Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Listen Up: Public History the Audio Way

On weekly basis I spend an excessive amount of time in a car (over 10 hours a week).  One of the few upsides of this car time is my listening to talk radio, podcasts, and audio books. Some of the great public history oriented listening material I've taken in lately includes:

  • In Their Shoes on CBC's Ideas program.  This particular Ideas episode focuses on Katherine Govier's ESL work with immigrant women, and her work on the Shoe Project.   The Shoe Project is a  Bata Shoe Museum exhibit focuses on the shoes that brought immigrants to Canada.
  • NPR's Fresh Air interview with Craig Timberg.  Timberg is the co-author of the book Tinderbox: How The West Fueled The AIDS Epidemic"  The interview examines the history of AIDS, the impact of colonialism and AIDS in Africa,and recent trends in preventative programs.
  • A recent interview on CBC's Spark with David McCandless, which focuses on information design.  The interview provides an interesting look at big data and data visualization.
  • Library and Archives Canada recently announced a new podcast series, "Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage." The first podcast in the series focuses on Project Naming, an initiative to identify persons in photographs of Canada's North.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Narrowing Down Your Reading List

A cup of tea, a comfortable chair, and a good book makes for a great afternoon in my mind.  Given my self proclaimed bookworm status, I seem to have a never ending "To Read" list.  I'm no longer in school and other my own desire to keep up with professional literature there is no one telling me what to read.  How do you prioritize all the books, journal articles, and other material you want to read?

Some of the things I do to manage my reading backlog:
  • I switch back and forth between fiction and non-fiction reading.  This help me to balance academic reading and pleasure reading. 
  • I've started to alternate print media and e-books.  My thoroughly enjoying my Kobo, but still like to use the local library for print media. 
  • I've picked a couple of journals which I read each issue of (or at minimum browse).  My personal picks are The American Archivist, The Public Historian, and Archivaria.   I also read Canada's History Magazine on a routine basis.  
  • When I see an interesting article or become interested in a specific topic, I try to read that material relatively soon.  I know my personal habits - if I don't read it within a day or two is bound to end up permanently sitting unread and bookmarked. 
  • Reading lit reviews, recommendations of colleagues and friends helps weed out thing that might not be such a great read. 
  • I use Good Reads to keep track of what I've read and what I want to read in the future. 
How do you prioritize your reading material?
Photo credit: Wonderlane

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Culturally Sensitive Heritage: A Case for Health Support

Many heritage institutions broach topics and themes that have the potential to be emotionally difficult for visitors.  The holocaust, wars, slavery, residential schools, and numerous other topics are addressed by heritage organizations across the world.  Physical displays, archival records, and digital material all have the potential to be triggering - especially if the topic being addressed is emotionally sensitive or has a personal connection to patrons.

How do heritage organizations broach collections that contain material which may be considered triggering?  Careful consideration should be put into displays, contextual information, and the general presentation of material.  Ideally organizations will have established policies for handling this type of material and include members from the impacted community in the design process to provide guidance.

In addition to careful display planning many heritage institutions which deal with sensitive material have health support on staff.  Health support workers can have a variety of training, but typically they have some experience in social work or mental health counseling.  Health support can be invaluable for patrons who are triggered by material in a heritage institution.

Even organizations which cannot afford to hire a health support person full-time should look into providing all their front line staff with basic health awareness training.  This training should touch on possible triggers, how to identify people who have been triggered, techniques for approaching and talking to someone who is emotionally triggered, and coping skills for dealing with sensitive information.

Heritage institutions are gateways to the past.  It is crucial that staff are aware that this gateway can open up to memories which are not always pleasant.  History needs to approached respectfully and patron care is essential to respectful presentation of the past. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Architecture and Heritage Institutions

Resnick Pavilion
Architecture and design can have a huge impact on how a space is used.  This is true in family homes, libraries, art galleries, museums, and buildings of all shapes and sizes.  How space is configured, materials used, the amount of natural light, and numerous other factors impact how visitors perceive a heritage institution.  Architectural features can also enhance or limit display and gallery space.

Architype Review has recently published issues which focus on architecture in libraries, art museums, and performing arts centres.  The architecture featured in these issues varies greatly; some is very modern and innovative while other featured buildings are very simplistic and classical in style.  In addition to providing great images of each structure Architype Review provides descriptive details on the space and its construction.

Some of my favourite featured heritage institutions in Artchitype Review include:
  •   The Safe Haven Library in Thailand.  This library is part of the Safe Haven Orphanage and was built in 2009 using local materials and labour. The structure is fairly simplistic but the building was designed to meet the specific needs to the library.  A great timelapse video which shoes the construction of the library and be seen here.
  • The Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  The
    Wild Beast Music Pavilion
    Pavilion is a single-story, 45,000 square foot structure, and is currently the largest purpose-built, naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world.  The fact that the space is naturally lit and relies upon open space is a very unique feature in the museum world.  
  • The Wild Beast Pavilion in Valencia, CA is a unique recital hall and outdoor performance space.  The space is multipurpose and is used for instruction, enclosed concert space, and open air recital space.  The numerous functions of the space combined with the visually pleasing design is what appealed to me about this particular design.
What are your favourite heritage institutions with unique architecture?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Knitting, Binary Systems, and History

The work of Kristen Haring, a mathematician and technology historian, delves into significance of binary systems.  A recent Spark interview highlights how binary systems have appeared throughout history and across cultures. What fascinates me about Haring's work is her efforts to make both math and history physically tangible. For example, she undertook a project to to record messages in morse code through knitting. Women throughout history have placed 'secret messages' in textiles and other traditionally women's work material. Haring's act of knitting morse code reflects that tradition.

If you're interested in more connections between knitting and history check out this video of Kristen Haring's talk "How to Knit a Popular History of Media"

Friday, February 10, 2012

Small Scale, Big Impact: NYC Taxi Driver Oral History

The January/February issue of the Society of American Archivists' Archival Outlook featured an interesting piece on the New York City Taxi Driver Oral History Project.  This oral history project was started in 2010 by Samantha Gibson and Margaret Fraser and aimed to record, document, and archive oral history interviews of NYC cab drivers.

Fraser notes that the opinions, experiences, and outlooks of taxi cab drivers are often missing from traditional historical records.  Currently seven full length oral histories and a collection of participant art are available online.   These collections are complemented by an online exhibit. The interviews look at issues such as discrimination, pay, health, crime, etc.  This project is interesting as its oral histories document an often neglect part of NYC history and efforts have been made to make these oral histories fully accessible.

What are some of your favourite oral history initiatives focusing on neglected areas of history? 

Photo credit: M N O'Donnell

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reference Services: Asking the Right Questions

Thus far, my roles in the heritage field have typically been collection or research based, I enjoy both of these roles and all that goes with them.  However, recently my job has expanded into providing some reference services and assisting patrons with research requests.  The nature of the reference questions that have come across my desk have included: genealogy research, help navigating the online database, help finding photographs, image use requests, and general research questions. 

This foray into the world of reference has made me think about how historical researchers approach reference services and how to ask the right questions when you need assistance.  As a result, I've come up with this list of items that can help researchers ask good questions when undertaking research.

  • If there is an online research request form use it.  Chances are this form will be automatically directed to the correct staff member, which will safe you time looking for the correct person to ask. 
    • If there isn't a form look at the staff listing to see if it list someone as reference staff or if there is a department which is relevant to your inquiry.  
  • Similarly, if you are leaving a voicemail on a machine that service multiple staff members be explicit about your area of interest.  And don't forget to leave your phone number! 
  • If you are interested in something you saw online include links to the material.
  • If inquiring about material that has reference numbers (accession numbers, finding aid title, photograph number, etc) cite this information in your inquiry. 
  • When requesting use of images or information in a project or publication include all pertinent details 
    • What are you going to use the images for? Is it a commercial or a non-commercial use? What quality of images would you require?  Is there a time constraint on your request?
  • If you are asking a more topical question or doing genealogy research be very clear about what information you are looking for and what type of help you need. 
    • Asking pointed and specific questions makes reference staff happy and makes it much easier for them to help you. 
Reference staff are there to help you.  However, it is much easier to help someone who is clear about their needs -- especially when corresponding via email. 

Photo credit:  ACPL

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Collection Glimpse: The State Hermitage Museum

This is the fifth segment in a series of posts entitled, "Collection Glimpses."  Each post in the series  focuses on a unique collection, innovative repository, or a not well known cultural heritage institution.

The State Hermitage Museum, located in St Petersburg, Russia is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world.  The Hermitage collection began under the reign of Catherine the Great and was initially her private art collection.  The Hermitage opened to the public in 1852. 

The buildings that house the Hermitage Museum are as historic as the collection itself.  The museum is housed in  complex of six historic buildings including: the Small Hermitage, the Large Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Hermitage Theatre, and the Winter Palace. Many of these buildings were at one point home to Russia Tsars and were constructed in the mid 1800s.

 In collection as vast as the Hermitage holdings it's hard to pick out collection highlights.  However, I personally enjoy the Museum's Treasure Gallery which features goldwork and the history of the jewelry craft. The Hermitage also hold a large prehistoric art collection, which features artwork in a variety of formats from a number of civilizations.  Despite holding a fantastic collection, the Hermitage website isn't the most user friendly and doesn't readily facilitate exploring the collection online.
If you're interested in learning a bit more about the Hermitage Museum, check out the Museum Secrets episode that features the Hermitage. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Indigenous-Settler Relations: 8th Fire

CBC has recently been running a series called 8th Fire, this tv and radio series focuses on the relationship between Aboriginal people and non-indigenous communities.  The complete series can be streamed online here.

8th Fire addresses topics such as land disputes, indigenous urban communities, and economic and demographic shifts which impact everyone within in Canada.  The series does a good job of presenting this information in a way that is tangible to everyone - even those with little exposure to Canada's history or indigenous issues.

The series' website also includes addition information and resources that has the potential to be used by educators.  For example, the section "Aboriginal 101" uses video clips, and often humour, to explain such topics as what does Métis mean and what does the average Canadian know about Aboriginal people.

The series is well worth a watch, even if the series does fall victim to common Canadian television cheesiness at times. 8th Fire provides a great look at historical and present day indigenous-settler relations in Canada,