Thursday, October 13, 2011

Digital History in the Public History News

Posted: Visualizing US expansion through post offices. from Derek Watkins on Vimeo.

Public History News is the newsletter of the National Council on Public History. Back issues are here. A regular feature of the newsletter is "Worth Another Look," which offers capsule introductions to various articles and public history projects. In the latest issue it is striking to me how many of the public history projects are digital projects. Some interesting examples:

  • The World Memory Project is a partnership between the Holocaust Museum and to utilize volunteers to index some of the museums 170 million documents. So far 3000 volunteers have indexed over 600,000 records. 
  • Speaking of Crowdsourcing, Scripto is "a lightweight, open source tool that allows users to contribute transcriptions to online documentary projects." It is the latest digital tool from the folks who brought us Zotero and Omeka.
  • Visualizing US Expansion through Post Offices (seen above) is a straightforward project that scraped some public databases and added some computer magic to create a neat video showing what we might dub the Post Office Frontier. The link in this paragraph will take you to an interactive map where you can sort the results by date range and zoom in on a region. Did you know that the first PO in eastern Washington was established at Colville in 1862?
  • What Big Media Can Learn From the New York Public Library is an Atlantic Magazine article that highlights how the library is doing "some of the most innovative online projects in the country." These include "Biblion, a storytelling app whose iPad icon features the lion head, is the flashiest of these efforts...Then there is the library's slick crowdsourcing projects, which allow users to digitize beautiful old menus from New York's restaurants and plot historical maps of the city onto the GPS-enabled digital maps of today. Both projects are both useful and feature user interfaces that best most commercial crowdsourcing applications. The library is even improving its basic infrastructure to keep pace with the big social networks, announcing this week that they are launching a new log-in system through Bibliocommons that will bring simplified and more powerful catalog and account services to the library's users.
  • 4Humanities is a Canadian digital humanities site offering digital tools, news, and a valuable Humanities Showcase.
A few years ago I was at a ThatCamp where one of the participants proudly announced that "Public History is Digital History!" This is a silly overstatement. But it might not be too much to say that Digital History is Public History.

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