Monday, April 30, 2012

Today's Downloads of Spokane Historical

I get regular reports from the Android market and from iTunes on how many folks have downloaded the Spokane Historical app for local history. Here is today's Android report. A big welcome to our fan in The Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia !

Sunday, April 29, 2012

With a Rebel Yell?

What did the "rebel yell" used by Confederate troops in the Civil War sound like? For years and years this question as been posed as mysterious and unanswerable. Historian Shelby Foote, appearing in Ken Burn's Civil War, said we could never be sure, going on to describe it as probably sounding like "a foxhunt yip mixed up with sort of a banshee squall." But it turns out we can know exactly what it sounded like, thanks to some early recordings at the Library of Congress:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

JSTOR is Not Our Friend; or, What Should a New Public History Journal Look Like?

[Update 5/10/2012] : NCPH Executive Director John Dichtl stopped by to offer some corrections to this post in the comments. Thank you John for setting the record straight.]

The big news at this year's meeting of the National Council on Public History was that the organization has come to a parting of ways with UC-Santa Barbara, the publisher of the Public Historian. Those interested can trawl through the archives for H-Public for details, but the short version is that the two organizations could not come to terms, and that the copyright for the journal apparently belongs to the university and they intend to keep it. So the NCPH is looking to start a new journal for its members. The conference public forum discussion are summarized in this blog post by Cathy Stanton, The Elephant in the Room.
Scene from NCPH via Flickr user David Blackwell

The necessity of starting a new journal provides a fantastic opportunity to rethink what a scholarly journal can be in the 21st century. My thoughts:
  • Whatever else we decide, it is vital that the new journal be open access. Currently the Public Historian is really only readable by members of the organization. Back issues are online but behind a JSTOR paywall and accessible only by folks with an academic affiliation. The NCPH gets some money from JSTOR for this arrangement (I don't know how much, but I guess in the low tens of thousands?). 
  • Whatever the benefits we get from closed access and a partnership with JSTOR, the costs are both huge and largely unrecognized. Every year, JSTOR turns away 150 MILLION attempts to read journal articles! Imagine the lost relevance when our articles cannot be read, blogged, tweeted, sent over Facebook, assigned in public school classrooms, accessed by poor working and amateur public historians in the thousands of tiny museums, archives, and historical societies. JSTOR is not our friend.
  • Also, refusing this opportunity to become open access will alienate many of the younger and more tech savvy members of the NCPH. A lot of us are increasingly uncomfortable with donating our labor in writing and reviewing articles for the benefit of a huge publishing industry that locks our knowledge away.
  • The objections to open access are misguided. One concern I have heard from NCPH leadership is that people join the organization specifically to get the journal. I think this is unlikely. People join for the conference, the networking, and the affiliation. 
  • At the same time, we must continue a print journal. We must not underestimate the attachment folks have to print. A university library of my acquaintance is pitching a bunch of never-read back issues of journals that are already on JSTOR to make space. Many of the professors there seem to think that this is the equivalent of the burning of the library at Alexandria. Whatever we do, a print journal for members has to come out of it.
  •  The new journal should not be like the old one. As much as I have learned from the Public Historian over the years, the real elephant in the room is that the journal's content has always been uneven. The conventions of the academic article are simply alien to what many public historians actually do. There are not enough good public history articles in the academic style to support two journals.
  • What I would like to see? A magazine-format journal that is open-access and publishes a range of items from semi-academic articles to interviews with public historians (I could use those in the classroom!), visits to institutions where public history happens ("behind the scenes" articles at Colonial Williamsburg, the Buffalo Bill Historic Center, the CHNM, the Smithsonian, Gettysburg, etc.), reviews, and who knows. Everything would be available online and for free, but a print version would go out to members unless they opted out. Could it also be distributed through bookstores, etc?
  • Our model for new NCPH journal could be the Atlantic magazine. Four years ago the Atlantic retooled with an "internet first" strategy. It put all of its content, including back issues, online for free, added blogs, interviews, and other web-only features, and used all of these to promote subscriptions and newsstand purchases. The result: increased print sales and profitability in an era when all its competitors are declining. We can do this!
 I am also interested to hear your thoughts--what should a new NCPH journal look like? Please comment.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Spokane Historical Smart Phone App is in the House!

Spokane Historical on the web. But that is not all...
Readers with long memories might recall that I have been working with my students to create smartphone walking tours of local history. I am pleased to announce that as of today our smartphone app, Spokane Historical, is available in both the Android market and the iTunes store.You can also explore our contents on the web. Yeeessssss!

Sample stop on the iPhone 
We are launching with about 60 historic sites in Spokane and Cheney, but more are being added every day and by summers end there should be over 200 sites. We are currently in what is called "soft release"--the app is available but I am publicizing it only a little bit at a time as we work out a few bugs. My students in Digital History last spring did a great job in researching and producing community stories and getting them into the database. But without the app in existence we did make some mistakes in things such as formatting and labeling. Email me if you find any errors.

Many more sites are under development. My excellent graduate students, Julie Russel and Tracy Rebstock, are developing rich tours of Spokane's cemeteries and parks, respectively. I am teaching a Digital Storytelling class right now where the students will be developing tours of the Centennial Trail, Indian War markers, Fort George Wright, and more.

Next steps on this project include looking for sponsorship and content partners, software updates that will include QR codes and better tour functionality, and perhaps expanding the project beyond Spokane. If you want to help, drop me line.

Navigating with the Android app
Spokane Historical was made possible by the generosity and support of my colleagues in the EWU History Department, who voted unanimously to support the project with department funds. So many public historians complain about how their colleagues demean or ignore what they do, I am lucky to work in a supportive department. Thanks friends. I also want to thank all of the local archivists, librarians, and historians who have helped my students create these stories. Spokane has friendly and sharing historical community, without whom this project would hardly be possible. A big thank you to Mark Tebeau, Director of the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University and his team for sharing with us the software platform for Spokane Historical, along with their hard-earned expertise. And my colleagues at the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives offered some technical advice along the way.

Last but not least, Spokane Historical is the product of many hundreds of hours of work by my awesome EWU students in public history. A year ago I walked into my Digital History class and announced that everyone should scrap their final project plans, we were going to create mobile historical walking tours instead. "How do we do that?" they asked. "I don't know," I answered, "Let's get started." It is a brave student who stays in a class after that.

Check out Spokane Historical and let me know what you think.

Friday, April 20, 2012

NCPH Day 2: A Lightning Post on Lightning Talks

I just left the Lightning Talks session at the NCPH. According to Wikipedia, are "lightning talks last only a few minutes and several will usually be delivered in a single period by different speakers. At the lightning talks session at the NCPH, presenters signed up the day of the presentation and each got three minutes to show off their digital project. At the end of three minutes speakers were cut off, even in mid sentence. (An innovation that should be widely adopted at history conferences.) Here is a quick rundown of the presentations:
Photo by Flickr
user veggiefrog.
  • The indefatigable Cathy Stanton showed off History@Work, a "public history commons sponsored by the National Council on Public History." Launched just a few months ago, this is a group blog from the members of the NCPH. Every professional organization should be doing this!
  • We enjoyed a demonstration of the Digital Innovation Lab at UNC-Chapel Hill. Particularly interesting was a tool they had developed that overlayed information from city directories onto a Sanborn map.
  • Flat World Knowledge is a publisher of free, open-source textbooks. Professors can create an account and customize the textbooks with their own content. Students may access the materials fro free online of pay $35 for a physical copy of the book. Here is the book for the second half of of the US survey.
  • From the Library of Congress, the Viewshare project, is a "free and open tool for creating interfaces for digital cultural heritage collections." For an example of how this exciting project can work, check out this LOC blog post about using Viewshare to explore Texas funeral records. 
  • Laura Rosenthal showed us the excellent, the "national history education clearing house." Particularly interesting is their Digital Classroom. “If you want to get your teaching materials into the hands of teachers, contact us," she said. 
  • The History List is new site that aspires to be a universal calendar for history-related events. What a great idea! It is in beta but you can sign up now at this link.
  • Museum Without Walls "is a new kind of interpretive program for Philadelphia’s public art. Each audio program is told by a variety of people from all walks of life who are connected to the sculpture by knowledge, experience or affiliation. Nearly 100 “voices” at 35 stops explore 51 sculptures along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Kelly Drive."
  • I presented Spokane Historical, the new mobile phone app for touring Spokane History. 
  • Mark Tebeau presented Cleveland Historical and the underlying platform Curatescape, the platform that powers Spokane Historical and other mobile tours.
  • The Ojibwe People's Dictionary is a multimedia dictionary and cultural resource. Funded with over $800,000 in grants, the dictionary includes 60,000 spoken items by native speakers of Ojibwe.
  • is the online companion to a museum exhibit. It has a neat cell phone version to provide added content to visitors to the exhibit. Check out the 1968 Timeline.
It was a tremendous and energetic session, packed with information and ideas. A good lightning talk is like a punk rock song--you get out there, deliver a few power chords and a hook, and get the hell off the stage while the audience is still wanting more. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

At the National Council for Public History Conference

Sweetest. Nametag Ever.

 I am at the National Council for Public History Conference in Milwaukee. This year the public historians are meeting jointly with the OAH, and trying to show academic historians how to have a good time.It isn't easy, but we are making progress.

I am here to do a poster session with my excellent student Tracy Rebstock and friend Mark Tebeau on the subject of "Building Historical Community with Mobile Historical Smart Phone Apps." You can read our proposal here, but the short version is that we are going to show off our mobile app for Spokane history. (Spokane Historical, by the way, is in soft release--more on that to follow!)

I love this conference. Public history is a much more diverse, interesting and fun world than academic history. I enjoy coming here and meeting archivists, cultural resource officers, museum people, consultants, historic park employees and all the other flavors of public historian. Some of the highlight today included a session about steampunk and public history, listening to some National Park Service employees wrestle with problems of interpretation at "Indian War" sites in the American West, and meeting old friends.

I have to say however that the very best part of the day was the young man who spotted my name tag and told me that he was a graduate student in public history and a big fan of this blog, and how much some of what I have written has helped him on his career path. This was really touching and absolutely made my day. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

NCPH Launches History@Work Blog

This is very promising! The National Council on Public History has launched a sort of communal blog, History@Work. Described as "a multi-authored, multi-interest blog . . . a digital meeting place--a commons--for all those with an interest in the practice and study of history in public," the blog launched in March and already has some wonderful content.

The idea of a multi-author blog from a professional association is something that I have been pushing for years.I will be reading, and posting, at History@Work and urge you to pay us a visit.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Threat of Spring Break, 1962

This is fun--a 1962 NBC News special about the latest threat to America's youth. It is a new tradition called "spring break," where college kids abandon their studies to "drink prodigious amounts of beer" and dance the twist. Back to Northwest History blogging next week.

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