Digital Project Proposal: Learning and Seeing DC for the Modern Day Penny Pincher

In the Fall of 2008 I studied abroad in Ireland for four months. Living in a new city full of history, I wanted to see everything historical I could find. However, as you could probably guess I was a broke college kid and I had a tough time finding free things to see and do. I wish I had a better understanding of what I could have seen that was historical, fun and better yet FREE!

 

Living in Washington DC now, I feel somewhat the same as I did in Ireland. There is so much history around me and I want someone to guide me to the places where I can learn DC history on a limited budget. For my digital history project, I plan to help those like people like myself who want to explore DC and see what historical sites and monuments the city has to offer. Thus, I will write a blog, via WordPress, with the best places to go and things to see relating to history in DC.  Since this is a history minded site, each blog post about each site will have background historical information on each of the free sites that will be profiled. I want people to explore their city while wanting to learn the history behind it.

 

How will I decide which sites or monuments will be profiled on the blog? That’s easy, I plan on visiting each site myself to give people a poor college student’s historical perspective. I want people to get a better understand of what they will see and learn if they choose to heed the advice of a fellow penny pincher like myself. In addition to the blog posts about each free historic site or monument, I will also be taking pictures. This will allow for the visual people out there to get a better sense of what they will see if they want to see it. Therefore, I will create a Flickr profile where I can display all of the photos that I will take. I will include a link in the blog posts to Flickr where people can get an idea of what they will see. I do plan on having a couple teaser photos on the blog page itself though.

 

What is great about using WordPress and Flickr to help people to decide what to do in a new city and to teach them some history that they might have never known is that it creates a forum for historical discussion. Whether commenting on a blog post or on a photo, crating a dialogue about history is one of the goals of this project. In the digital age in which we live today it is much easier to get history across to many people via the internet, and that is what I am doing here. I hope to inspire people to get out, see their city, and most importantly learn and talk about history!

Print Project Proposal: Social Media and the C & O Canal

For my Print project, I would like to analyze blogs and forums about the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. Primarily I would like to focus on what people are saying about the Park, its various sites, its interpretation, its recreational possibilities, etc. I would also like to know what people are saying about the National Park Service in general. I would also like to analyze why people are going to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park. Are they visiting the Park for purely recreational purposes as hiking, biking, camping, or kayaking? Are they visiting the Park to observe nature? Are they visiting the Park to simply get away from the city? Are they visiting the Park because they are interested in history? If so, what part or aspects of history are people interested in?

I am interested in doing a print project on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park because I am currently working on a group project directly for the Park for the Public History Practicum course for the semester. Doing a print project on the park, not only peaks my interest, but would help me gain a better understanding of the Canal and National Park Service in general and thus would help me to create the best interpretation possible for my group project.

In order to come to an understanding of how people are talking about the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park and National Park Service and why visitors are visiting the Park, I will analyze a variety of social media outlets. Sites from Yelp, Traveladvisor, Yahoo Travel, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook are just some of the social media sites that I will analyze.

There are many different elements to take into consideration when discussing the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park in terms of what people are saying and why visitors visit the Park. For starters, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal stretches 184.5 miles from Georgetown, Washington DC all the way up through Western Maryland. Therefore, there are many different sites along the path, including the visitor center in Great Falls, Maryland. This is a popular hiking and bike path that many visitors take each year. The path along the canal allows visitors to see a vast amount of beautiful nature in the surrounding areas. Also along the path are numerous Lock Houses which used to be inhabited by Lock keepers and their families to control the water flow in the canal. Some of these lock houses have been restored. In fact, six of the historic Lock houses are now a part of what the Park calls the C & O Canal Quarters Project which began in 2008 and continues today. What is unique about this program is that visitors are allowed and encouraged to stay overnight in one of the six historically themed lock houses that are currently open. Another question I would like to pose is why are people staying in these houses? Is it primarily because they are hiking or biking the length of the canal and just need a place to sleep? Are visitors primarily interested in the historic period that the house is covering?

The main point of this project, in addition to seeing how people are talking about the C & O Canal National Historic Park and why they are visiting the Park, is to see how social media is used by people in connection with historic parks. Trevor Owens, in his article “Tripadvisor Rates Einstein,” states that “the social web provides those interested in understanding how the public is interacting with monuments” with an important and unprecedented resource. In an age where digital media is at the center of discussions, it is important to look at how people perceive historic parks through the use of digital media. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the C & O Canal is not allowed to market itself beyond the use of its website, partnerships, and the occasional flyer. It wasn’t until last week that it started to use the social media site Twitter. In lieu of this fact, this project will hopefully shed some light into how people, social media, and the C & O Canal National Historic Park interact.

The Best Darn Interactive History Tool…courtesy of PhilaPlace

I have never been to Philadelphia, which is surprising considering its historical significance and my high degree of nerdiness when it comes to history. That being said, I have always wanted to know more about the city, its history and neighborhoods included. Of course I read about the city on some site like Wikipedia. But a simple history of something can be stiff and relatively uninteresting. I wanted more; I wanted a site where I could learn the history and explore. So when I came across PhilaPlace I had an ‘ah ha’ moment. PhilaPlace is a great example of a website that teaches kids and adults alike about a city, and not just in a boring, stiff way. It uses mostly interactive features. It also connects communities. It weaves ordinary stories with historical record. If you don’t know much about Philadelphia and its neighborhoods and you want to know more, PhilaPlace is the website for you.

PhilaPlace is the brainchild of the Historical Society of Philadelphia (HSP). It was put together in phases. Originally, the HSP received funds to put together two walking tours, one in Old Southwark and one in North Liberties and Kensington. The second phase consisted of the creation of an interactive website. Whoever came up with the website idea is a genius.

The mission statement on the website reads: “PhilaPlace is an interactive Web site, created by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, that connects stories to places across time in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. PhilaPlace weaves stories shared by ordinary people of all backgrounds with historical records to present an interpretive picture of the rich history, culture, and architecture of our neighborhoods, past and present. The PhilaPlace Web site uses a multimedia format – including text, pictures, audio and video clips, and podcasts – and allows visitors to map their own stories in place and time. More than a Web site, PhilaPlace includes ongoing community programs and publications, from workshops for teachers, to trolley tours, and exhibits. PhilaPlace is an engaging, meaningful way to understand more about where we live, and will serve as an enduring record of our heritage.” I wanted to share this monstrous paragraph of a mission statement with you because it best sums up the purpose and use of the site.

If a student is assigned the task of learning something about Philadelphia and don’t want to be bored to death with paragraph after paragraph of knowledge, then PhilaPlace is perfect because they can learn while playing with one of many interactive features. It’s the same idea as a museum; kids often are bored at museums, I know I was at many museums when I was younger, which is why many museums have interactive features. At PhilaPlace not only can people search through and map out parts of Philadelphia, but they can pinpoint areas based on certain search topics, read essays on neighborhood hotspots, search the collection of images, audio files, and video files, read blog posts, add blog posts, support the site via donations, create your own PhilaPlace page, and so much more. The entire site is interactive, making it an essential tool for educators and interested peoples alike.

One of the key goals of PhilaPlace is to get teachers and students to use the site to explore the history of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and to use mapping and local history as a means of understanding historical landscape and shaping historical and cultural inquiries. I think that PhilaPlace is successful in this sense. Its interactive features are sure to entice and interest students. One of the best features of the site that truly brings the community together and is the epitome of an interactive feature is that visitors are encourage to create their own MyPhilaPlace pages where they can save and share stories and create a tour/itinerary with Google maps.  And let’s be honest, everyone loves google maps.

Here is the moral to the story: PhilaPlace is a great tool for exploring one of our oldest, most interesting and diverse cities. It is educational and fun. It connects communities and generations. Use it. Explore it. Have fun.

Possible Project Ideas

1. Archives project: “this day in history” for twitter/blog

2. Analyze how movies represent Battle of Gettysburg.

3. Analyze how video games represent the Normandy landings.

4. What do certain social media sites say about the Vietnam wall? How do different people react to this memorial? Are there positive and negative reactions?

5. Understanding a particular Civil War battle via interactive timeline.