Final Reflection

For my project I created a WordPress blog called Our Lincoln Scrapbook. I’ve always loved the idea of scrapbooks as a place to hold stories and memories, and as a public historians, they could be a treasure, an untapped resource for trying to uncover how people in the past thought and felt. The idea was to create a living “digital archive.” A digital scrapbook for people to post pictures, videos, reflections, questions, and stories of experiences.

Why Abraham Lincoln? 150 years later, he is still one of the most popular people in our culture and history. His principles are timeless and while he was far from perfect, he inspires people to overcome their personal flaws in striving towards their goals. Each week, I post an interesting question, topic, program, site, museum, or experience related to President Lincoln and the Civil War. While keeping people interested in the commemorative events going on throughout the area, it can be a place for everyone’s memories. When people visit museums, battlefields or historic sites, often they are not invited to share their experiences or stories. Here, this scrapbook provides a place to hold all of that material.

Why save people’s stories and photographs? As a public historian, I am constantly looking for ways of putting me in the past. What sources can I utilize to bring the opinions and thoughts of people in the past to our knowledge. This scrapbook would provide a wealth of information for future research and fun. Of course, such a project would in no way be possible without digital tools. The depth and reach of a digital tool, like WordPress, allows people to partake in this archive, but also to create their own. It has been the most important tool I have tried (slowly) to master during grad school. Digital resources are the wave of future for public history. The sooner we move towards a digital audience, the sooner we improve our interpretation and presentation of history.

Both President Lincoln’s Cottage and Ford’s Theatre have offered to post the blog on their Facebook pages to encourage people to help accumulate content for the scrapbook. The next time you come across a story about the Civil War of Lincoln, like Gettysburg Battlefield carrying a John Wilkes Booth bobble head doll in their store, share it with us!

Here is a screen-cap of the latest post!Final Reflection

Civil War Washington…with the Lincolns

There is no shortage of interesting and engaging blogs concerning the Civil War, especially given the current commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the war. For the digital history project, I am looking to create a WordPress blog and Civil War Washington D.C travel blog, through the eyes of the Lincolns. There are plenty of great travel blogs, including numerous ones that detail all of the fantastic opportunities here in DC. This blog is an opportunity to present some great historic sites and historic conversations from the perspective of the Lincolns’ experience in Washington.

Each week I would post as a member of the family who spent time in Washington during Lincoln’s presidency. Posts would also include Tad or Willie, who could offer families some great insights and suggestions of places to bring their children to see. One of the types of blog posts I plan on using to help relate our current environment in DC to our historic past is by asking readers to to post pictures of the buildings and monuments to show where old buildings used to stand. In addition to just presenting information about historic sites and programs in D.C., the blog will offer visitors the chance to comment on their experiences at these sites while engaging in conversations about memory.

The best contribution this blog can offer is a chance to participate and help create memory surrounding the Civil War in the nation’s capital.This past year historian David Blight published American Oracle, a book that details how historians and authors wrote and remembered the Civil War during the Civil Rights Movement. This blog can serve as a tool for historians, including myself, when trying to analysis and reflect on how our unique society remembered this crucial period in history during the 150th anniversary. With the first African-American President still serving here in the city that Lincoln helped craft, I am hoping to give people a rescource for exploring not only this city, but history too. Every corner in Washington has a Civil War story, and the chance to use Lincoln as the voice would only attract more members to this conversation. I want this blog to be a forum for people to present how and why they engage and remember these places Americans, including the Lincolns, frequented. This is our capital, and this blog is a chance for people to use their voices to determine how we memorialize one of the saddest times in our history.

Print project proposal- The Irish Brigade at Gettysburg

One of the most popular monuments on the Gettysburg National Battlefield is dedicated to the 63rd, 69th, and 88th New York Infantry regiments that formed the core of the famous Irish Brigade. This ethnically segregated unit was at any point during the Civil War the brigade with the highest percentage of casualties, in the corps (the 2nd corp of the Army of the Potomac) with the highest percentage as well. Basically, pick a bad spot on a battlefield in Virginia, and that’s where you found them.

Their monument at Gettysburg is somewhat out of the way, but still it’s one of the most popular. It’s a Celtic cross being guarded by an Irish wolf hound. For this project, I want to analyze visitor’s photographs uploaded to Flickr, as well as reviews on Yelp and Facebook to see what people have to say about the monument, why it’s important, and why people want other people to visit it as well. Why travel off the main drag near Pickett’s Charge to visit this monument? How do people use the monument in their photographs? These monuments were the earliest attempts by veterans, their families, and the government to try to memorialize what happened on these battlefields. In the grips of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, I’m fascinated by what places and monuments people identify with and feel are important.

I chose the monument at Gettysburg in particular because, while it was the bloodiest battle in US history, the story of the Irish is an often forgotten one. They and other immigrants, especially the German, found themselves outcasts in their new country. The issue of immigration is one that still grips our country, but now, when we look at this monument, no one would dare say they were not Americans.  By combining different digital outlets, this paper would provide readers with a chance to envision what tools they can use to memorialize places or people who are important to them.

HistoryWired…giving you a trip into the vault!

A trip to the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History is inspiring. But, if you’re like me, you look around and wonder: where else do they keep all of American History? Well, like any museum, they have a vast percentage of their collections in storage, protecting them from the elements, including visitors’ eyes. Much like the National Archives, a tiny percentage (less than 5%!) of their collection can ever be seen by us commoners. But the Smithsonian has found a way to let you peer into some of the treasures within the vaults. It’s a website called HistoryWired: a few of our favorite things.

When you visit the site a helpful second screen pops up with directions to help you navigate the site. The site map is divided into ten “squares” that are general topics for the objects. Once you click on one of those main squares, smaller squares representing individual objects appear. The Smithsonian has also built in tools to help you customize your trip through the vaults, even allowing you to rate your interest in the objects as well. There is also text version of the site, including a laundry list of the objects within the site. A couple members of the Smithsonian’s staff mentioned there have been technical difficulties with the site at times. As long as you make sure your computer, tablet, etc. has the proper applications, the site is fantastic.

While the site only has a limited portion of their collections, they point out specifically on the site that most of these objects are not on current display at the museum. Some scholars have asked if putting collections online or creating pseudo-digital museums is the best option for the future. Wouldn’t that cause a sharp drop in visitation to the Smithsonian to see their physical objects? Such a forum for objects, while it allows you rate an object, it doesn’t allow you to engage in a discussion with any museum staff about the object or an exhibit.

The Smithsonian seems to have struck a great balance. They have objects here in Washington people will make the pilgrimage to see. But they also built a platform to showcase their collections to people who don’t have the opportunity to visit Washington. For those who do have that chance, this site entices people to come and visit to see what other treasures they can see not through a screen, but glass instead. After several hours spent wondering through the SI’s collections, I also wondered if highly rated objects could transition to physical display in D.C. Do you think it would benefit curators and staff to consult these rantings when planning temporary exhibits? They have offered quizzes recently such as “Are you smarter than a curator,” maybe this would give people the chance to take a real shot at the job.

Crowdsourcing the Civil War: Preserving the past and future

If you’ve ever had to do research in an archive or been lucky enough to have to transcribe original documents, sometimes it may seem like there’s no end is sight (especially if you work at one of the archives or libraries trying to find a way to transcribe and digitize your collection). This article was a short interview with Nicole Saylor, the head of Digital Library  Services for the University of Iowa Libraries.

Like untold numbers of historic sites and libraries with Civil War collections, Saylor and the University of Iowa Libraries began looking to try and transcribe their vast Civil War diaries and letters collections in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (which started this past July). But they quickly realized they were short on man-power, money, and time. What is a digital librarian to do? Well, ask and you shall receive! Saylor and her colleagues “crowdsourced” the Civil War by digitizing the letters and diaries and making them available to the public. They created a website where transcribers can choose a document, transcribe it in a niffy box, and email it to them for review. The letter I transcribed last week is being reviewed by Saylor’s team as we blog!

Saylor said she had no idea how successful the project would be, and even faced resistance from staff members asking “is the public qualified to transcribe?” She simply stated they weren’t looking for perfect, but for engagement. Well thay certainly got that and more, when the site crashed it first day due to the overwhelming traffic. Several transcribers who have spent numerous hours on he project have told Saylor they feel as if these writers have become members of their family. Gotta love Civil War nerds, right?

This project at the University of Iowa Libraries is very similar to the “What’s On the Menu?” project being undertaken at the New York Public Library. Both projects represent steps towards not only engaging the public, but actively enlisting their participation in the continued success of the collections and institutions. Such a project ten years ago would have been unheard of! But not all historians necessarily feel the same.

Engagement and participation, yes. But the public transcribing? Can that be their domain as well? The internet has opened up questions of authority and ethics for historians. Is transcribing something better left to eager interns and historians? Or could we think of other institutions who could benefit from reaching out to the public for their help? What potential downsides could such a project create? Would it be more time-consuming to weed through other transcribers work that to do it yourself? Whether you’re a Civil War nerd or not, it is a very cool idea that you have been a part of preserving part of the past. So go on, and pick a letter to transcribe!

Project Ideas

I’ve been working with Ford’s Theatre for the past year and this February they will open their new Center for Education and Leadership next door to the Petersen House. One project I’ve been thinking is one my boss seems to be throwing around. We’re going to be collecting user-generated web content, videos, comments, and I’d like to try to find an engaging way to collect and manage that content.

A second project I’d like to take a look at is public memory surrounding the Battle of Gettysburg, using comments and insights from travel sites (Yelp, TripAdvisor etc.) in addition to heritage sites (Sons of Confederate Veterans, Grand Army of the Republic).

I was also considering starting a blog that allowed new public history students and graduating public historians who want to work in education to come together and share ideas, books, job postings, and advice.