By Katie and Megan Woods
Katie and Megan Woods recently graduated with their Master of Arts in History with a Concentration in Public History. They also obtained a Certificate in Digital Humanities with their project From Grateful Friends (a screenshot from the project is below). Their travel to the National Council on Public History’s 2019 annual meeting was partially supported by a NULab travel grant.
At the end of March, we were fortunate enough to attend the 2019 National Council on Public History’s Annual Meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. During the conference, we came across (and even participated in) many creative digital projects that either bring documents out of the depths of the archives, help historians deal with difficult topics, or shed light on stories in engaging and accessible ways. Below are some of our favorite projects and tools.
The theme for the annual meeting was “Repair Work,” which was interpreted several ways, from re-addressing past histories with alternative viewpoints and physically repairing collections and historic buildings, to addressing the need to improve accessibility and inclusivity at both audience and institutional levels. A significant aspect of this “repair” included discussions on how public historians should interpret and confront traumatic events. In many cases, it is now a responsibility for public historians and museum staff to help communities deal with tragedy. On the first day of the conference, a group of public historians came together to build resources for a specific type of pervasive tragedy in the United States–mass gun violence. After the Shots is the product of a day-long hack-a-thon that explores mass gun violence in the United States. It provides an interpretation of the history and context behind gun violence, as well as a variety of resources: digital projects about specific events, educational materials, and ways for historians to respond. While built in a single day, the site encourages further crowd-sourcing of resources and information as it hopes to be a reference for historians if there is a mass shooting in their communities.
While we did not participate in the complete eight hours of the hack-a-thon, we both were able to contribute to the site during a Digital Public History Lab workshop. Katie researched and collected data for the “Datasets and Web Projects” page, while Megan helped locate resources for the “Educational Materials” page.
Clio is an expansive database that makes historic sites and tours easily accessible to the public. There are historic sites documented throughout the entire United States; this project strives to help both locals and visitors discover well-known and more obscure historical sites within cities by using Clio’s website or app. These sites could be museums and historic houses, or monuments and memorials. In some cases, Clio identifies the location of historic sites where there are no physical markers. Each entry has the geographical location of the site, images, an overview or history of the site, and sources/additional resources. While specific entries are largely crowd-sourced, the administrators try to verify all information before confirming new entries. Clio also documents historical tours, either ones already well-established (such as “The Freedom Trail”), or tours created by other authors (such as the “Boston Sports History Trail”). Clio’s app guides users as they explore their surroundings, making the tours and information easily available via phone. Finally, Clio can be used as an educational tool by institutions and educators to share local and community history with the public. What makes Clio so impressive is its scope in both breadth and depth; this has the potential to be a “one-stop shop” that anyone can pull up on their phone when visiting a new city.
Created by the University of Virginia, this HTML5 tool allows users to create a project that combines maps, timelines, images, text, and other forms of media. Visual Eyes is designed for scholars to present their research and to increase a project’s depth and richness. While we have come across various mapping and timeline platforms, we had yet to come across one that combined these two features together as Visual Eyes does. Due to this unique feature, some projects are able to capture movement over a span of time, as seen in projects like The Mapping of Our Mutual Friend and Rev. J.F. Robinson: A Spatial Biography. While this tool is complex and advanced in nature, Visual Eyes provides a thorough “Authoring Guide” to help individuals create their own projects. Even though this tool may be of more use to academia as opposed to the general public, it still is an intriguing way to present research through a digital platform.
This database makes documents related to early Washington D.C. freedom suits accessible to the public. While the focus is on primary sources, the site includes additional forms of analysis, such as documenting and connecting people to multiple cases, creating family networks, and visualizing the expansive reach of the D.C. court system across communities. There are many avenues for engagement and entry into the material. What we find most exciting about this project is that while collecting and making legal documents accessible is the primary objective, it is just the starting point. This platform encourages further exploration beyond a single document by contextualizing primary sources within the larger issues of race and freedom in the D.C. area.
ART HARTFORD is a geo-locating platform that catalogs and interprets the local region’s permanent art and architecture. While various local organizations are custodians of these works of public art, this platform serves as a single entry point for a visitor interested in looking up any architectural site or public art form. The platform includes a map that allows for free exploration, as well as the ability to find sites located near a visitor using GPS. There are also a variety of tours available based on themes, such as “Women Artists,” “Science & Invention,” and the “Civil War.” Visitors to the site can look up individual forms of public art filtered by artist, partner organization, or tour. This site serves two purposes: to help visitors engage with the regional public art and to bring local organizations together in partnerships. While similar to Clio, this dual-aspect is its most exciting element because it seeks to make connections across organizations throughout the Hartford region.