Category Archives: HIST 696

Naval Academy Class Ring Project Reflection

As I began envisioning the Naval Academy Class Ring Project my first and foremost goal was to extend the story and give greater context about the individuals represented. In the process, I wanted to create a space that went beyond the narrative and showcased other museum items. I am quite excited about the project’s progress, but recognize a lot of time at home and work went into it and I will not be able to devote that level of effort continuously. The original timeline put forth in the grant proposal still seems like a viable goal and is now officially in my FY16 work plan so at least that gives me further reasoning to work on the project on the job. When the project is nearly complete I can pursue approval for it to be linked from the Naval Academy Museum’s website. Once linked, we plan on using an application to pull the website offline for use as a kiosk to be physically displayed at the exhibit.


The goal outlined in the grant proposal of 1500 items or 10 per individual alumni is a lofty goal that I think is still possible but I need to take into consideration issues in the museum’s database. Unfortunately it has not been well maintained, leading to many improperly tracked donations that lack updated locations. I was also surprised at just how many of the rings are Found In Collection (FIC), and thus lack provenance, background information or descriptions. Many of the rings are FICs that at one point had a number so I will have to reconcile them with our old card catalog of accessions in the future. Any accession number reconciliation is always a good thing as the museum works toward American Alliance of Museums Accreditation.

I approached the digitization process with the goal of getting an initial chunk of items available for online viewing that help the narrative and show never before seen pieces of our collection. I started with museum accession and research files for the pre-yearbook classes, then proceeded to the later Lucky Bags (Yearbooks). Currently only a few items aside from the rings are objects, most are scanned images and text, but we plan on adding at least 1-2 objects per individual depending on availability.

Despite having the core biographical research complete, there is a lot more work to do to fill in the narrative. For instance, I wrongly assumed that the Naval Academy institutional archives would have a complete list of Class Ring and Crest Committee decisions, but very few can be found. The Naval Academy Museum’s senior curator Jim Cheevers wrote an article in the August 2007 Shipmate (Alumni Magazine) called, “History & Traditions: The Origin of USNA Class Crests,” that served as a fantastic primer to the “What is a Class Crest?” section of my project. But even his article did not go into the symbolism of items comprising these crests. The crest explained in the project is from 2008, which is consequently the year I graduated from the Naval Academy. Friends of mine found the pamphlet handed out before the ring dance that breaks down the symbolism and reasoning behind the crest. So at least I know what to look for from the more recent classes. For the older classes, I plan to start contacting alums through the Alumni Foundation. For any classes before the mid-1930s, however I will have to rely on available descriptions in the Lucky Bags and archives.


I recognized right away that Omeka with the Exhibit Builder plugin were the perfect platform and design tools to serve my mission. It took a lot of trial and error before I really felt comfortable and confident I could create my project as planned. Knowing that the project would eventually link from the museum’s website I copied the same header and museum logo from the Naval Academy Museum homepage. For the immediate design, I decided to make my main page gallery style to match the physical exhibit display. For easily accessible context and background information, I put the larger themes and questions on the header menu. Questions like, “What is a Class Ring?” or “What is a Class Crest?” are critical to understanding the exhibit, but by placing them in the header menu the gallery aesthetic is maintained and another navigational route is available.

The only issue I came across in Omeka is that the images on my main page cannot be individual access points to graduate pages. Instead, when you click a ring image it goes directly to the item metadata page. The only way we could get around the platform constraints was to establish the appropriate link within the image’s caption.
I only had vague concepts of tools to use in my project at the grant proposal stage, but the range of tools presented during class helped solidify those elements. From conception, I thought I’d use a timeline, some sort of mapping tool for hometowns and careers, interactive images, and 360 degree images. After playing with so many of these tools I realized sometimes less is better, especially when accounting for a large part of our demographic audience being older.

Tradition is highly visible at the Naval Academy. Throughout the academy’s grounds, class crests adorn most of the man-made surfaces, gifts from long since passed graduates. Many, however, do not understand the symbolism behind those class crests, myself included. Therefore this project afforded me the opportunity to create interactive images of crests in a very appealing way, if I could just figure out the best tool. When the class covered the Neatline plugin, I thought that was the answer and after working with the program for some time, I created a Neatline exhibit that met the basic intention. However, Neatline was not ideal. I didn’t like how big the viewing box was or that the zoom function could easily lose the image. Above all, I had a lot of trouble viewing the Neatline exhibit; it showed up only on 1 in 10 computers. It must have just been too large to load on lower bandwidth internet. I thought I was out of luck until some of the art historians’ presentations included ThingLink. After class it took me about 20 minutes to replace Neatline with a ThingLink interactive image. So far I haven’t had any issues seeing the image on computers or phones and it was a very straightforward process. Recognizing I will potentially create over 100 interactive images involving crests, but it is a lot less daunting a process using ThingLink. If my research leads to more crest explanations, I might consider investing in a full version or see if in the paid version’s free trial the prominent logo goes away.

Another tool I’ve considered eventually adding is StoryMap to track a graduate’s career, possibly using it as the primary exhibit page for certain people. I realize a StoryMap would not work for every graduate because many died before having much of a career. An additional consideration is that there might not be enough information available for lesser known individuals compared to more prominent graduates. The need for geographic information is another hurdle, for instance, a short bio might mention a person served in the Asiatic squadron, but does not give an actual geographic location. I vacillated between including StoryMap or not in the prototype, but after asking colleagues they agree that until I find a good way to integrate it seamlessly it makes for a choppy presentation.

I know the main ring photographs are not the best quality; they’re blurry and don’t include side or inner ring views. I recognize my photography skills are lacking, but luckily we have worked with a midshipman in the past photographing ship models in our collection and plan on utilizing his skills for the remaining ring photography. For each ring “item” we will have 4 images: inner inscription, 2 sides, and top/front. One of my goals was to give visitors an up-close look at rings that the current display doesn’t allow. A 360 degree image of each ring seemed like the answer. It took a lot of trial and error before reaching an acceptable visual. First, I assumed I needed photo-stitching software, but after multiple attempts without success I realized what I really needed was 3D object modeling software. I downloaded a free version of Modelweaver 3.00, but haven’t been successful as of yet. I plan on revisiting it over the break now that I realize I took way too many photos (100) when I only needed 36. In the interim, I put the photos together in a QuickTime movie and added the HTML5 plugin for compatibility. My hope is the 360 degree feature eventually looks like Smithsonian’s X 3D site.

Going into visualizations week in class I created an excel doc that included: graduation year, name, hometown, rank, designation (served on ship, aviator, subs, Marine, USAF), wars fought, ring maker, military decorations, and if they died in battle. It continued to morph as I completed the 140 years and hope to find more tools and ways to visualize all the extra data. For instance, as I continue my research I’m amazed at the interconnection amongst Naval Academy graduates; at just how small the Navy really was and still is. I would love to find a way to visualize those connections with a multi-nodal mapping tool.
Midshipmen come from across the world to attend the Naval Academy and the graduates in the ring exhibit offer a good representational cross-section of origins. Another way I used my Excel data was to create maps using Cartodb showing the graduate’s hometowns. Both the heatmap and bubble maps are embedded in Omeka. The heat map is my favorite, when animated it chronologically populates the map, showing the accumulated density of ring owners by their hometowns. The bubble map gives more in depth coverage by town, utilizing info boxes that pop up when a cursor moves over the bubble. The info box displays the class year, name, and hometown of the graduate from that location. The only downfall is the inability to integrate the maps within Omeka to the degree that if you click on a bubble it will actually go to the graduate’s site. Since Cartodb is a separate tool I understand why the two platforms are not compatible to that level, but it would be great to have an Omeka plugin that could create similar maps and be fully integrated.

Since this is the prototype of an ongoing project only nine of the class ring captions lead to fully narrated pages (1869-1878, 1895). All other captions link to pages that are works in progress. Also, you may notice absent years in the ring chronology, this is due to not having a donated ring from that class. To round out the exhibit, the manufacturer gives the museum replicas that are not connected to a particular individual.

Again, my boss (thankfully) and everyone at work are very excited about the site so far. They have been searching for ways to expand their online presence toward digital collections. Once the Class Ring project is complete, they want to continue with other subjects as separate exhibits. For example, our museum has one of the largest ship and boat model collections in the world. Currently, the museum website and Flickr show select models, but lack context or interpretation. It would be amazing to eventually do a similar project, utilizing maps and Omeka’s other capabilities. I look forward to continuing the project to the present, connecting historical relevance to today’s midshipmen.

A scholarship stopgap

There was obviously a variety of scholarship communications covered in this week’s readings. The combination seemed to create a full circle of topics covered this semester. Early on in the course we recognized that no matter how much we claim a collection or archive is open or comprehensive choices are made to frame the site. In that same vein, William Cronan described online scholarship, “To some degree every reader is his or her own aggregator and curator by selecting the sources they read regularly and the links that they follow.” By creating RSS feeds and the like, people hone in on their regularly visited resources. More and more institution’s are creating selective feeds to consolidate sources and propagate them in a one stop shop. I loved that the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis dedicates a section of their homepage to art news from around the world. The fact that the Walker pursues their website as a publication with a considerate number of dedicated staff is a great model for other larger museums but would be problematic for smaller institutions like the 9 person staff of the Naval Academy Museum.

The dissertation publication debate seems pretty convoluted. A mash-up of hard-charging open source advocates, antiquated tenure processors, and university libraries and presses lost in a sea of institutional mandates. When I began reading into the debate, I realized that part of the thesis completion/graduation process for my masters program was to upload my thesis into the library’s Creative Commons site. I understand there is a whole other level of considerations for dissertations – as AHA aptly pointed out, but I never even considered fighting it. I’m not sure if the University of Nebraska mandates dissertations be digitally uploaded to get your PhD or not.

I definitely think that if people are not required to upload their work then for the good of the field some portion of their scholarship should be posted. A post-publication review site seems like a good first opportunity (before reaches paid journals) to see new scholarship. Not only will they kind of stake some level of claim to their subject but be able to receive constructive criticism to help solidify the scholarship. If what AHA claims is true then there does seem to be a catch 22 for new PhDs. But the AHA statement is way too heavy handed – only thinking about the academic or scholarly writer side who wants or needs to publish eventually. I agree it should be a right to choose versus a requirement to post online, it is their intellectual property. That being said, I find it hard to believe that most new PhDs won’t fall in line with the ideals of open access and getting their scholarship out there.

The root of this argument is not publishing but the monograph laden confines of reaching tenure. Until academia can truly recognize online scholarship as congruent to a book deal, there will continue to be this argument. This sort of thinking, Cohen wrote last fall, is representative of “a collective failure by historians who believe — contrary to the lessons of our own research — that today will be like yesterday, and tomorrow like today.” Dr Jennifer Guiliano’s observance that despite AHA being the head honcho for the history field they did not cite any of their claims is something a lot of people latched onto in the comments section. It seems that the publishers that took issue were the exception rather than the rule. Besides, it makes sense that the data received from online dissertations would be extremely helpful in showing interest in your subject matter.

Planned Obsolescence really touched on a lot of the overarching themes of this semester. The multimodal idea for instance, is just another way to recognize what we’ve learned – that the relationship between text and images/multimedia is changing. When print is the primary mode everything must be translated into text, but digital space allows for new interpretations using many different modes – many closer to the original format being studied.

The breakdown of the University press’s mission to disseminate their institution’s scholarship and instead be a revenue source is just another part of the tenure track puzzle. A Report of the AAUP Task Force on Economic Models for Scholarly Publishing agrees that the business model is antiquated and needs to become more collaborative to survive. Everyone seems to agree that models such as University of Michigan’s press/library partnership Digital Culture Books are a possible solution.

Everything we read for this week recognizes that academia’s current institutional procedures are broken and that the digital tools (including publication) presented this semester offer a challenge. The only solid answer I can hope for is to not hurt the readers and seekers of knowledge with an access stopgap. There has to be another way to protect intellectual property, scholar’s careers, and the dissemination of knowledge.

Understanding the Cuban Missile Crisis

For most students Cold War history includes some prior knowledge of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a flash point covered in high school history class. Thanks also in part to JFK’s legacy and the movie Thirteen Days cultural memories leave skewed versions of history. Much like David Jaffee’s section in Ways of Seeing, I want to “build the scaffolding” for students to see beyond the simple answer – to confront their prior knowledge and turn it on its head. I would start off by showing a clip of Thirteen Days.

Then, utilizing the Material Culture introductions for analyzing documents, have the class critically read a select set of primary documents, images, and audio clips from the NSA archive on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Much like the Historical Thinking Matters site, I want students to learn how to closely read, critique, and build historical narratives using primary documents. Throughout high school and college I wrote a lot about different films historical accuracy (or lack thereof). So many people today always swear the book is better than the movie, I want students to see that as well. However, in this instance we’re pushing beyond the history textbook and learning to look at the sources with a critical eye. The National Security Archive on the Cuban Missile Crisis has a treasure trove of recently unclassified materials, but I particularly love the audio clips. Being able to hear President Kennedy and his cabinet hash out potentially world altering decisions allows students to feel like part of the history. By comparing a (hopefully) familiar scene from Thirteen Days and contrasting it with the sources the US government had at the time, students have the opportunity to see if they would make similar decisions based on the information at hand. Working in small groups, they collaboratively construct their historical narrative and arguments then present their findings in class.

I think this assignment would be a great way to teach students to use their background knowledge, critical reading and analysis, and collaborative narrative construction. The breadth of materials high school and survey classes must cover all to often leave out the reasoning behind these historic decisions. Students will hopefully come out of this with a better understanding of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the huge amount of information weighed prior to making such decisions.

What’s the real story on the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Assignment: Watch the below clip of Thirteen Days. Is this an accurate portrayal of the Cuban Missile Crisis? Would you have made similar decisions? Use the primary sources provided and your own background knowledge to evaluate the clip.

Work in two to three man groups and create a succinct 5-10 minute presentation by the end of class detailing your argument and the primary sources that helped you reach that conclusion.

August 29, 1962: U-2 photograph of SA-2 surface-to-air missile (SAM) site under construction at La Coloma.

October 5, 1962: CIA chart of “reconnaissance objectives in Cuba.”

October 15, 1962: U-2 photograph of IL-28 bomber crates at San Julian airfield.

October 17, 1962: U-2 photograph of first IRBM site found under construction.

October 25, 1962: Low-level photograph of San Cristobal no. 1 showing extensive tracking from surging construction and possible missile readiness drills.


USSR, directive, TOP SECRET, Malinovsky’s Order to Pliyev, October 22, 1962.

Prime Minister Fidel Castro’s letter to Premier Khrushchev, October 26, 1962.

Chronology Compiled for The President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), “Chronology of Specific Events Relating to the Military Buildup in Cuba,” Undated [Excerpt].

U.S. blockade of Cuba in effect, UPI October 24, 1962.


Tuesday, October 16, 11:50 A.M., Cabinet Room, The White House.

Tuesday, October 16, 12:15 P.M., Cabinet Room, The White House.

Open Access, Rights, and Money

The Roy Rosenzweig Wikipedia article points out that historians and the history field are “deeply individualistic.” We must recognize other’s work (but not too much of it) within our own scholarship or risk all types of consequences. That is why Wikipedia is touted as this wonderful and surreal workaround. During my undergrad and masters programs I stayed away from Wikipedia like it was the plague. Nowadays people seem to be a bit more accepting, but only as a launch point for research-that is until professional historians feel a sense of obligation to contribute. I think the information created by the “collective” or “amateur” is decent enough, but some misinformation can slide through the cracks and then be propagated to a multitude of those websites that link/embed the article. I recognize the inflation of “now” topics and less than glorious prose, but I can get behind the notion that as long as people don’t take it all as comprehensive fact, any information accessibility is valuable compared to restricted access all be it higher quality scholarship. I added a small section to the US Naval Academy Wikipedia page referencing Preble Hall, but have yet to see the collective acknowledge or change the contribution.

The copyright overview in Digital History was enlightening. The work-for-hire rights seem incredibly frustrating. I feel like the individual should still have the rights but that there should be some sort of acknowledgement of the various funding entities. The specific characteristics of the digital history field interestingly enough increase the likelihood (capacity) for legal issues and offer the flexibility to change questionable space. In Lessig’s book Free Culture he says something along the lines that, “Technology means you can do amazing things easily but you can’t easily do them legally.” In other words, he recognizes technology’s potential, but so much content is barred that it is hard to not accomplish something without stepping on someone’s toes (work).


That being said, the basic justification for copyright is protecting people’s intellectual property. The process of creating that information is by no means free – everyone from the graduate student, professor, or institution has a stake in the work. As much as I would like to get behind the idea that publically funded scholarship should belong to the public, unfortunately like most things in the world, copyrights, open access and open-source comes down to money. Multiple readings touched on the need to get scholarship out of the restrictive grasps of groups like JStor, but only offered alternatives that included scholars (or more likely their institutions) fitting the bill. Which not only still leaves universities in the red, but highlights possible ethical issues by accepting less than stellar articles for decent money. I agree with Wallinsky (and others) that there needs to be a balance between the interests of authors (or the copyright owner) and public, but how to reach it alludes me. The right to know is inherent and as much as the cultural constraints Lessig lists (market, architecture, norms and laws) cause access problems, the same technology we use enforces those rights. It seems we can’t have one without the other.

In the museum world we face myriad issues by controlling culturally significant property. Visitor’s photographing displays used to be seen as a huge faux pas, but is now a welcomed way to expand the visitor experience and market the museum. Before the switch, all loan agreements had to recognize the policy shift to include approval for the natural redistribution of images. Museums can then cite quantitative proof of extended engagement based on number of posts etc. on social media.

I chose a Creative Commons License that only necessitated attribution and plugged in the museum website as the source work URL for the digital project. I was not able to figure out a way, short from creating a plugin (which I do not have the confidence or skill) for Omeka, to put my license on my project. Please let me know if you found an easier way.

Text and Network Visualizations

I came into this week’s activities with trepidation, but am really excited at the prospect for text and network visualizations in my project.

Gelphi: It took me a while to get Gelphi to open. Initially, I had an error message about Java, but after checking forums I learned I was not alone. I downloaded Java Oracle kit 8 (then learned that was too new) and downloaded kit 7, then Gelphi opened right up. After changing column headers name-source and hometown-target as Brian Sarnaki’s blog detailed I imported my data set. I wanted to show each graduate’s involvement in conflicts so I used the merge column button to combine 7 conflicts. What my graph shows is an iteration of conflicts by graduate, but I would like to figure out how to show each conflict as a base node and branch off graduates – connecting them to multiple conflicts.


Palladio: I tried to map/graph the hometowns, ranks, and conflicts of the graduates using the data set from the past couple of weeks. The video made the mapping look so simplistic, yet for some reason I could not successfully create a map. I compared my data formatting and could not find any major differences, so I would love some help getting my map off the ground. I was able to graph a few things: the graduates by rank and by conflict. I separated the conflicts by column in my .csv file, but would like to find a way to have all the conflicts listed in 1 column for comparison. I’m sure it just comes down to formatting – something I would love to figure out!

Graduates Ranks:
Graduates in Spanish-American War:

To build a corpus for text mining I searched “United States Naval Academy” in the Internet Archive and found a treasure trove of Annual registers from the 1860s to the 1960s. I thought it would be interesting to see what terminology changed over the years. I spread out the years: 1869, 1885, 1895, 1902, 1911, 1928, 1933, 1942, 1955, 1965. Below is findings of the 1869, 1902, and 1955 Annual Registers.

1869 Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy:

1902 Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy:

1955 Annual Register of the United States Naval Academy:

The stop words list was super helpful to weed out unwanted words and transcription issues. The registers had a lot of tables did not transcribe. After retyping the list a couple of times I created a standardized list on word to cut and paste. A couple of interesting things I noticed based on word frequency is that at the turn of the century terminology changed for a short period of time between midshipmen and cadets. By the 1911 Register midshipmen was readopted. Also intriguing is the exponential increase in males with the suffix Jr. While accounting for the continual increase in class size from 60 in 1869 to 500 in the 1950s, it still boggles my mind at the increase.

As of Saturday night I was not able to download Mallet, but I look forward to learning how to work with the platform.

Visualizations need solid data

I initially attempted to map Admiral Albert Gleaves Berry’s career, but ran into issues with pretty much every platform. I lacked certain information in my data set, making it difficult to get points to show up on the map. I probably spent half my time forming and tweaking data, but what it really comes down to is incomplete data creates weak visualizations. For instance, Berry served in the South Atlantic Station between 1872-1876, but the ships were roaming large swaths of ocean and rarely entering port. In other words there was no fixed position to map readily available. I need to do a lot more research to fill in the data gaps. My hope is to map each graduate’s career to see where they overlap. Some might have served on the same ship, one a commander, the other an ensign. It would be enlightening for site visitors to see that historically the US Navy is small and people make connections that can last a lifetime. I only came back to the idea of mapping Berry’s career once I played around with the data sets more and realized that timeline was one of the best platforms.

I used the google docs template and tried as many media types as I could find. It took a lot of plug and play to find urls that transferred well into Timeline. I really like the look of it, but wonder what appearance options are available.

Timeline: Highlights of Admiral Albert Gleaves Berry’s Career

After initially failing to get anywhere with career mapping I switched gears to map graduate’s hometowns. I especially like the prospect of mapping hometowns with my full contingent of data and using cluster options. The group of graduates is representative of the average class entering the academy. I want to understand where midshipmen came from over the years. If they came from primarily seafaring regions, especially before the turn of the century, or if the Midwest is well represented? I really had difficulties with overlaying historic georeferenced maps on modern iterations.

Georeference: Graduates Hometowns

I think Cartodb could be a great visualization tool and really useful for my project if I can figure out which data to show and how to input it correctly (obviously). I had limited success creating single layered maps of the graduate’s hometowns and Berry’s career. In the case of the hometown’s map, I think the additional data of 100 years worth of graduates will be helpful in creating a better visualization. Cartodb is not the best platform for mapping a single graduate’s career, but might also be improved with more alum’s careers included in the data.


Map of Hometowns of first graduates

Map of Admiral Berry’s Career

I think Storymap is my favorite visualization tool and could be used as an exhibit to track a graduate’s career. That being said, I was still in the throes of data issues with Berry’s career so instead chose to showcase each graduate and their hometown. The multitude of appearance options, the lines tracking between the slides, and chronological capabilities make Storymap a one stop shop. I just wish there was a tagging option and a capability to create additional slides on each individual. Please let me know if it is possible!


Working on visualizations is another great way to reconfigure your project and offer new questions for query. At its core, however, is strong data. I would love to use many of these tools, but first need to pull together stronger and cleaner data.

Excel Exploration

Growing up, my father was a math God – accountant, helper in all thinks math homework; basically a human calculator. On the rare occasion he could not solve the problem immediately in his head he pulled up 1990s excel and went to town. To this day I am still in awe of his excel and general math prowess. After a week of attempting to understand the various tutorials, I defaulted to YouTube and had a drop the computer, get up and dance break through. I successfully used COUNTIF function!

When I saw we had to create at least 30 lines of data this week, I had a bit of a panic attack. Only after reading Trevor Owens and Miriam Posner’s posts did I recognize that I am not alone in thinking I have no data. After digging through my project involved I still could not delineate data so I began breaking it down to the individual graduate level. I created columns for graduation year, rank reached, name, and conflicts involved in. Questions started jumping out at me: How many served in the Spanish-American War? World War I? World War II? What rank did they reach? How many died in service to their country? As great as the questions surfacing were, my biggest challenge was understanding excel well enough to get answers. It took a lot of trial and error discovering which functions might work and the subsequent fails filling in the formula before I found the You Tube series eHow Tech. It was explained well and was extremely helpful! I learned that COUNTIF was the functions answer for many of my questions. I also used MODE and AVERAGE regarding officers ranks. Here is my project data: ClassRings19Oct

Working with the smaller dataset was a nice introduction because I could easily double check numbers. Continuing this line of research will create another 150 lines of data, but I feel much more comfortable with any results. After working with my data, I began seeing more and more questions that I could draw from my project that I had not initially included in the practice data. Other questions that arose included:

  1. How many graduates received medals of valor?
  2. What was their average age of death?
  3. What is the breakdown of ring manufacturers?
  4. What is the breakdown of symbols used on class crests?
  5. How many officers served together throughout their careers?
  6. What is the breakdown of center stones by gem type?

Luckily, I think the bulk of my questions can be answered using the COUNTIF and AVERAGE functions. I am particularly excited about the possibility of linking the officers through their careers and showcasing the connection among Naval Academy graduates. I also think the qualitative results will be another great way to present the material. I wish I had read this week’s assignments prior to finishing my grant proposal so I could have included this methodology.


Digital Public History: More Than Interpretation

Digital public history is taking the interpretive elements of digital history and building on them through community outreach. By taking advantage of the virtual landscape, a museum pushes their educational boundaries beyond the scope of a gallery. History is framed by questions, but more often than not those inquiries are asked by scholars and curators – leaving the public with a stunted view and unanswered questions. One way to alleviate this disparity is to include the public in the creative process. By listening to the community, an exhibit could become more diverse and well-rounded. The great thing about digital public history is its flexibility. Once a physical exhibit is built it is very difficult to update, but its online counterpart could be seen more as a prototype. The exhibit can be updated once  visitor input and contributions are received from the online community. By acknowledging the community you can empower people to participate in documenting history and create a larger history minded public through transparency.

The possibility for online engagement is a wonderful tool but can be very labor and time intensive. As the museum professionals in “Grappling with the Concept of Radical Trust,” point out there are many things to consider before allowing users to add content.  A museum is trusted as an authority on their subject matter, therefore to protect the brand, a certain level of staffing is needed to police incoming materials to ensure historical accuracy.

As internet usage continues its meteoric rise, virtual tourism is an obvious step to reach visitors across the globe. Drawing in the remote access visitor is a study in recognizing potential audiences. Creating our own personas for possible website visitors helped me form the basis of my design. I learned that a critical potential audience would be lost if I dove straight into the newest tools and non-linear navigation.  To reach the next generation and gain new audiences, the conversation needs to expand to multiple web platforms and be available in mobile format. The ability for users to create content interactions and build their own version of the narrative can serve as a gateway to visitation. Since my project is an extension of a physical place, there needs to be visitation information in addition to the primary education elements. Additionally, my interpretive narrative, and the mission need to mirror the physical location.

The readings this week helped me realize that our museum’s website has a long way to go. We do the best we can, but we are constrained by the host network and a small (mostly computer novice) staff. Our class interpretive projects websites are great options to link to and help start the conversation.

Here is the link to my draft exhibit: Naval Academy Class Rings