Digital Project Reflection: Mapping DC Historic Houses

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well and managing the end of semester workload.

I really enjoyed working on this digital project and exploring the different ways in which history can be presented and the different tools that are available to present history in different ways.

For this final project I continued working on a collection using HistoryPin to display historic houses in the DC area. HistoryPin proved to be an all around user friendly tool for creating a virtual tour or presentation on a historic topic. I found it was particularly easy to create the collections and pins. Simply acquiring and photo and information on it were sufficient to creating the initial collection, and allowed for adequate room to expand upon them.

I had hoped to achieve several things with the project. The initial goal was simply to create a virtual tour of historic locations in the DC area that might generally be ignored by the general public. In a city so filled with history as Washington, DC, it can be easy for some of these places to go largely ignored by the public. These locations contain not only fascinating and important stories of history, but also important insights into the preservation of historic locations.

From there the goal of the project expanded to highlighting more of the process by which these historic houses came into the possession of the organizations who now own and operate them and how they choose to preserve that history. From here viewers of this collection could either plan a simple tour of the houses,if tours are provided, or get access to further information that could prove useful, such as events or research opportunities. With this information, viewers could also see the differences between the operations of houses owned by private organizations and houses operated by the federal government.

Due to the nature of HistoryPin, this collection now also has an opportunity to grow further, as other users could contribute to the collection of houses they have been to, and provide insights into the practices of the house and what services they may offer to both tourists and researchers alike. This project did not come without its own share of difficulties though. Though HistoryPin was a very useful and easy to use tool for this collection, it also had some technical problems that led to me being unable to make certain additions. For example, the collection is complete and a tour was created for all of the houses in the collection. However, when I went to create another tour to differentiate between houses that were owned by organizations that were separate from the federal government and had public access, the pins kept getting deleted. So while I hoped to create subsections based on useful traits for researchers/visitors, the technical problems with the site prevented me from doing so.

Overall though, the site made it easy enough to compile a collection of historic sites and present information about them, who owns and operates them, how they are preserved, and what use they could be to historians or those just interested in learning more about the city’s history. While there is still more that this project could eventually become, it has already proved the effectiveness of this digital tool for compiling this type of information.

Digital Project: Mapping DC Historic Houses

For this digital project I have created a collection using HistoryPin of historic houses in the DC area. The collection currently has ten historic houses pinned, selected from among the houses affiliated with the Historic House Museum Consortium of Washington DC. I do not yet know if I plan to add any more houses to the collection, but I hope to expand on categorizing the houses already pinned further, so that certain trends can be seen with the historic houses preserved in the city. With this tool I can create a virtual tour of some of the historic houses in the city and provide users with further access to information on the locations.

The descriptions I have provided for the pins are meant to serve two purposes for this virtual tour. The first is to provide some background about the location. Who lived there? What transpired there? Basically provide some brief information on why this building has been preserved to function as a museum to this day. The second purpose is to show how the house has changed ownership over its years of existence to see who has run its operations and who currently runs its operations. The purpose of this is to allow users to see and understand who has kept up the preservation of the building, compiled the collections there, and allow users to see what sort of motivation certain organizations might have had for maintaining the building and its contents. I also hope that people might use this tool to differentiate between how a historic house owned and operated by the federal government functions, versus how one owned by a private organization functions. I wanted to peel back the curtain to look at not just the history of the hoes, but the history of its preservation and ownership.

With this map I think those who would be interested in looking will find a resource for locating even more history in the city than the commonly known museums on the mall and be able to view museums that have set the goal of depicting what life was like for their communities at the time that the houses were built. Users will also be able to learn more about how these houses operate, and the historical societies responsible for their upkeep and the goals they have for the houses.

The primary challenge that I am facing is how to now take this collection I have compiled and either re-categorize it to provide additional information and trends in operations of these houses that may prove useful to users looking for a specific experience, or reorganize the houses into a more concise tour or groups of tours so that these houses could be experienced together. Though some of these houses are grouped together, some are quite a distance away.

Education Through Video Games: Mission US

Hell everyone I hope you are all staying safe and healthy. I am here to talk about one this week’s readings, the grant for Missions US Online Games About American History and the NEH Digital Programs. Confession: I was not able to use the link in the syllabus to access the document but through Google and the NEH website I was able to find the document for if not the same grant proposal, then likely a follow-up proposal. The document I was able to find is linked below.

First some background on Mission US. Mission US is a project developed through a partnership between WNET, the American Social History Project, Electric Funstuff, and Education Development Center. The goal of the project is to create various interactive games, or Missions as they call them, set in different periods of American history, allowing a user to learn about a topic in an immersive setting. When developing this project, WNET intended for this project to be usable both at home, and in the classroom to assist teachers. Based on the grant, it seems these games have made their way into many classrooms across the country.

The Homepage for Mission US

Mission US currently has five fully developed educational games free to play on their website, as well as a timed trivia game available on the Apple App store. The five main series games cover topics of slavery, the trail of tears, the American Revolution, the Dust Bowl, and immigration in the early 20th century. All of these games are playable on their website with their first game, the one about the revolution, called For Crown or Colony recently getting some graphics and content updates

While the mission of the project is simple enough, the grant provides some insight into the struggles that they face to keep the project operating. The first challenge is in keeping the game up to date. WNET constantly monitors works by historians on these subjects to make sure that their games are still relevant to the current historical discussions. They also found that many of the students who would be playing these games, usually middle school or high school aged, did not have a full grasp on the historical context for the games. So they are trying to expand the content in these games to further explain the historical context and the importance of different choices a player may make, for example why drinking tea with a loyalist in Boston would upset the main character’s patriot leaning boss. WNET is also implementing systems into the games to make them more accessible to people with disabilities. They are also trying to convert the games to be playable on mobile devices instead of just computers.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that WNET has faced is in updating their outdated technology. The games were originally built with Flash but with support for that ending this year, they have had to rebuild their games with a new framework. They settled on Unity for this, though the process of converting their games seems to be ongoing. This part of the grant stuck out to me the most as this project that has existed in classrooms for years could have come to an end because support for Flash was ending. It begs the question of how creators of digital content are expected to continue supporting their projects if the frameworks they use lose support and they lack either the knowledge or funding to convert the projects and keep them alive.

I found this project and their grant proposal for the games’ upkeep to be very interesting. It’s clear that WNET intends to keep these games up to date and sustainable, ensuring that they can be used for the forseeable future. The game’s themselves certainly sound interesting and immersive education is an interesting concept for teaching subjects, though I do have some questions about how they depict the content of these topics in an immersive way, as some of the topics would have very graphic content and the games are intended for kids. I’d be very interested to see how they continue to expand and update these games.

ARIS Games and HistoryPin

Hello everyone I hope you’re all doing well. This post will cover my tinkering with the apps ARIS games and HistoryPin which were met with varying amounts of success. We’ve covered HistoryPin before in this class so I’ll try to talk a little bit more about ARIS Games although due to some difficulties it will be a bit more conceptual than most practicums.

I’ll start with HistoryPin as I had a lot more success with that and we’ve already discussed it before in class. HistoryPin is a program where users can place a pin on the map at a certain location to mark and share the story of some event, location, or person in history. For example on AU’s campus you can find pins for the the different buildings that make up campus, marking the dates that they were constructed as well as pins that mark certain occasions such as the times that Presidents Kennedy and Clinton spoke at the school, with details about what they discussed in their respective appearances.

HIstoryPin is very easy to use and navigate. You can search by area and find pins of different historical topics in that area or you can navigate through the various collections compiled on site. These collections are based on locations, so in theory a collection of pins on AU’s campus, or based on themes so you could explore a collection titled the First World War Centenary which compiles pins that discuss the First World War and the ways people are remembering it. Within one collection you may also find other collections related to that topic. So for example in the First World War Centenary collection, there is another collection being compiled about how people with Learning Disabilities contributed to the war effort. So exploring one topic could lead you to discovering a new but related topic.

HistoryPin is very easy to use and very easy to go down the rabbit hole in. You can just start by searching for one topic or one location and each pin or collection that you click on will provide you with related content for you to explore as well. And all of this can be done on your computer, in your home, so you can explore historical locations and stories from around the world from the comfort of your homes.

Let’s move on to ARIS Games. The concept of this app is really interesting. The app uses GPS programs so that you can create interactive games in your surrounding area. For anyone who was or perhaps still is caught up in that craze, think of a mobile game like Pokemon Go. ARIS Games provides a similar concept only the games could be about virtually anything. But the whole point is that you walk around different locations, interact with pins or objects that the creator of the game placed on the map. The games can be remarkably varied. In my time with the app I saw games designed to accompany exhibits in museums, games that provided a nature tour on walking trails, and a game designed to teach you about recycling starring a sentient grilled cheese sandwich with super powers. So there’s a lot of variety there.

Creating a game is not the most user friendly. The easiest form of game to make seems to be on where you just place plaques on the map that you can put media and descriptions on that when people approach that pin or tap on it on their app, the media will play or they will be able to read the information that you wrote in which I would imagine would work quite well for a game meant to be played while inside a museum’s exhibit. But more can be done with the app by people who are better with this type of program than I am. You can generate characters and lines of dialogue so that the user can have conversations with characters inside your game. You can also create objects and place them on the map so that players can pick them up in the game and carry them to different places, giving them a set of objectives they need to go through that could guide their tour of the area.

The potential with this program is really interesting. I could definitely see providing digital media on museum or art gallery tours to be a really good use of this program. Or potentially one could create an interactive, day-in-the-life-of game for a historic site where users could choose different paths to explore historic sites and interact with objects, locations, or characters in the game to get immersed in a historical experience.

I did run into a few problems with ARIS Games though. The first comes with the current state of the world. This app really relies on you going to different locations to use this app such as museums or campuses, or around town and given the pandemic I really didn’t have a lot of opportunity to walk around and explore with these games. The second problem I ran into is more about the program itself. The usefulness of this program relies on the quality of the game and by extension the skill set of whoever made it. If a game is poorly made then there is really not a lot of use to the app. And a lot of the games I saw seemed to be student projects of some sort which is certainly not a bad thing but did mean they seemed to be only developed to the point they could demonstrate it in a classroom. On top of that, the app itself crashed for me a lot. So even when I was able to find something I could safely try out, the app usually just crashed. So while the concept and the potential behind this program is great, I would say that app itself needs to be made more stable and there needs to be more committed creators on it.

Practicum Assignment: Two Headlines

Hey everyone, hope you’re all doing well. Let’s talk about one of the practicums for this week’s unit, the Two Headlines Bot! The Two Headlines Bot is a now inactive Twitter bot, but when it was functioning its intended purpose was to combine news headlines to produce humorous results. The Bot was created by Darius Kazemi after an exchange with a friend who sent them a tweet with the joke headline “Ben Affleck is the new CEO of Microsoft.”

Kazemi then thought of how an algorithm could be created to automatically generate other joke headlines such as that one. He decided the easiest way to do it was by utilizing the Google News Sidebar which listed the top 5 or more news stories by subject. The bot then takes the top headline from one of the topics and replaces one of the words in the headline with a different topic on the sidebar. For example, the headline “Ben Affleck to play Batman in next Superman movie” became “Ben Affleck to play iPhone 5 in next Superman Movie”.

What resulted form this bot is what Kazemi has come to call a string of “near-future late-capitalist dystpoian microfiction.” This is because Google’s algorithm for generating that news sidebar was designed to favor named entities rather than abstract concepts. So rather than the sidebar showing a concept like space travel, it would likely display the name Elon Musk, if there were news about that. The result of this is the Twitter bot Kazemi designed replacing proper nouns in a headline with a different subject. Sometimes the result doesn’t make a lot of sense, other times the headline does come out with a dystopian message Kazemi referenced, including one joke headline that read “Facebook, world powers progress in nuclear talks, agree to further meetings”.

All in all the Two Headlines Bot was a humorous account on Twitter, but it also provides a interesting glimpse at how these algorithms are designed. This bot relied on the Google News Sidebar’s algorithm which favored named entities over concepts, a deliberate choice that results in the subject of a story always being an organization, corporation, person, etc. which in turn allowed this Twitter Bot to easily interchange subjects to create humorous or dystopian headlines.