Digital Project Proposal, Kevin Lukacs

Shirtless George, a Party River

It was 2017, and I was turning 25 years old. My friend Alec came down from Pittsburgh to celebrate. He brought a six pack of Firehouse Red from North Country Brewery, and a six pack of Yuengling. There was much celebrating that weekend, and between Pennsylvania beers and the best pizza Del Ray has to offer, we took some time to explore the National Museum of American History.

This ridiculous statue is always on display, and it never disappoints.

The American History Museum is packed to the brim with interesting artifacts. One particular display caught my attention. It was a graphic of American political parties, from the start of the nation into the 20th century. It was colorful, detailed, and the twisting turns were reminiscent of a river system as complex and important to America as the Mississippi. The visualization is prominently displayed and accessible, but there’s an opportunity here to make an interesting digital exhibit, with an air of discovery and accessibility to the history of American political parties.

Did I over-hype it? I over-hyped it, didn’t I?
The Gist of It

The basic concept of this digital project is to put this image, or a facsimile of it, onto a website. The image will be split up into separate, but connected pieces, and each party or unique phase of a party will be hyperlinked to a digital exhibit page. The exhibit page will contain useful information such as the start and end dates, key issues, relevant legislation, key figures, and of course historiographically supported causes contributing to the rise and fall of the party. WordPress will be the platform for the website, as it is easy and free to use, as well as a platform I am familiar working with.

Who’s Gonna Click It?

I want the digital exhibit to be accessible to as many people as possible, by keeping the language simple and absent of jargon. A resource like this could be a fun overview for students of all ages. The website should contain enough critical and relevant information to be interesting to adults as well. The image by itself is an incredible reminder that American politics hasn’t always been what Kendrick Lamar called the Democrips and Rebloodicans, and will hopefully be an eye-opening experience for casual and curious learners.

Inspiration

In terms of existing projects, this digital exhibit is really inspired by the Smithsonian website. The Smithsonian site is full of digital exhibits that not only offer information on much of their exhaustive collection, but contain quality images of artifacts as well. It’s an incredible resource that can be tapped by anyone with a computer. The site is very functional and easy to navigate, but it isn’t any fun. And it could be.

As a class, we looked at HistoryWired, an earlier version of the Smithsonian site that did not age well and was taken down. HistoryWired had some great ideas that really could use a second look. With this digital exhibit, I want to make exploring a key part of using this image/artifact from the vast Smithsonian collection. While this digital exhibit won’t be the funnest thing ever, it will have a level of interaction and discovery that feels somewhat absent in the current Smithsonian site.

With a Little Help From My Friends

As far as getting the project out and known, I’ve always had success sharing projects with Reddit. The subreddit r/history gets a lot of traffic in a day, and projects/blogs I have shared on there before have been able to collect thousands of views in a few hours, and sparked some interesting conversation along the way.

Not everything on r/history is paradigm shifting discourse, but it has its moments.

It never hurts to get a little help from the network as well. I work at and have worked with several historical sites that interpret American politics, and would love to show them the project and perhaps ask them to share it.

Beyond just putting the project under the nose of the internet, it would be really important if it could be used as a teaching resource. I would enjoy putting the digital exhibit into the hands of teachers, and see if its something that could benefit a classroom of whatever age group.

Given that this project is centered around using a Smithsonian artifact, it would also be important to share the concept with them. It would be a joy to see the Smithsonian’s digital presence to be more engaging and fun. Perhaps this could inspire a second look at their website.

But is it Any Good?

To evaluate the project, I’m going to use a WordPress plug in that analyses metrics of engagement. Views of the homepage and of individual articles/party exhibits will be handy, but it will be more important to know how long people are staying on a page. Are they reading the information or just skimming? Knowing the bounce rate and exit rate will tell me if people are only checking out the home page or one article and exiting out. The bounce rate will help me to discern if people are really exploring and taking in the experience. The hardest part of this project will be giving it a longer shelf life, so that people are visiting the site without my having to post a link on Reddit or send out a tweet. This can be tremendously affected by making sure the website has a good SEO score, that it has optimal conditions to be found organically via searches.

So that’s pretty much the thing. Is this something you’d want to check out? What information would you expect to see on a site like this? Is there a better platform for this project? Will there ever be a party that sounds as cool as Bull-Moose? Let me know your thoughts below! 

Project Proposal: The Great War and Slippery Rock

by Kevin Lukacs

During my undergraduate studies at Slippery Rock University, I worked on butlerhistorical.org. The development of this project is ongoing and will eventually offer county-wide historical stories. The project enabled me to work closely with the Slippery Rock University archives. A portion of my role was dedicated not just to researching and writing my own stories but helping to find topics to research for future contributors. To that end, I poured through the student newspaper, formerly known as The Slippery Rocket.

The Rocket was a gold mine. The first issue of the Slippery Rocket was issued the week before the official end of World War I. Students celebrated prematurely and began to wonder what was going to come after. Students wrote stories about triumphant heroes heading off to the front, or disillusioned warriors coming home and literally questioning the existence of God.

A short story from Slippery Rock student Debbie Downer, November 1919.

I used several issues of the Slippery Rocket to write this article for Butler Historical. I made a bold claim that Slippery Rock students quickly forgot about the war and became more concerned whether or not jazz music and sex education should be allowed in schools.

But did how quickly did they forget about the war?

What I would like to do as a print project is look at the Slippery Rocket over a long span of time, and use character recognition and distance reading to determine how Slippery Rock students moved on from World War I. How soon did it stop becoming news? How often did they remember or memorialize it in print? What took over their concerns? My close reading started in the November 1919 issue, and ended only a few months later. I did not have the time and tools to continue the examination.

Cameron Blevins’ research into Houston newspapers with the goal of determining imagined geography is the clear inspiration for this project. The road map Blevins laid out will provide tremendous help in determining the scope of this project. Additionally, practicum tools like Voyant could provide a source to create visualizations for this print project.

The memory of World War I has recently come under reexamination from scholars in the midst of the centennial. 2018 marks the hundredth anniversary of the end of the war, and the beginning of a contentious and oft understated legacy. There is a vibrant and rich historiography that could help understand the consensus on how different people moved on after the war. Studying a small community like Slippery Rock University has the potential to reveal evidence supporting or countering the consensus.

 

Practicum, Week 2: Kevin Lukacs

Hey classmates. This week for practicum we’re looking at two GPS history sites, and a word cloud generator. I had fun looking at these, and I’m excited to demo them in class.

PhilaPlace

PhilaPlace is a GPS-based self-touring website that presents the history and stories of two Philadelphia neighborhoods. Old Southwark and Greater Northern Liberties have been home to immigrant and working class communities but are being affected by gentrification. PhilaPlace uses the resources of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and community sourcing to offer dozens of neighborhood stories.

The site is a little difficult to navigate, and some of the features seem to be missing. The bulk of the site is dedicated to location-based stories, presented as a blog. Stories contain pictures, short text, and a map location for each entry. Some stories claim to have oral interviews, at least fifty-one, but accessing the interviews was not possible.

Philaplace also offers resources for educators. These programs and activities seem interesting but are not currently accessible.

While some of the services PhilaPlace offers are not available, the basic function of the website is pretty valuable. Their collections present hundred of photographs of the neighborhoods’ history, and the stories could be invaluable to Philly residents or curious web surfers to explore some of the unknown parts of the city. Each article comes with a list of references for further research for students or amateur historians.

The blog also offers unique opportunities for community members to have themselves heard. Contributing a story is a relatively simple process. This story about Soupy Island was contributed by a student from Drexel University. Most stories have been added by the Historical Society, but the potential for having a community platform is in place.

PhilaPlace is a project with a lot of potential, that still seems like it needs a bit of work. While this project focuses on two neighborhoods of Philadelphia, History Pin has a much more global perspective.

History Pin

History Pin is another GPS-based history site, designed for creating digital collections and digital tours. Part history project, part social platform, History Pin collaborates with thousands of organizations and takes contributions from any member willing to create a pin.

Creating a history pin is incredibly simple. An account needs to be created, as well as a collection or tour for pins to be added to. Contributors can request to add pins to established tours and collections or create their own. When demoing the site, I chose to make my own tour to see how that process works. Creating a tour simply requires a title and a description.

Creating a pin first requires some type of media or a block of text. I uploaded a picture of Butler Little Theatre’s first performance in 1941. The BLT is a community theater that I did several projects with prior to coming to American University, and I still have some photographs and written material on hand. I included a short description of my image, and then added a GPS location pin. Pins can either be exact addresses or general locations. And that was it. I created a pin for the BLT. It’s an incredibly easy process, aided by a series of tutorial videos available on the history pin website.

The play was “The Night of January 16th,” and it was performed in the court house. The Theater had yet to locate a suitable, permanent venue.

What’s great about History Pin is it’s free and accessible platform. Individuals and small organizations can have a set up like PhilaPlace or Cleveland Historical, without needing to commit as many resources. Organizations like The Museum of Connecticut History now have a digital platform, and all it takes is a few minutes to sign up.

Wordle

I think word clouds are dope af. You put in a bunch of text, and generate an image made from the most used words. Facebook has done it for a “year in review” type thing. I remember reading a tips and tricks for writing that suggested putting essays/scripts into a word cloud generator to help find a central theme. My employer, President Lincoln’s Cottage also uses a word cloud. They generate an image monthly to gauge visitor response to an opening question. Word clouds. They’re dope.

This is the Lincoln’s Cottage word cloud from the week prior to January 13th, 2018.

Word clouds by themselves can have limited impact. There’s an old Woody Allen joke about speed reading. The general gist and the relevancy here is that you could put War and Peace into a word cloud, just to find out that that huge book has something to do with Russia. The information presented in a word cloud needs context, or a way to find patterns. Doing a single word cloud of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural doesn’t have much value, but a word cloud of all of Lincoln’s speeches provides insight into themes and word choice.

I’ve kept to writing about word cloud’s generally because I could not get Wordle itself to run on my laptop. I tried three different browsers (Chrome, Edge, and Explorer) to no success. So, here’s a list of Wordle alternatives that may actually work.

That’s my contribution to this course’s practicum. PhilaPlace is an interesting look at urban and local history that could provide a great platform for the community. The massive infrastructure of History Pin could be invaluable to small organizations and is very simple to use. Wordle did not work for me, but if used correctly, word clouds can create wonderful visual aids.

Let me know what you think! What other organizations have you see use History Pin, Worlde, or a website like PhilaPlace? What are some benefits to doing GPS based history? Will I get a stern talking to for using “dope af” on a graduate level classroom assignment? Leave your thoughts below!

Introduction – Kevin Lukacs

New Phone, Who Dis?

My name is Kevin Lukacs. I was named after my father who in turn was named after what my grandmother thought was a nice name. She had had six kids and had run out of meaningful first names. I am currently twenty-five percent of the way through a master’s degree in public history here at American University. So far its been challenging, but not the nightmare I was warned it would be. Here at AU I hope to really garner an understanding of the best practices of public history, what’s been tried before, and suggestions for the future. I also hope to collect hard skills like conducting oral histories and working on digital platforms, and I want to refine my soft skills like public speaking, good written communication, and flexibility.

Like A Resume, But Better

Before coming to American, I had a lot of fun engaging the public with history through a lot of different mediums. I threw out the first pitch at a vintage baseball game dressed as Abraham Lincoln. I wrote and produced several historical plays. I researched, wrote, and produced a documentary for Butler Little Theater’s 75th anniversary. As a student at Slippery Rock University, I worked extensively on butlerhistorical.org, which was my first real experience producing digital content. This project helped get me used to some basic ideas, like finding quality images and keeping an eye on a strict word count. Currently I moonlight with a video game blog, handsomephantom.com, which has been growing rapidly over the past year, and has taught me a lot about writing quick, engaging pieces, and improving on metrics like bounce rates and SEO scores.

While I do have a little bit of experience doing digital history, I don’t feel confident in those skills, and really want to improve them this semester, while also getting a better sense of how digital history operates within the professional realm.