Historical Authority and Sense of Place

On the Saturday of #ncph2012 I attended a number of great sessions.  My favourite session of the day, and perhaps the whole conference was “Letting Go? Historical Authority in a User Generated World.”  Despite being at 8:30am, this session was lively, discussion filled, and actively engaged attendees.  The session began by the presenters encouraging participants to use sharpies and post-it-notes to record thoughts on the idea of user generated content.   This simplistic activity did a great job of getting everyone moving and getting the conversation started.

Some of the examples of user generated content and exhibits included:

  • 21st Century Abe, the project aimed to explore the idea of Abe’s long lasting impact 200 years after his birth.  Artists, experts, and people from all walks of live were invited to contribute their conceptions of Abe.
  • PhilaPlace, is a community driven project by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, that connects stories to places in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.This project uses interactive maps to allow people to connect personal histories to the past and a sense of place.
  • Franklin Remixed, this initiative focused on school aged children sharing their perspectives on Franklin.  The children were exposed to primary sources and encourage to re-conceptualize and redesign a traditional exhibit on Franklin.
  • StoryCorps, a historical interview project that puts regular people at the forefront.  This form of history is highly personalized and without context, short clips are regularly played on NPR. 
  • Denis Severs’ House, an unconventional approach to historic house interpretation.  The development of this site was completely artist driven, and allows for a feeling of presence in a historical space.

These great examples of user driven content provided a foundation for discussing the pitfalls and rewards of working with community groups to create and inspire content.

The ideas inspired in this first session, were complemented by the session I attended next: “Right Here on This Spot: Place and Meaning in Historical Scholarship and Community Engagement.”  This session focused on the importance of place, the multiple interpretation of place, and the notion of location as storyscape. 

Presenter Michelle McClellan, addressed the concept of space by examining the heritage tourism associated with the book, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.   McClellan noted how interpretation can greatly impact how visitors conceptualize a sense of space and that preconceived notions of space often shape tourism experiences. 

McClellan was followed by David Young and his discussion of the Cliveden historical site.  In recent years the Cliveden site has been reinterpreted to focus more on the racial experiences than the history of the Chew family.  Young focused on the ability of a single geographic local to tell a wide array of stories and impact numerous communities. 

Both of the sessions I attended Saturday morning sparked thoughts about how I approach history and ways in which traditional interpretation can be altered to improve visitor experiences.

Indigenous Knowledge and Mapping

Washow Sectional Map, Manitoba Historical Maps

One of the project’s currently being undertaken byOne of the project’s currently being undertaken by Carleton University’s Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC) focuses on the display of Indigenous knowledge and culture through the use of cybercartography.  

This initiative has resulted in the creation of cybercatrographic atlases which incorporate interactive perspectives  on themes such as homelessness, place names, traditional language, traditional knowledge, and others. These atlases and the project as a whole are completely open source and do an excellent job of blending geomatics, historical landscapes, and technology. Each atlas contains interactive features such as media clips, photographs, video, traditional languages, and historic maps.

Currently the GCRC is working on nine different atlases focusing on different aspects of Indigenous knowledge and culture.  The atlases include: 

The “Living Cybercartographic Atlas of Indigenous Perspectives and Knowledge” is a good place to start if you’re interested in exploring the variety of resources complied in each atlas.

    Continued Evolution of Google Applications.

    The tools provided through google have evolved once again. Recently google launched a new beta version of the google earth application. It is now possible to explore oceans on google earth. This feature allows users to explore the oceans, examine melting ice caps, and use a feature called shipwrecks. The shipwreck feature allows users to explore more than forty shipwrecks, through educational videos. The shipwreck section contains some historical information, and may be a neat way to introduce the more historical side of mapping to the public.

    Similarly, google earth now includes a historical imagery feature. This feature lets users explore a variety of satellite images from various periods, which highlight how certain areas have changed over time. The user can also select the time span they want to examine for a particular location. Currently this feature is only available for select locations, but despite this limitation, google earth is moving towards providing more historical context, which is never a bad thing for the history buffs.