The Freer Gallery of Art: Adapting the Museum to the Virtual Space

Over the past five or so centuries, the art museum has undergone several adjustments in display technique, and ultimately the experience prescribed by that construction.  There has been a large amount of scholarship done on the theory behind museum design among which a focus has been placed on the experience of the museum as a ritual, even spiritual, practice. However, the external structure of the museum and the arrangement of the collection housed within have always remained integral to the ability to contemplate and appreciate the art as imposed by those in charge.

With the increased emphasis on technology in our world, it is not a surprise that art museums would want to follow the trend in display. While art museums have been digitizing their collections to their websites for some time now, they are beginning to take the next step towards complete virtual access. The Google Art Project, a collaborative initiative between Google and some of the most prestigious museums across the globe, is allowing site viewers to navigate through these same museums via the Internet. Using Street-View technology, visitors to the Google Art Project can virtually explore the museum’s galleries in high-resolution as if walking down the physical halls of the museum space. Not only that, but visitors can focus on specific pieces of interest, zoom in to see the most minute of details, and expand wall placards to learn more about the work itself. They also have the opportunity to save the views they like most in a personalized collection that can later be shared and commented on.

Although the Google Art Project is an amazing tool for the exploration of museums both at home and abroad, museums that may be too costly to visit in real life, the project may also create a substitute for the physical experience. With that in mind, the digitizing of museum space could potentially make museums themselves somewhat obsolete. Additionally, the tool seems to upset the sanctity of the museum experience where an individual can lose themselves in a place devoid of the pressures and haste of the real world. For centuries, the museum has been treated as an almost divine space in terms of architecture and purpose as it promotes quiet contemplation and worship of the art of masters. The plan and organization of an art museum is designed to initiate a sort of conversation between the viewer and the artwork. Viewing art online is the antithesis of that traditional experience; the Internet can be accessed nearly anywhere, at anytime. The vast space of quietude omitted from the experience, it is almost impossible to focus solely on the contemplation of the artwork at hand.

Since the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC is part of the project, I plan to visit the institution both physically and virtually. I will document the two experiences and compare the atmosphere in which the art is viewed, and how it impacts the reaction and connection made to the art. In writing this paper, I will then draw from the scholarship on museum theory and experience as a way to analyze the success of the Google Art Project when translating the exhibits into the virtual space of the website. Final Project Statement

The goals of my project are pretty straightforward and were outlined in my project proposal. First, is meant to be a tool in helping history grad students study for their comprehensive exams. This meant providing exactly those items that every grad student is constantly searching for: book lists and sample comp questions. Beyond simply providing these items, however, I wanted to open a cross-departmental dialogue to graduate students where they could provide their own answers to comp questions or their own book reviews, such that students across the country could learn from each other.

In creating this website, I definitely used a lot of the advice Trevor gave to make it a little easier on the eyes. I went ahead and stuck with a white background, such that comments could be more easily read. I simplified the drop-down menus, getting rid of the “complete list of books” drop-down. I actually didn’t realize I could make the homepage a static page until he explained it and I had to learn a little more about how WordPress works. I also just recently registered for the H-Grad list and am currently looking through its archives to see if I can find what grad students have written about comps in the past. I’ve been having trouble accessing the actual archive lists for some reason, but I’m not going to give up. I’m also going to create a new list on H-Grad to ask for other grad students to send me whatever comp questions, book lists they may have in other subjects (outside of US History). I’d like to have most of these sections completed with at least some book lists, comp questions, etc, before sending out invitations to grad departments and their students across the country. In other words, when other visit, I want them to actually have stuff on their that will be of use to them. Basically, there’s a lot more I hope to do with this website.

That said, I learned very quickly that this project is far more involved and time-consuming than I had previously assumed. I initially decided to limit my work to American history, though I had to limit my focus even more so that I could complete the sections on early American (pre-Civil War) history. Creating individual pages for every single book and comp question takes time. Plus, before spending this kind of time on projects, I realized how important it is to first solidify ideas regarding the site’s appearance, operation, etc. Every time I thought of something that would be better (in terms of efficiency in the site), I would have to go back through every page that I wanted to change. I probably should have listened more to Dan Brown’s suggestions in Communicating Design, though I must admit I was just a little too eager to get moving with the project to take the time necessary in planning.

Also, while my site allows for students to post their own book reviews and sample comp essays in the comments sections, it would be nice to enable the site such that students could log in and post their own .pdf files, add their own book titles, and post comp questions from their own schools. In this way, it might have been beneficial for me to have created this site using a wiki-type platform, like those we discussed in class (i.e. PBWorks). Of course, making it more open source also provides additional challenges, even if there are advantages (see also Rosenzweig, Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past).

As I continued working on the site in the last two or three weeks, I thought about other things I might add. I went ahead and added a list of links that might be beneficial for history grad students, since those studying for comp exams are often in their first couple years of grad school and could use these types of resources. I considered creating a Google Custom Search Engine which filtered through the web looking specifically for other comprehensive exam tools, though I figured that the whole point of my site was to try and create a one-stop shop for these types of tools.

Ultimately, I’m pleased with this project up to this point, and I hope you are too!

Let me know if you have any other suggestions or what you think about my project as a whole.

How Do You Age A Photo?

My project for class is the creation of a digital presence for Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee the wife of Robert E. Lee and the great granddaughter of Martha Washington. I have created a blog where I write as Mary about her life right before the Civil War starts and as the Civil War gets underway. As part of this project I got all dressed up and went into DC to take photos by buildings that were built or being built when the Lee’s lived at Arlington House. I now have 50 or so photos taken by buildings like the White House, the Washington Monuments, and the Smithsonian Castle. The problem I am having is that while I have made the photos black and white they still look very modern. The image to the left is a good example of what I am struggling with right now. I feel like the image doesn’t seem old. This may be because it isn’t old and there is nothing that can be done about that. I also wonder about the buildings that are in the picture that wouldn’t have been built by the time the Lee’s left Arlington.   So here are my questions: how can I age these photos and what do you think about the idea of modern life creeping into a blog that is based on history?  As far at the photos go I am working with a Mac in iPhoto and have made the photos black and white. I have looked at some of the fading but it seems like it only fades from the edges inward and that’s not what I want. I want these to look old but not like they were aged perfectly.  With the idea of modern life creeping into the blog I feel two ways.  One is that the blog is fictional so I feel like liberties can be taken with what is posted.  On the other hand if feels a bit odd having images that have cars in the background or an image of the entire Washington Monument in them.  If anyone has any ideas or suggestions send them my way. Thanks.

Print Project – Hackers – Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this project I felt that it would be difficult to talk about hackers, because the lack of a consistent “face” and their predisposition towards secrecy over the internet would make it difficult to create an “image” of what hackers were. But with more research, I realized that the media creates the medium which the image of the hacker is created. Works such as film and articles that use the hacker as a character become valuable sources in tracing the changes in what the public thinks about hackers.

It was through media that the public was introduced to the hacker subculture community, where in the 1980s the film War Games features a young hacker played by Matthew Broderick, and his actions unwittingly create as a dangerous situation with the government’s weapons system. The hacker in this film is the first major attempt of creating an image of a hacker, and it reflects public sentiment on what role hackers played in the emerging field of computer programming.

With advancements in computer and information technology, the part hackers played in this field expanded, along with changes in how the public views them. These changes in public opinion on the importance of information would be reflected in the depiction of hackers. In the 1980s the hacker was seen as a free spirit, championing free information while blazing new trails in an expanding internet/computer frontier. But in the 1990s, increasing fears on the damage hackers were capable of would change the hacker character into a more sinister figure, a mercenary working for self interest. The hacker image would shift into a middle road from 2000 into the present, a more diverse group with figures representing both ends of positive and negative portrayals of hacker intentions.

In only a short period of 30 years between 1980 and the present, the image of the hacker has come through numerous changes, reflecting the thoughts and perceptions of the public regarding information technology. Even at the end of this project, I feel that I’ve only scratched the surface of a group that surprisingly is deeper than the initial images they project.

Digital Project: Roundabout Kentucky

My digital project is up and running at this website:

I am using the Library of Congress website,, to tell the stories of the people who lived in Frankfort, Kentucky at the time the Frankfort Roundabout, a local newspaper, was being published.  I have chosen to do this because I want to make local history come alive for people.  Reading the stories behind the names is always more interesting than reading a list of people.  In order to find the stories I have delved into state government records that are open to the public, archives, and other treasure troves of information available thanks to the internet.  I have had success in finding birth and death certificates as well.  Another feature that has added greatly to my project is google my maps.  I created a tour of buildings in Frankfort, that were contemporary with the publications dates of the Frankfort Roundabout.  This has added an element of interactivity to the blog.

I would like to attract readers of all ages and backgrounds.  Schools may find this site interesting and useful to teach local history.  It is linked to the Lexington History Museum website already.  I am still waiting for a response from The Lexington Herald-Leader, which published an article about Chronicling America back in February; which can be found here.  The article states that local genealogists would find Chronicling America helpful; I’m hoping to attract these same people to my site because they may be able to add depth and richness to the conversation.

I have run into a few problems with wordpress so far.  One of these is that wordpress has shut down on me twice.  The second problem is that no matter what I do I cannot seem to get my headline picture clear.  Everything else is running smoothly.  I have had consistent readership at an average of 6 people a day.  Unfortunately there have still been 0 comments.  This is a number I would like to change drastically before the project is due.  Any suggestions regarding this would be appreciated.