the location and language of the archive. On location one point that is similar to the Kimberly Christen article is that one must consider how do people access these archives in addition to physical location. I find this interesting as it is something that digital archives constantly struggle with as to how the public can access their archives with things like poverty, internet access, etc that are sometimes by-products of structural inequality. I also thought that the ideas of surveillance in a traditional archive were something that could be applied to digital archives in terms of user profiles, IP addresses, and user data ownership. Second, the language of the archive was interesting in that finding aids were part of the problem. Drake explains that the people who often work with and founded the material around Black Lives Matter are not the “cis-gendered white males” that traditional archives often cater towards. Rather, it was Black women who were members of the LGBTQA+ community and their stories are often in archives but not told by them. This relates to digital archives in how searching and cataloging are accomplished.

Finally, I wanted to explore Drakes idea of building trust through allyship and how this may relate to digital archives. Before going into this it would be useful to define what exactly an ally is so that we can see how traditional and digital archives may start working towards this process. Drake offers an definition by the Anti-Oppression Network which states that allyship is, “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people…allyship is not an identity [but] a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust…allyship is not self-defined [but] must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.“(Drake 2016). To this end, Drake insists that building these relationships and maintaining them is the only way that traditional archives can accurately and critically share material related to Black Lives Matter and in a certain sense the Black community at large. This made me think of how digital archives and how they might try and build these relationships with people and communities that they work with.

Online Exhibition of the History of Ghost Tours: A Digital History Project

The subfield of dark tourism is one that invites both a sense of intrigue and skepticism in the eyes of some of the general public. In addition, historians may often look upon the field as something that is not rife with historical truths and instead a place for businesses to make a profit. And it’s hard to blame them. However, recently the field has gotten a chance at redemption as historians consider the benefits these types of tours may have to disseminate history to the public. As someone who currently works as a ghost tour guide for a company in Alexandria called Alexandria Colonial tours I have seen first hand peoples positivity and eagerness to partake in these kinds of tours. Also, I think that the public loves learning about history in this manner, even if they don’t realize that that is precisely what they are doing when they take a ghost tour. I think that historians should give more attention to sharing our knowledge with the public through this method of public history. However, before we as historians dive fully into using ghost tours as a method of sharing history it is important to consider how we got to giving ghost tours in the first place. And that is what I aim to do in my digital history project.

To begin, I was inspired by a number of different factors including but not limited to Tiya Miles Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era to delve into the history of ghost tours. Some things to consider: What are the origins of ghost tours? How have ghost tours changed throughout the years? How have the public perceived them, and why? Can tours whos stories are entirely or partially made up still be effective methods for sharing history, or do they have to be rooted in historical sources? What sources have ghost tours used? These questions, along with others that may arise, will help me unravel the phenomenon of ghost tours that have so captured the public over the years. In order to share my findings I intend to build a online exhibit that will combine research, photos, and possibly other media to provide a history of ghost tours that will serve to show that there is history behind the stories. This will hopefully convince historians that ghost tours are an effective method to share history with the public.

Next, my method of building this project will be through the software ArcGIS StoryMaps by esri, and for our purposes known as StoryMaps.

Overview Page. Courtesy of Ersi

StoryMaps is a type of software that allows for mapping to be used in ways that allow users to use a variety of methods to create content. In my case, I will use it to create a story that is an online exhibit on the history of ghost tours. One thing that will be beneficial is that the pictures and other media seem to be very easy to implement, and the quality is quite good. Another thing I like is that I will be able to add text to the photos, and that will allow me to provide context to the history. Another thing is that this is apparently easy to disseminate to people like classes or the public as referenced on the StoryMaps website.

Finally, this project will help public historians understand the historical value of both ghost tours and dark tourism in general. By exploring the history of ghost tours I hope to prove that ghost tours are a viable method for public history and should be taken more seriously by all historians. One thing that I may find a bit difficult is that I am unsure of the volume of writings in an academic setting done about ghost tours that might provide me with the history of the industry. However, I have no doubt that I will be able to complete the project and provide an excellent history of ghost tours. Hopefully you will all find something helpful in this project that may help in your future as historians.

-Bryce Thomas