All posts by Jeff

Jeff Guin is a #digitalheritage specialist. His personal mission is to help people discover and protect their cultural heritage through web communications. voicesofthepast.org

Heritage Education: A national model for instilling cultural stewardship

During my National Park Service years, I was privileged to work on a project initiated by Congress to serve as a national model for heritage education. This included development of the marketing and promotional material to communicate with participating teachers and program supporters.

The initiative was piloted as Heritage Education–Louisiana. Classroom teachers, preservation specialists, and learning professionals were consulted to ensure that the program met preservation ethics and provided professional development for teachers in innovative and evolving educational theology and techniques.

Meeting the needs of classroom teachers who must not only cover curriculum standards and benchmarks, but must also consider high-stakes testing, the program aided teachers in creating integrated lessons and activities that use local cultural resources such as archaeological sites, historic structures, and cultural landscapes as the foundation.

Workshops, Mini Grants, a website and quarterly newsletters were avenues by which the program strove to meet its goals of:

  • Enhancing and enriching Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum;
  • Instilling a sense of cultural stewardship in tomorrow’s leaders; and
  • Serving as a national model for other states.

The program lost its congressional funding after the pilot phase, and limped along until about 2010, but it’s still a worthy model for heritage education. Everyone who participated in it saw its value. You can read more about some of the resulting products and activities at its legacy web presence.

Outstanding products include:

The Summary Report embedded below won an Addy Gold Award for best print publication. It was developed with a matching program brochure and website.

Heritage Education Summary Report by jkguin on Scribd

Heritage Education Brochure by jkguin on Scribd

Heritage Lessons was a quarterly newsletter for and about teachers in the program.

Heritage Lessons Summer 04 Newsletter by jkguin on Scribd

Promote the Heritage of Your Community with Interactive Google Maps Tours

For me, appreciating the heritage of a site is being able to understand the context of its location and where it fits in with its history. It makes you want to experience that site and imagine yourself a part of history. A good guidebook strives for this kind of understanding. You can do the same pretty easily online mapping programs like Google Maps, with a lot more functionality. I’ll show you how using a Google Maps Tours I created for the Cane River region of Louisiana, where I grew up.

Admittedly, this is a lot of fun to create but you’ll get the most out of the product by giving some thought to the goals you are trying to accomplish. What do you want this map to do for you and your heritage resources?

An online map can have a lot of really good uses: to drive heritage tourism, coordinate volunteers, and even illustrate a grant proposal. But each of those reasons require slightly different elements and you do not want to overwhelm your visitors with information they don’t need. Once your goals are set, here’s how you get started with the basics:

Step 1: Creating the Map

  1. Go to https://www.google.com/maps/ and sign in using your login from any Google service (gmail, etc). Get Started by clicking the red plus button in the lower right corner
  2. Give your map a title and description. The title should be a simple description of the site or collective area. Provide one or two sentences in the description that briefly state your area’s claim to fame. You’ll want to include a couple of external links that provide current authoritative information about the area you’re promoting.
  3. You have a map that saves automatically to the Google cloud!

edit button

Where possible, provide a link that includes contact information for touring your sites. If the site is private or otherwise not accessible to the public, note that as well.

Step 2 : Add Your Sites

As soon as your map is named, add several 5-10 placemarks to it right away by using the search field to find relevant locations. This will give you momentum for keeping the project going and spark interest from potential audiences and collaborators. If you have an address, just type it into the search box and click “search maps.” When the location comes up (and do check to make sure it’s correct on the map) click “Add to map …” and select your map from the dropdown menu. Press the Save button, and your first item is created!

save to map

That’s the easy way. Often heritage sites in remote areas do not have exact titles, addresses or even discernible zip codes (it happens!). If that’s the case, you’re going to have to locate it using the “Satellite” view in Google Maps. You’ve probably already used this function to find your own house. To enter Satellite view, just click on the button in the top right hand corner of your map. It may take a few moments to load.

navigation

Once you are in satellite view, it’s time to engage in a spy mission to spot your site.

  1. Go to the map you’ve saved and click the Edit button. Then simply click and hold on the map to move it in the direction you want to go.
  2. When you’re in the general area of where you know your resources is, use the slider bar on the right hand side of your map to zoom in (+) or zoom out (-).
  3. Grab the placemarker icon (looks like and upside-down teardrop) at the top and drop it on to your site. This will give your site GPS coordinates and place it on your map.

Step 3: Collaborate!

Increase the effectiveness of your map by adding collaborators, which is as simple as clicking the “Collaborate” link at the top of your maps and entering e-mail address of the best folks for the job. Start with a small group of people you trust and explain why your map is important as well as why you are asking them to collaborate on it. In my case, folks from my group have not only added important sites I didn’t know about, but also alerted me to sensitive sites (such as those with active archaeological excavations) where public attention might interfere.

Step 4: Blogify Your Text

Folks don’t want to read a treatise about your site within the context of an online map. Shoot for brief, descriptive and compelling narrative storytelling. In the short term, a couple of sentences is just fine.

By default the descriptions of your map items are in plain text. The rich text method offers ways to hyperlink text as in a word processing program. With your map still in edit mode, do this:

  1. Click the placemark. The info window will pop up.
  2. Choose Rich Text to type in your description text and use the “hyperlink” icon to add urls for related sites.
  3. After your text is in place, click the Done button. Remember, you can always go back and edit or add more later.

Step 5: Embedding Photos and Videos

With your placemarks and written description of your sites, you’ve done the bulk of the work to accomplish your goals. Now for the polish — those little elements that will captivate your end users. This starts with that bedrock principle of social media: embedding.

Assuming you have photos and videos on sites like YouTube and Flickr, here’s how to embed your media in each placemark description:

  1. Open your map and click the Edit button.
  2. Choose Edit HTML.
  3. Find the video you want on YouTube or Google Video. Copy the snippet of code that lets you embed the video into a website or blog.
  4. Paste the snippet of code into the description field of your placemark, line or shape.
  5. Click OK to save your changes.

Google Maps Tours Placemark

Note: There is a bit of bugginess with Google Maps and embedding videos. Many folks have had the experience of the embed code for YouTube videos mysteriously disappear from their placemark info box.

Next Steps: Optimize with layers

Another way to get your videos into the appropriate spot (besides HTML) is to use the Video layer. The Video Layer uses the geocoding in your video and will show up after you input an item’s coordinates into the video settings. The video will pop up as an icon when someone clicks the “More …” button on the map and selects “Video.” This also works with photos and Wikipedia entries! Be aware that this could take several days to show up on your map.

Make Your Map a Heritage Icon

Instead of using the default placemark, you can use icons to jazz up the look of your map or to differentiate types of resources at-a-glance. I used a plantation home, a church, a gravemarker and an old building icon (among others) in the Cane River Map. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Find or make icons that best fits your categories and upload them to a photosharing site like Flickr or Google Drive (which is more integrated. It can be put anywhere the image has a url.
  2. Go to your map.
  3. Click the placemark you wish to replace with an icon.
  4. When the info window opens up, click the paint bucket icon.
  5. Click “More icons,” then “Custom Icons” and paste the url for the icon you wish to use. The icon will always show up in “My Icons” from now on.

Notable Use:
The U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation has famously used Google Maps Tours to visually document its Save America’s Treasures, Preserve America and National Heritage Area sites (see its “Historic Sites” map here. While maps on this scale can be overwhelming, they do make the case that historic sites are alive and well, and in likely in your neighborhood.

That’s all there is to it! Now you can embed your map into a web page, or share a link to it through e-mail and social media services. Here’s a preview of the Cane River Heritage Map I created. It’s a work in progress, but it’s a great way to help folks experience these heritage resources both virtually and in person.

Interpretive animations can activate audience connections to history

For me, enjoying a museum visit has always required a leap of imagination. After all, a glass case or a room barrier inherently separates you from objects. Interpretive animations as short-form video are one way to get a visitor into a state where they can better understand the context is which a space, object or event “lived” its historical purpose due to its interaction with humans.

I experimented with this concept as part of a partnership with University of the Arts in Philadelphia and my colleague, Michal Meyer. Abstracting the object or story with animation really helped focus on imaginative storytelling and more effective interpretation.

Here is a playlist of animations produced as part of this partnership.

Some are definitely better than others, but they increased in quality as we refined the process. One challenge related to this experience (where we were working with a class) is that there is much work in getting the students up to speed on the meaning of the content and desired outcomes for audiences. These were also semester-long projects for an animation class, so they are several months in production. Some animations were never quite finished.

Overall, I think they turned out wonderfully. My personal favorite is an animation of an old alchemical painting the organization had, which explained what was going on through the eyes of a creature featured in it. Here’s a preview to the high-resolution source image for that from Wikimedia Commons (click for original):

Interpretive animations Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist 17th century David Teniers II.tif
Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist by David Teniers II, 17th Century

I saw that painting almost every workday for three years. It captured my imagination all on its own, and was a no-brainer for this project. To give these project some extra attention, we “premiered” these as part of a live webcast that featured a graphic novelist and a comic book historian.

Drawing History: Telling the Stories of Science through Comics and Graphic Novels from ChemHeritage on Vimeo.

There are many examples of museums using animations as pre-visit prep (manners in the museum) as seen below, but few featuring sophisticated storytelling and animation.

There are also examples of animations being used in museum interactives, such as these at the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

I looked for examples of interpretive animations produced by other cultural institutions, and they are hard to find. If you know of something out there, please link to it in the comments. Of course, there are many examples of object-inspired animated GIFs being used throughout social media, but that’s another post.

The strategic linchpin: transforming digital tools into an interpretive platform

When you’re identifying what digital interpretive tactics work for your organization, eventually you will find one (or a combination of a few) that achieves a number of needs. This is called a strategic linchpin.

Linchpins are the result of beginning the strategic process, engaging experimentally, and giving your plans some time to percolate. The ability to focus more effort on fewer linchpin technologies is a sign that your tactical planning has truly become strategic.

The following are three examples of strategic linchpins specific to points-in-time and cultural organizations from my work in digital initiatives.

Strategic Linchpin 1: NCPTT Podcast

In 2007, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training faced the difficulty of being a National Park Service agency with a mandate to serve a national audience, despite a decade of flat budgets and a relatively remote location in northwest Louisiana. The organization needed a way to show its impact, including the influence of innovative grant projects it funded to support the use of technology for historic preservation purposes. At the time, many of its audiences were cautiously curious about social and online media technologies. Part of this was that there were not really any topically relevant media to compel their participation.

NCPTT Podcast strategic linchpin

I started the Preservation Technology Podcast as a way to empower staff to showcase their successes, and for audiences to connect to a wider world of like-minded preservation geeks. For all, it was a first step into modern online media, short of the engagement platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which were still viewed as invasive at the time. The podcast’s objectives  included the following:

  • Give the staff a voice
  • Showcase grant products
  • Promote peer research
  • Connect with a national audience on no budget
  • Encourage adoption of digital media among audiences
  • Show digital media leadership within NPS

Almost ten years later, the podcast is the longest-running historic preservation podcast being produced. Moreover, NCPTT  is noted for its role in championing digital outreach technologies, especially within the National Park Service.

Discover more about the Preservation Technology podcast

Strategic Linchpin 2: Chemical Heritage Foundation GLAM-Wiki Program

GLAMWiki strategic linchpin

In 2013, the Chemical Heritage Foundation was looking for ways to publicly share its comprehensive collections and research related to the history of chemistry. It used a lower-end collections management system and did not have a public search function enabled. It had narrative histories on its website, but they were difficult to find. At the same time, many staff members expressed frustration about the lack of quality information related to these topics on Wikipedia.

CHF chose to participate in the GLAM-Wiki initiative that helps cultural institutions share their resources with the world through collaborative projects with experienced Wikipedia editors. A Philadelphia-area Wikipedia editor was hired as a Wikipedian-in-Residence. This resulted in staff training on Wikipedia, and a systematic upload of high-quality collections images to WikiMedia Commons, and the creation of a monthly onsite cybercafe that included Wikipedia edit-a-thons.

The Wikipedian-in-Residence position was subsequently funded for a four-year term through a grant with the Beckman Foundation, and the Wikipedia content continues to be a major driver of web traffic to CHF web properties.

Strategic Linchpin 3: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens 3D Documentation

Vizcaya Barge 3D model strategic linchpin

In March 2016, I had recently been contracted by Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Fl., to give strategic shape to their digital initiatives.  I reached out to David Morgan, a former colleague to brainstorm the evolution of a concept with which we had some common experience: 3D documentation. We both worked together several years at the National Park Service National Center for Preservation Technology and Training–an organization at the forefront of innovating technologies for heritage preservation. David has since moved on to become director of the NPS Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee, Fl., and made several introductions to people who performed 3D documentation in Florida.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a historic house museum and formal gardens located on Biscayne Bay in Miami. Its heritage resources are continually threatened from the climate (including sea-level rise) and inclement weather. It is also an extremely popular tourist attraction. Dual-purposing preservation documentation technology with visitor-facing interpretive technologies was an attractive idea for the institution.

Only a few people at the organization were aware of preservation documentation technologies. I wrote an explanatory document in summer 2016 that describes how the tech worked, what the advantages were and what partners could help achieve success (here’s a more general explainer based on that research). Among the benefits outlined were:

  • Preserve endangered heritage resources
  • Make resources accessible & tell their stories to visitors
  • Bridge preservation and interpretive technologies
  • Nurture academic/tech partnerships

Vizcaya formed a partnership with the University of Florida to prioritize laser scanning and photogrammetry documentation on resources that were of intense interest, but not accessible to the public. In January of 2017, UF completed scanning of the resources for preservation purposes.

In May 2017, the Knight Foundation awarded Vizcaya a grant for $100,000  to fulfill its vision to create visitor-facing virtual experiences based on 3D documentation of these resources. 3D documentation technology has come a long way in the past five years, and really, only now would we be attempting to make this visitor-facing element happen. This was made evident when I attended NCPTT’s 3D Documentation Summit in April. Many of the speakers there mentioned virtual experiences as the “next phase” of this technology. We’d already submitted our grant idea by then, but it was gratifying to know the leaders in this field were thinking the same way.

It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience seeing the idea take root at Vizcaya, knowing that the resources are being cared for, and the visitor experience as well. The values of Vizcaya’s leadership and staff, and the nature of Vizcaya itself, are what made 3D documentation its first strategic linchpin technology.

Social Media brings connections, lessons in ‘User Studies for Digital Library Development’

 

Interestingly, my involvement in this book came about because of social media. Voices of the Past had been going a couple of years, when I got a message out of the blue via Linkedin. Milena Dobreva said she was co-editing a book on user studies in digital libraries and asked if I would write a chapter on social media engagement.

Though I have been fortunate to write material for a few edited volumes, this would be my first international publication (the publisher, Facet, is out of the U.K.). I was intimidated by the stature of the other chapter authors on this project, and that I was the only American. So much so, that at one point I tried to persuade Milena to go with another author I knew to be very experienced in digital libraries and archives. Here’s how she replied:

“Many thanks for this suggestion. I am inclined to ask you once again to contribute because from what I have seen from your work you would bring quite a fresh point of view and I see this as a good potential input which I would really really appreciate.”

With those words, any doubts about my suitability to the task vanished. It was still a grueling process to get the chapter written, but incredibly rewarding.  In addition to surveying the applications of social media to the digital library landscape, I got to talk to fascinating people innovating their field at institutions like the following:

Many of the connections for the case studies were crowdsourced through social media. For all the agonizing, and more so because of it, this ranks among my favorite career experiences. It brought home every message I had been preaching about social media: you can leverage it to find your voice, engagement in it will lead to unexpected opportunities, and the connections you make will strengthen your faith in yourself and others.

The book was well received, (see its reviews herehere, and at Amazon) and though social media platforms have evolved, the bedrock concepts about how digital libraries should work from a user perspective are evergreen. I know that it has been used as a text in classrooms, a well deserved result of the hard work of the editors. I am grateful they gave me a chance to help shape it.

Knight Foundation makes a digital heritage dream possible

I’ve worked the past 13 years as an advocate for strategic digital initiatives at cultural institutions. Much of that time has been spent building  buy-in,  seeking resources, and working to keep the tech functioning. Oh yes … and building in time to see “what’s next,” then repeating the process. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to take a moment in gratitude when an idea takes root.  Thanks to Knight Foundation, this is one of those moments.

This past week, Knight awarded a $100,000 Museums and Technology grant to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, where I am contracted as digital strategist. The grant will enhance the visitor experience by using 3D documentation modeling and printing to allow visitors to explore spaces of this National Historic Landmark that are not accessible to the public. Those spaces include Vizcaya’s Barge (seen above), a partly submerged breakwater decorated with mythical sculptures by Alexander Calder, and the swimming pool grotto  which has a ceiling depicting an elaborate undersea scene designed by Robert Winthrop Chanler.

Vizcaya's Chanler Ceiling 3D Documentation Knight Foundation Grant
Chanler ceiling at Vizcaya

The project combines many of the interests I and many of my Vizcaya colleagues share–historic preservation/conservation, technology, and helping audiences internalize the interpretation of heritage resources. That extends to Vizcaya’s leadership team, which has been incredibly supportive of this holistic approach to 3D documentation.

We’ve got a very talented partner team on the project as well. The University of Florida Historic Preservation Program captures our 3D documentation, including both photogrammetry and laser scanning. Our technology partner will unlock ways to adapt UF’s point clouds into kiosk-based and virtual reality products. Additionally, Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios will be strategizing the development of 3D prints based UF’s laser scanning/photogrammetry.

It’s an exciting time to work in this field. Five years ago, the tech was not mature enough to attempt this concept. Now, we’re confident that we’ll create a model that can other cultural sites can replicate. We’ll be documenting our progress in a GitHub site. While this concept was always an intention, the Knight Foundation’s entry into the museums and technology space advances our efforts by years.

If you’re interested in learning more about 3D documentation, here is a primer to get you started.

Cathy Byrd of Fresh Art International recently interviewed my colleagues about digital initiatives at Vizcaya. Hear what they had to say at the SoundCloud embed below:

 

Oral History: The enthusiast’s guide to getting started

One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways we can all preserve our heritage is through oral histories. Who doesn’t like to have a conversation with an interesting person? Oral histories require just a little time and some inexpensive recording equipment. And you can start right now.

Whether you’re looking to interview a family member or someone you’ve never met, there are a few rules of thumb to prepare for your journey. So take out a pad and pen. Sketching the outline for your oral history project will only take about 15 minutes if you follow these steps.

Plan your project around specific people and topics that engage you. Talking to grandpa because “somebody needs to do it” won’t result in an enjoyable experience–or useful information–for anyone involved. Genuine interest will show through and your interviewees (a.k.a. informants) will respond to it with trust and historical gems you never saw coming.

You can start by listing five people from your community that most fascinate you. These can even be people who have passed, so long as you can still talk to folks who knew them well. What period of their history most excites you?

Going with the goal of just getting grandpa’s life story won’t be enough to sustain your interest in a series of interviews over time. Write a simple one-sentence mission statement for your project. This statement will give you clarity about what you want to achieve.

For example, the mission for my college thesis was to “record the traditions and folkways specific to the mill-centered communities of north Louisiana’s piney woods.” While this was still a broad topic covering many generations of people (including some of my family) it still defined a unique time, place and group of people.

Now use your mission statement to break down the project into about five elements based on historical events (from personal to international), social viewpoints, work knowledge, etc. This will give you topics for scheduling follow-up interviews. It will also help you build a project timeline, including the all-important end date.   

Remember, you aren’t the only person making a commitment in the process of recording an oral history. The people you’re interviewing are being kind enough to take time out of their lives and reveal deeply personal information. Take out your calendar and identify a regular time each week to work on the project. Even if it’s just one hour, make sure it’s an hour you can commit to as you would an important work task. Look for times when your routines make an interview convenient for you and your informant.

With your mission, list of interviewees and schedule in hand, head to your local library or archives and begin your research. You don’t need to go in-depth here, but you need to have some general historical context about the time and place you are interested in.

The world is full of historical accounts, whether it be courthouse records, meeting minutes or news archives. While these documents shape history, they rarely capture the true context of how we as humans have shaped our civilization. An oral history project will do that for you–and the community you share it with–in a very meaningful way.

Here’s a form I put together to help plan oral history  projects. Feel free to download and begin your journey today.

Oral History Project Planning Form by jkguin on Scribd