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.

Is Bigger Always Better?: How the Public Views Large and Small Museums

“Do you like us on Facebook?” is a common question on museum websites today.  In the current digital age, many organizations are concerned with how to better represent themselves through social media.  On the flip side, through sites such as Tripadvisor and Yelp, organizations are being represented through people’s reviews.  Museums can use these reviews to gain public feedback on how well the public likes the museum, engages with the museum, and considers the best assets of the museum.

For my print project, I would like to research the differences in how large and small museums are represented on Tripadvisor and Yelp. I would like to see if people have different experiences at smaller museums versus bigger museums. Do people feel a more intimate connection with small museums? Do people find large museums impersonal?  I would also like to discover if museums get their central theme across to visitors and if reviewers comment on this theme. In the more intimate setting of a smaller museum, do visitors understand the central theme better?

The idea that visitors who have a more engaging experience become more interested is well-supported by the University of Iowa Libraries’ successful experiment with crowdsourcing, as described in “Crowdsourcing the Civil War: Insights Interview with Nicole Saylor.”  I will use Saylor’s insight on when people more intimately engage with history, such as transcribing Civil War letters, they become more engrossed in the history.  I would like to see if people’s experiences at small museums reflect this intimacy and thus heightened interest and connection.

These reviews can also provide insight into the many different ways museums reach visitors.  Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, in Digital History, illustrate how the web connects people with history in more ways than ever and museums should find ways to better reach audiences through this new medium.  I will also research if people comment on the presence of museums on the web. Are larger museums better represented on the web given their greater access to more resources? Does this provide people with a different experience than smaller museums? Does an online presence decrease the intimacy of smaller museums?

To study if there are differences among how smaller and larger museums are discussed on social web sites, I will concentrate my study on six sites (three small, three large) in Washington, D.C.  I will look at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the Newseum, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The smaller museums I will look at are the American Red Cross Museum, Frederick Douglass Historic House Site, and Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture. If there is a large amount of comments, I will use the digital tool Voyer to find repeated themes.

My hope is that this study will reveal the differences between small and large museums and how all types of museums can engage with social media. These museums can realize their uniqueness and understand what visitors take away from their visits . Even though smaller museums will be less represented on these travel sites, this study might reveal how these smaller museums can appeal to more people by emphasizing what reviewers found most compelling. Museums can further their appeal when they consider public input.  These social web sites allow museums to understand how visitors think of a certain museum, what they find most meaningful, and what they connect with the most. Isn’t it every public historian’s dream to better understand how to connect with their audience?!

The Quilt Index – Future directions

I grew up in a family of quilters. From the baby quilts my mom and great grandmother made me to the quilt my aunt made for my graduation that currently covers my bed, I’ve always been surrounded by them. Although I myself am not a quilter (much to my family’s dismay), I still find the process, patterns and stories behind these intricate blankets interesting. For these reasons, I can spend hours looking through quilts on The Quilt Index.

I was first exposed to The Quilt Index when my aunt asked me to help record oral histories at one of her quilt documentations. These documentations are where people bring in their quilts to have them photographed and analyzed. Volunteers looked at the technique, construction, colors and type of fabrics used. I recorded the history of the quilt and the quilt maker. Contributing organizations upload all this information onto The Quilt Index for researchers to easily navigate.

The Quilt Index has eight goals to expand the site, which I would like to analyze the possible outcomes of three. One is to incorporate a map that shows where the quilts were made and where the quilt makers were born and lived. How would visualizing this information change the way we look at quilt making? Do the oral histories of quilt makers who grew up in the same area show any similarities? I expect that Morritti’s Graphs, Maps and Trees will be a useful read for looking at quilts through maps.

Another idea is to eliminate the middle man and allow the public to add their own quilt photos and information to the site. Is it necessary for these historical organizations and associations to be the only ones submitting material to The Quilt Index? What are the pros and cons of allowing the public to directly upload material? The crowdsourcing readings will be useful for looking at this idea.

The last goal is to open The Quilt Index model up to different sources other than quilts, like cross-stitch samplers or baskets. How would these sources tell us new information about their makers and where they were made?  How can The Quilt Index model be used more efficiently to encourage research in unconventional primary sources?

Analyzing these three ideas to expand The Quilt Index provides an opportunity to reflect on how the site has already utilized technology for history, as well as think about how it can continue to stretch these boundaries in the future.

Bridget Sullivan Print Project Proposal

In recent years, museums and archives have made a concerted effort to take advantage of digital media in connecting with public audiences. These institutions have undertaken a multitude of projects to make their collection available to a greater audience through digital access to these types of collections. For my print project, I would like to take a closer look at some of these approaches to presenting historic material culture to a public audience and how digitization efforts have affected the way that the public engages with historical narratives through material culture.

 

Specifically, I would like to focus on the digital offerings of the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Historically, these are two of the most widely used research facilities for American history. As such, they have fallen into the category of most archives, which tend to discourage visitation from anyone outside of serious historical researchers. There is little opportunity to explore the holdings of these types of institutions and they can even be intimidating for newer researchers.

 

However, digitization has broken down the barrier between the public and these repositories of American public knowledge. Both have taken great strides to make portions of their collections available to all types of researchers through the Internet. Further, these efforts have been targeted at different audiences. The National Archives and the Library of Congress have both made documents and finding aids available through general search features of their websites. However, they have also gone beyond the basics of digitization. Each has created online offerings that are more suited to general exploration of their collections, as opposed to research with a specific focus and mission.

 

The National Archives offers the Digital Vaults, a way to digitally wander through their collections. Documents are linked by categorical tagging. It also allows explorers the ability to create their own collections of documents and artifacts that are interesting to them. Similarly, the Library of Congress has created MyLOC. Explorers can register for their own account and create collections of interest to them. These collections can incorporate all aspects of the website, including general information about visiting the Library of Congress as well as online exhibits.  

 

I will compare and contrast these two sites, focusing on the audiences they target and the various pathways these audiences have to interact with the collections of these institutions. Additionally, I will address how the ability to interact with collections online has affected the demographics of those who take an interest in these collections.

“Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego?” And Historical Memory

I did not play many video games growing up, save for when my brother let me join in some Mario Kart or Goldeneye. And though we have not gotten to the point in the semester where video games are on the agenda, just the concept of video games as part of digital history struck me a few weeks ago. So in brainstorming and trying to find a print project that would not only reflect our lessons in Digital History but would also relate to me on a personal level, suddenly Carmen Sandiego popped into my head. Now I’m sure others have seen the television show, but what I would propose for my print project is doing an historical analysis of the computer game “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?” Later in the semester, several historical internet games will be demonstrated. This Carmen Sandiego game, which I did play as a child, falls into a similar category as “The Jamestown Experiment” or “Cotton Millionaire”, especially as it has a direct correlation with history.

 

“Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?” has various chronological levels (“missions”), marking specific periods in world history. The game provides guides such as “Anne Tiquity” to help the player search for clues, talk to other characters, and interact with the level to find where Carmen’s henchmen are hiding. While this game undoubtedly influenced my interest in history and bolstered my knowledge of random and at times useless facts, what appeals to me in this print project is analyzing how exactly the game is organized and constructed.

 

Specifically, this Carmen Sandiego game interacts with historiography and memory in fundamental ways. On a superficial level, I would analyze what historical moments and peoples were chosen to represent specific eras in the past. For instance, the player jumps from Mali in 1324 as Mansa Musa is preparing for Hajj to 1454 with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. In each level, the various “tasks” a player must accomplish (such as matching corresponding kimono colors to the seasons in Japan, circa 1015) hold specific historical meaning for what was deemed representative of that particular society.

 

On a deeper historical level, I would also like to analyze the application of race, gender, and stereotypes in the characterizations of the people and descriptions of the environment in the missions. The missions take the player to the United States, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Though one could claim the game to be representative, other elements in the layers of the game may reveal a Western bias, racist stereotypes, or an imbalance of gender ratios. Who are the female historical characters being depicted? Who are the “non-white” males? How do their characters speak and how is the tone of their voice? The wording of their answers? Despite the fact “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego” gives the appearance of being unbiased, a closer analysis of the game may reveal much different results.

 

Furthermore, I would seek to answer questions relating to topics we have discussed in class, such as accessibility and the democratization of history online (or in game form). What children are playing this game? What repercussions might it have on their historical worldview? What are the pros and cons of the existence of such a game? What is valued as “history” in this game, and do children notice that and accept it? In addition to my love for this game as a child, I believe this sort of analysis in a print project could yield an important understanding of the way historical memory is transferred between generations. Children learn American and world history in their schools, yet supplemental materials such as this game have a drastic impact on their concept of history as well.