Visit the Virtual Fair: Hyperlinking Photos to Reenact History

by Matthew Amyx

For my group’s project in HIST 479: Digital Media, we are collecting photographs of images and objects from the 1933-1934 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Our (tentative) concept is to use an old map drawing of the fair as our main page. We will then use Photoshop to isolate portions of the map (buildings and exhibits and such) on a separate vector of the map image. Those portions will become buttons that hyperlink to pages with photos, film, and data relevant to that facet of the fair. In this way, visitors will be using the map contemporary people used to curate their own 1933 fair experience.

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This is the map we are hoping to use as our online exhibit’s main page. The images for specific locations will be separated and probably raised a little on Photoshop, then hyperlinked to the relevant page. This image is from the David Rumsey Map Collection.

In preparation for our project, I have begun photographing world’s fair objects in the collections at the Museum of Science and Industry. (Since MSI opened in 1934, most of the objects left over from the fair – including exhibit pieces and publicity material – went directly to the new museum.) Some of the images include architectural models of the buildings at the fair, blueprints of exhibits and buildings, and actual pieces of exhibits.

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Above is the Sears World’s Fair Building, one of several models. To prepare this image for the online exhibit, I could use Photoshop’s magic wand tool to crop out everything but the model itself, then place it against a solid color background with room on the side for a description of the Sears company’s exhibits at the fair. However, what I would really like to do if possible – if I can get more time with the objects – is to film the building from all sides and embed the video into the webpage. That way visitors could really get a feel for the dimensions of the building.

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Above is a pair of ornamental scissors which – the assistant curator told me – were displayed at both the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition and 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair. I could use the magic wand tool in Photoshop to isolate the item into its own image layer, then superimpose it over an image of the building/exhibit it would have been featured in. It would also be cool – although likely above my skills at this point – to scale down the isolated scissor image and place it as a button within a larger image of the fair to create something like a hidden picture game within the online exhibit. When the image-button is pressed, it would expand to show the image in more detail.

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I also have access to a lot of architectural blueprints and designs like the one above. In addition to cropping out any surroundings – or human hands – from the image, I would use the contrast and saturation sliding scales on Photoshop to account for the loss of color and definition from the passage of time. I would also – if possible – use the text feature to add readable scale markers in feet/meters.

Most of my pictures at this time are images I took with my phone camera in the collections, but I am looking forward to accessing the hard drive files where the museum keeps high-quality images of print material from the fair. I anticipate these images needing less cropping, but Photoshop will still be useful for isolating units into image layers for building our interactive, hyperlink-heavy visit to the fair.

 

 

A Brief History of DeviantArt: a Case Study in Evolving Participatory Culture

by Matthew Amyx

blue_rainy_day_by_filsd-d9flugy
“Blue Rainy Day” by Filipe Dilly (username: Filsd, website: dilly.carbonmade.com) Made available to all users through Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

DeviantArt is a social media platform where artists can share, create, and collaborate in an increasing number of artistic mediums, including painting, poetry, photography, and film. According to their About page, DeviantArt boasts 36 million registered users (known as deviants) and averages 160,000 art uploads daily. The history of DeviantArt exemplifies an expanding and adapting affinity space offering avenues for artists to collaborate and legally appropriate, realizing practically many of the goals outlined in the MacArthur Foundation’s paper “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”. Public historians could use DeviantArt as an example of creating participatory culture in the discipline.

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“Painting with Light” by Nick Nardiello (username: nardsketch), Made available to all users through Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

DeviantArt was founded in 2000 and incorporated in 2001 by Scott Jarkoff, Matt Stephens, and current CEO Angelo Sotira (who gives a more detailed, complicated history of the company here). Initially, DeviantArt was a part of the Dmusic Network Sites, and facilitating adding custom ‘skins’ – appearances and themes – to computer media playback interfaces. Soon, however, the company broke off to do its own thing, creating a space where artists could upload images. DeviantArt gradually added features to facilitate expression, circulation, and collaboration. In 2004, a chat client opened. By August 2006, users could sell their work on commission through the website, and that November a Creative Commons option was made available, encouraging artists to allow their copyrighted work to be shared and creatively appropriated (which is why I can upload the pictures and photos in this blog entry).

misty_morning___collaboration_with_nikkidoodlesx3_by_scatteredashe-d7dx9id
“Misty Morning”, a photo manipulation collaboration between Ashley Hess (username: ScatteredAshe) and Nikki  (username: nikkidoodlesx3). Made available to all users through Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

According to the Executive Summary of the MacArthur Foundation’s paper, participatory culture is “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations,and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (3). Not only does DeviantArt facilitate informal mentorship through collaboration and chat features, but in 2010 they launched DeviantArt Muro, an online easel program, providing tools to close the participation gap for those who may not be able to afford expensive boxed art software. Expert users regularly upload tutorials as well, so the DeviantArt community draws on collective intelligence and distributed cognition, further promoting and improving the participatory culture.

The MacArthur Foundation paper defines 21st-century literacy as “the set of abilities and skills where aural, visual,and digital literacy overlap.These include the ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute them pervasively,and to easily adapt them to new forms” (19).  By this definition, DeviantArt has increased 21st-century literacy over its career. In 2007, it added a film category that includes live action, a variety of animation genres, and mash-ups of all the above. In 2010, DeviantArt allowed for comments to be made in pictures rather than just words, breaking constructive feedback out of linear, text-bound confines.

Public historians should take advantage of the image, film, and language art offerings in DeviantArt, but they can also learn from its example. Digital archives and online exhibits can contain comment features allowing for multiple forms of feedback, including art. Museum social media accounts should collaborate with those of other institutions using digitized heritage resources in multi-disciplinary ways. Library websites can provide engaging, interactive history research tutorials to close the history class participation gap. Internet-based historical societies can provide venues for story-tellers and academians alike to circulate and express their research. In these ways, informal education institutions can create a participatory culture among professional and lay historians in much the same way DeviantArt has for painters, poets, and filmmakers.

 

Considerations for Digital Archives

Digitization and online archiving of collections offers several practical and educational opportunities for institutions, especially those with low budgets. Physical archives must pay pages to bring collection items to visitors, and this overhead often limits the hours these spaces are open. Additionally, physical archives require patrons to travel to the collection, usually limiting potential guests to residents of the few counties surrounding the institution. The physical condition of items is also important to consider, as constant use wears down many historic materials. Once digitized, an item may be inspected by virtually limitless researchers without downgrading its condition. However, all of these upsides to digital collections will fail to benefit site visitors without the proper internet archive structure, which will only materialize through careful consideration of the needs and aptitudes of potential visitors.

High School and Undergraduate College Students

Students researching class papers are looking for examples of a particular period or person under study, but often lack even basic background understanding of the context or historical forces at work. Digital archives, therefore, should include with images and documents basic information on the subject including periodization (especially important for APUSH students). A good example of this is the art collection at the Chicago History Museum. Note how the “Curatorial Statement” given with this piece, while admitting little is known of the artist, informs the reader of the setting of the painting, the exhibitions the artist featured at, who his colleagues were, and that the painting in question was part of a WPA project. All of these details would aid a secondary education student in writing a paper and give them ideas for developing their project further. If the student had been forced to search outside the immediate page for these details, they may have become discouraged because of their lack of research skills (or, let’s face it, boredom).

Graduate Student and Seasoned Researchers

When I use an online collection for research, I really appreciate when the digital archive infrastructure includes correct citations I can copy and past from the website. Collections often have multiple structures of institution, collection, item number, etc. that problematize citations, and inclusion in a website adds yet another layer to this. By including the citation in multiple formats (as is seen in the New York Public Library’s online art collections: ) institutions save researches across many disciplines hours of headache and rote formatting that could be spent in more productive research.

General Visitors and Families

General visitors, including tourists and families looking to get their kids a little extracurricular education time may look at institutional websites to get an idea of what the physical location offers. Thus digital archives and collections should reference physical exhibits at the institution with similar materials and upcoming events relevant to the collection. Additionally, recent technological advances in 3-D and 360 image capturing make it possible for institutions to allow their website’s visitors to rotate the object, getting a sense of walking around it as they will in the physical space. Museums and libraries could also input social media widgets so online guests could share to Facebook or Twitter what they are interested in. A great example of an institution engaging families with their physical collections through an online collection is the Art Institute of Chicago, which allows visitors to create an account where they curate their own virtual exhibit using AIC’s artwork.

 

 

Institutional Tweeting: Museums, Libraries, Digital Archives, and the Little Blue Bird

by Matthew Amyx

The phrase “social media” often conjures images of zombie-eyed millennials with their faces glued to a mobile screen, who stop scrolling only to take a selfie or Instagram their lunch. These associations – apart from being offensive stereotypes of an actually very-engaged generation – overlook the networking and non-profit advertising benefits social media offers to educational institutions. As evidence, I present ways museums, libraries, and digital archives use Twitter to engage the public and promote their educational brands.

Congress approved the creation of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2003, but the museum just announced its grand opening on September 26, 2016. They have nonetheless deployed their Twitter handle @NMAAHC to keep the public apprised of their construction progress and link followers to their website information on exhibits and architecture. @NMAAHC also advertises pre-opening NMAAHC events taking place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, including a book event with Rep. John Lewis and a Black History Month Family Day. According to its Mission, the NMAAHC “seeks to help all Americans remember, and by remembering, this institution will stimulate a dialogue about race and help to foster a spirit of reconciliation and healing.” At this stage, @NMAAHC serves to remind the public that the long awaited museum is still underway so that the doors will open to an already-excited following, demonstrating that social media today is an important tool for kicking-off an institution’s mission, not just an afterthought for supporting it.

The Gerber/Hart Library is Chicago’s most prominent LGBTQ archival institution (for more info on this excellent space, see the author’s write-up on it on the Lakefront Historian blog.) According to their Mission, the “Gerber/Hart Library and Archives is dedicated to meeting the information needs of its unique community in a safe atmosphere that promotes research, exploration, and discovery.” This triad of goals is reflected in their Twitter handle, @GerberHart. They announce when their extensive research archive grows, such as with the addition of the Able Together newsletter collection in February 2015. They advertise opportunities for followers to explore their exhibits, such as one for Jewish American heritage in May 2015. And they post about events where visitors can discover other LGBTQ residents in the area. The Gerber/Hart Library is an example of an institution using Twitter in various ways to support a multi-faceted mission.

Digital archives also employ Twitter to raise awareness of offerings and piggy-back off of current events. Project Gutenberg – founded in 1971 by University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign student Michael S. Hart (1941-2011) – works on a simple mission: “To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” Today they offer – free of charge – over 50,000 eBooks, linking to 100,000 more through their affiliates and partners. Nearly all of these are free of copyright and come in multiple formats including HTML, Kindle, and PDF. Project Gutenberg uses a couple of Twitter handles to encourage use of the website. @gutenberg.org – their main account – references currently trending internet topics to plug books already in their system. On February 1st, 2016, they tweeted about Google’s ‘doodle’ honoring Frederick Douglas on his birthday, including a link to their offerings of his books. On January 26th, @VintageAnchor tweeted about a 1924 New Republic article by Virginia Woolf praising Jane Austen, so Project Gutenberg retweeted it with a link to their list of Woolf and Austen’s books. Project Gutenberg’s other account – @gutenberg_new – makes followers aware of freshly uploaded eBooks, such as Alan Arkan’s short sci-fi comedy Whiskaboom on February 5th, 2016 or Poèmes et Poésies, a French translation of John Keat’s works on February 3rd, 2016. Project Gutenberg shows that social media is just as important for institutions without actual physical exhibits or temporal events as it is for more traditional museums or libraries.

Democracy, SpaceTime, and New Media: Thoughts on “Media on Display: A Telegraphic History of Early American Cinema” by Paul Young.

by Matthew Amyx

Still From The Lonedale Operator
Still of telegraph operator from The Lonedale Operator by D.W. Griffith, 1911.

Historians, museum directors, and librarians realize they must adopt new media to keep their educational institutions relevant, but how do they introduce innovative technologies without intimidating audiences into avoiding or, just as bad, passively interacting with the new tools?  In “Media on Display: A Telegraphic History of Early American Cinema” (a chapter from New Media: 1740-1915, edited by Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree from MIT Press), Paul Young demonstrates how early cinema depicted telegraph in films as a device to show how cinema, like telegraph, conceptually broke the SpaceTime barrier by crossing geographies to tell stories and relate news, giving distant and past events urgency and relevancy for audiences. Public historians should consider these models as they move deeper into the 21st century and are tasked to incorporate social media, “The Cloud”, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence into educational programming.

Cinema broke down the constraints of geography, allowing narratives to jump from one location to another at impossible speed (i.e. one moment the camera eye can be in Houston, the next on Mars). But audiences had to be introduced to this capability of the new media in the early 20th century. Paul Young shows how D.W. Griffith’s 1911 film The Lonedale Operator does just that using telegraph. (View the short film here.) A young female telegrapher sees a couple hooligans coming to burgle her office, and uses the telegraph to send for help. Contemporary audiences knew telegraph could jump geography, and so the telegraph served as a device to make sense of cinematic scene changes from one telegraph office to the next. Additionally, early displays of cinema newsreels, such as one at New York’s Broadway Theater during the 1896 Presidential election, incorporated elements of both telegraph and film (with filmed scenes, relevant or not, appearing in between telegraphed election returns). Audiences were used to reacting to telegraphed news with a sense of immediacy despite there often being some chronological distance between the event and the news report; linking the familiar capabilities of telegraph technology with emergent cinema newsreels acclimated audiences to the new media.

Scene from McKinnley at Home, 1896
Still from film William McKinley at Home, 1896. William McKinley was the first U.S. President recorded on motion picture film.

 

These examples should encourage public historians to brainstorm ways to depict yesterday’s new media in today’s new media to make audiences more comfortable with the latter’s use. For example, if a museum used virtual reality technology to immerse students in a Renaissance city, could they depict reactions to a printing press in the program to indicate that, like the printing press, VR technology allows patrons to “see” and “hear” distant, past events as though they were just happening?

Young also discusses whether new medias democratize information and encourage public interaction or not. Telephones would have seemed to excel at this, since they allow real-time response to information, and indeed early cinema used telephones as narrative devices to jump geographies much as with telegraphs (see D.W. Griffith’s 1909 film The Lonely Villa). But telephones were (in practice and in cinema depiction) a private device of the upper class, not a public device serving the working man. Edwin Porter’s 1903 film The Life of an American Firefighter (seen here), by contrast, shows telegraph calling a firefighter out of his private life into public service, a device helping Porter’s cameras to bridge public and private life through the cinema narrative. Despite film and telegraph being largely one-way forms of communication, they represent, counter-intuitively, more democratizing forms of new media because they are seen as public and encourage interaction – not between the transmitter and the receiver (as with telephone) but between one audience member and the next (as with local debate after viewing national newsreels).

Still from The Lonely Villa
Still from The Lonely Villa by D.W. Griffith, 1909. Although useful in the narrative, the telephone is also depicted as a private tool of the upper-class vulnerable to failure.

 

How can public historians apply these examples to democratize new media in educational institutions? Perhaps rather than using two-way electronic apps in an exhibit to establish a seemingly private conversation between the institution and the guest, museums can employ social media to create a more public forum for dialogue between guests. An exhibit could, for example, depict the older media of public access television community bulletin boards as a model for an attached new media app where guests share local interest posts with each other. Or a display on Johannes Gutenberg and the democratizing effect of the printing press could link through a QR code to a website where you upload a personalized illuminated-manuscript style summary of the exhibit to your family and friends. By depicting old media the public is familiar with to introduce them to new media, and by emphasizing the democratizing aspects of the new technology, public historians and educational institutions can demystify innovative technologies, foster a sense of immediacy and relevance in exhibits, and facilitate dialogue between patrons to keep programming fresh and vibrant.

Still of Fire Alarm Telegraph Station from The Life of An American Firefighter
Still from The Life of An American Firefighter by Edwin Porter, 1903. The telegraph brings the private citizen into public service, which Paul Young finds analogous to how newsreels brought average Americans into public dialogue.