Active, Digital, Public History

Friday morning at NCPH I presented as part of the “Reaching the Public through the Web: The Practice of Digital Active History” panel with Ian Milligan, Devon Elliott, Tom Peace, and Nathan Smith as the facilitator.  I won’t rehash our panel as a lot has already been written to summarize our presentations.  Prior to the conference Ian wrote a great high level summary of our panel.  Following the session Clarissa Ceglio posted her rapid fire notes of the session in google docs and Jim Clifford provided a summary of the Active History panels at NCPH.

 Following our panel I sat in on the “Working Group: Teaching Digital History and New Media” session.  Despite this being a working group session the audience and the working group participants were both involved in the discussion of digital history.  The session participants were broken into three smaller groups for discussion and then reunited for discussion as a larger group.

I felt the session format was interesting but I would have been just as happy hearing some of the working group participants speak about their experiences.  The working group format is ideal for discussions being developed over longer periods of time with sessions being fruits of that discussion–by involving the audience some of that background conversation might have been missed.  That being said, the twitter back channel during this session was full of useful comments about digital history as public history and the teaching of digital history.

My Friday session attendance concluded with the “After the Cuts: The Future of History in Canada” roundtable.  The roundtable featured representatives from prominent Canadian heritage organizations including: Lyle Dick (CHA), Ellen Judd (Canadian Anthropological Society), William Ross (Canadian Archaeological Association), and Loryl MacDonald (Association of Canadian Archivists).  The session was packed and was standing room only.

The participants focused on the impact of recent cuts to government funding and problems communicating with national heritage organizations.  This panel highlighted the widespread concerns professional organizations have with Canadian heritage cuts, the loss of programing, and impending sense of doom surrounding many recent government decisions.  The session was recorded by Sean Graham of History Slam Podcast fame and should be available in some format in the near future.

NCPH2013 Thursday WordPress Thoughts

My time at NCPH 2013 actually started on Wednesday.  The majority of my Wednesday activities revolved around networking and talking with new and old colleagues from Western University. Interesting discussions but not really blog post fodder.  As such I’m skipping to Thursday in my run down of this year’s NCPH experience.

WordPress as a Public History Platform
The first session I attended at the conference was on using WordPress in a public history setting, with an emphasis on using WordPress in a classroom setting. A couple of the presenters were sick and unable to attend the session, but Clarissa Ceglio, Jeffrey McClurken, and Erin Bell did an excellent job of leading an interactive panel which invited audience participation.

All three presenters highlighted some of the public history projects they have worked on recently which used WordPress.  Some of my favourite examples included:
Connecticut History site,  using WordPress to re-envision the concept of a state encyclopedia.  I particularly liked Ceglio’s emphasis on this site having an ongoing publishing effort and the fining tuning of WordPress for usability.  Ceglio also spoke about using the WordPress plugin in EditFlow to integrate editorial functions into the WordPress Site. 
UMW Blogs, a great example of  a university buying into the WordPress platform and using it for ‘official’ outreach.  This is also a great example of the possibilities of using WordPress as a multi-user platform. The site also has significant customizations and  for anyone having the misgiving that a WordPress site can’t “look nice” check out the UMW blogs.
The James Farmer Lectures site, a well done student created site that places the recorded lectures of James Farmer online.  The cleanness and effectiveness of this student site is what really won me over.  It’s a great example of the possibilities of students using WordPress.

The Question Session
The presenters in the WordPress session left ample time for audience questions and discussions.  Granted, the session as a whole was cut short because of a fire alarm — but that was clearly beyond their control.

Some of the interesting questions that arose:
-How do you manage the lifespan of a student driven WordPress site? 
McClurken spoke about his experience working with a range of student driven projects.  He indicated that in some cases students freely go back and update content on the site following the conclusion of a class.  There was also the mention of creating a digital repository to archive student sites or the possibility of partnering with an organization to maintain the site.
How much training do your students get when working with WordPress?
The general consensus was fairly limited training.  Most professors indicated that they only provide about half an hour of instruction before letting the students loose.  In this instance McClurken emphasized the importance of students learning by discovering and helping each other — that they should be “uncomfortable but not paralyzed” when learning”
How do you handle site promotion and comments? 
The panelists acknowledged the potential of comment features being a hassle.  However, they also indicated that the experience can be valuable for students.  One compromise that was suggested involved turning on the comments feature for the duration of the class and turning it off afterwards.

Digital Tools For Transcription

In the past when I have worked with audio recordings of oral history interviews I have worked with Audacity for the digitization and transcription of the recordings.  Audacity is open source and does a great job in the digitization process and handles the manipulation (clean-up) of audio files well.  Additionally, Audacity does allow users to slow down the playback rate, which helps a lot in the transcription process.

However the transcription process can be a bit clunky if you are constantly switching between an Audacity window and a word processing program.  I’ve found that using two screens and Alt+TAB can help with switching between programs to replay bits of audio, but the process has never been ideal. 

Enter Express Scribe (possibly accompanied by sounds of transcription joy). As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m currently volunteering with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) as a transcriber on their Discovering Multicultural Ontario Digital Archive project. This transcription gig is what introduced me to Express Scribe as a tool for transcription.

I haven’t bee using Express Scribe for nearly as many different tasks as I use Audacity for, but it has a good setup for transcription.  The interface is super easy to understand and it can be downloaded for free. Setup and figuring out how to use the program for transcription took under ten minutes. Comparatively, I found Audacity great once I got used to it but the multiple toolbars and copious numbers of icons made it a bit daunting at first.

Express Scribe has also been mentioned multiple times on the H-oralhistory listserv as a good option for oral historians.  Personally, I like the program because you can adjust the audio and type all within the same window.  It’s like a playback program and a word processing program combined.

What digital tools do you use in the transcription process?

Photo credit: Keenesaw State University Archives

Transcription and Oral History

A number of jobs and volunteer positions I’ve held have allowed me to work from home or off-site.  For example: The History Group internship I completed in 2009 had me working on source identification projects from home and in 2010 I volunteered as a historical research associate with the Red Cross.

 In the same vein, I recently started volunteering with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) on their Discovering Multicultural Ontario Digital Archive project.  In this role I’m helping with the transcription of oral histories that have been collected by the MHSO.  I can work from home on this project as the MHSO has set up an FTP site and guidelines for volunteers who live anywhere in Ontario.

The MHSO has over 9000 hours of recorded oral history, much of which was recorded on cassette tapes.  This current initiative, funded by an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant, aims to preserve and increase accessibility to these oral histories.  Over 1200 recordings have been digitized and people across Ontario are helping with the transcription of these recordings. 

One of the interesting aspects of this project is that the oral history recordings were recorded across Ontario.  As a result, even though the MHSO is located in Toronto and many of its projects have focused on Toronto communities, in this project I have been able to listen to and transcribe oral history recordings from Northern Ontario.  Even though I’ve just started volunteering with the MHSO, I’ve already learned a number of interesting facts about life in Sudbury in the early 1900s.

Overall, volunteering with MHSO has reminded me of the value of volunteers and collaboration within the heritage field.  The Digital Archive project has also highlighted the time consuming, detail oriented nature of transcription.  There is an overwhelming number of archives and museums that hold unprocessed oral history collections, many of which are recorded on cassettes and other slowly deteriorating mediums.   It’s great to see a project placing such a high value on oral history and working to make oral history collections more accessible to the general public.

Looking Back: 201 Posts Later

Credit: kusito

I started the Historical Reminiscents blog in September 2008.  The blog was initially started as part of a Digital History course I was taking during my MA in Public History at UWO.  Since then I’ve graduated, and held a number of positions including: historical researcher, collections assistant, a digitization facilitator, and archives technician.  Yesterday also marked my 200th post on this blog.

In the spirit of reminiscing, here are some of the most read and some of my favourite posts from the past:

2008
-A post on Web Activism and the multiplicity of options (and consequences) in a digital world.

2009
-A readings inspired post on, How to Forge Public History from the Land
-The Intersection of Art and Technology which looks at the work of Dr Maurizio Seracin

2010 
-Looking at the independent digital composure of music in Emily Howell: A Digital Composer 
-The importance of Historical Societies and Community Heritage

2011
Heritage Preservation and Adaptive Reuse: Evergreen Brick Works
– As part of the Natural Heritage blog post series, a post on Point Pelee
Oral History and the Act of Listening

Ontario Heritage Conference: Creating a Heitage Blog

Kayla Jonas of the Adventures in Heritage blog recently presented at the Ontario Heritage Conference. The topic of her session was “Using Websites to Communicate Your Message”.  Kayla’s presentation focused on the use of blogs within the heritage field.  Her presentation used this blog and History to the People as examples of personal heritage blogs.  The complete presentation can be seen here.

Wrapping Up #ACA2011: Day Three

The final day of the ACA conference opened with a plenary session focusing on the idea of Being Archived. The panel featured authors Erika Ritter and Rosemary Sullivan. This presentation provided an interesting look on what is like to be on the other side of the fence – to be the one donating your professional and personal records to an institution. The act of donation experience that many archivists don’t ever get a chance to experience and this presentation provided a look at what goes through the minds of potential donors.

The morning session I attended was entitled Respect and Recognition Continuity and Change in Archives Practice and Aboriginal Documentary Heritage. The panel featured Terry Reilly of the University of Calgary, Sarah Hurford of LAC, Patricia Kennedy of LAC, and Marianne McLean of LAC. Kennedy, Hurford, and McLean all work in different departments of Library and Archives Canada that deal with the acquisition, reference, and development of Aboriginal heritage collections. All three speakers from LAC focused on the need to develop programming which suits the varying needs to Aboriginal communities, researchers, litigation companies, and scholars. In particular, McLean emphasized the growing need to collaboration at every stage of collection development.

Reilly’s presentation focused primarily on her role as the archivist for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC archive is currently in the development phases and Reilly’s work focused on the development of policies and collection mandate’s within the TRC framework. Like the presenters from LAC, Reilly emphasized the need for the TRC to make its work relevant to First Nation, Metis, and Inuit communities – and the ongoing struggle the TRC has with engagement on the local level.

The final #ACA2011 presentation I attended focused on What is a Record in the Digital Environment? The Speakers included Adam Jansen of the University of BC, Jim Suderman from the City of Toronto, and Luciana Duranti of the University of BC. Jensen’s presentation focused on the role of diplomatics (the gensis, forms, and transmission of archival documents) in the digital age. Jensen emphasized the need to archivists to be engaged in the creation of digital content and to understand object oriented programming. Jensen maintained the importance of archivists being digitally literate and being more than merely reactive to digital trends. Jim Suderman’s presentation followed a similar vane to the work of Jansen. Suderman focused on the growing open data trend within Canada and the United States. Like Jense, Suderman suggested that archivists should be involved in the establishment and delivery of the digital platforms used by open data initiatives. This panel concluded with an interesting presentation by Duranti focusing on the Facebook Wall. Duranti used archival theory to deconstruct the digital form that is ‘the wall’ and to explain what the characteristics of a digital record are.

Active History Website Reviewers

Is there a heritage website you absolutely love? Or a history website you find unbearably frustrating? Active History is looking for website reviewers. The call for website reviewers posted on Active History can be seen below:

As a growing number of historical resources become available online, the internet is increasingly becoming a site of serious historical research, inquiry and education. Yet it is important to approach information on the internet with caution, assessing its value with a critical eye.

ActiveHistory.ca is expanding its review section to include scholarly analysis of websites. It is imperative in this “digital age” to develop the tools necessary to critically engage with this expanding resource base.

If you are interested in reviewing a website that features historical content, please send an expression of interest to info@activehistory.ca.

General Reflections on the CHA Conference

Overall the conference was an interesting and valuable experience. I listened to a number of interesting papers and talked with various people who are conducting research I am greatly intrigued by. The CHA provided a good environment for grad students as well, there were many students who presented papers and many more who attended sessions and used the conference for networking.

One of the thoughts I had while at the conference was that making the presentations available by podcast or the papers available online would be greatly beneficial. A few younger presenters did record their presentations, and plan to upload them to youtube. However, the CHA as a whole seems behind on current technology and online publishing. Though this is lack of technological advancement is something that plagues the history profession as a whole, not just the CHA.

I was also encouraged by the use of ‘unconventional‘ sources by many researchers. There were papers which were based on oral history, photos, films, cookbooks, songs, and many other non traditional textual documents. Similarly, many papers had an appeal outside of traditional academia and would be interesting to the general public. Perhaps this is a sign of the profession looking outwards more frequently.