Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Links

It's Friday and it is pouring rain outside.  I figure the weather calls for some public history cheer.
  • The #whatshouldwecallarchives Tumblr feed is fantastic.  It animates and pokes fun at a lot of common archival problems and concerns. 
  • A college of mine recently spoke on CBC radio's Points North program about the work the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre is doing.  The interview focuses mainly on the creation of a cybermap and the role of the Centre in preserving Residential School history.
  • The North Carolina Records Management Blog  recently posted a great post on three simple record keeping tips that can help start a more comprehensive records management program.
  • Library robots.  The bookbot automated delivery system at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Continuing Education: Online Learning and Records Management

Kayla Jonas Galvin over at Adventures in Heritage recently wrote a great post about attending school while working full time.  Her post highlights a few tips which she has used to help her juggle education and work.  Kayla's post got me thinking about how I am going to approach a continuing education course that I just started.

This fall I am taking the online Records Management Fundamental's (RMF) course through the iSchool Institute.  I've been looking into continuing education options for awhile now and decided on this course for a number of reasons, including: the course is completely online and can be tailored to fit my schedule, it is seven weeks which is long enough to have depth without becoming too demanding, and records management has a lot of practical applications both inside and outside the heritage field.

I don't live close to a University/College that offers courses in my field, making an online course ideal.  However, prior to signing up for this course I had a bit of trepidation about the course format, mostly inspired by correspondence class flashbacks.  During my undergrad years I took two courses on women's history via correspondence.  I remember doing well in the classes and liking the content, but I also remember how horribly devoid of collaboration and communication those classes were. Learning through reading can have benefits, but I really wanted an interactive approach to continuing education.

The iSchool Institute uses Blackboard for its online courses.  Though Blackboard definitely has challenges and faults, it does allow for an online collaborative space.  The RMF class assignments include participation in online chats, discussion boards, and a project where students work with partners.  Students learn not only from written materials but from each other.  I think this is a particular benefit of taking a continuing education class that is made up of individuals from a wide range of professional backgrounds.  Everyone brings something different to the discussion and can provide different insight into common problems.

As for my approach to taking the class, I'm trying to set aside specific times early in the week to tackle readings and assignments.  Weekly assignments are due on Sundays each week, but I really don't want to be spending my Friday evening or Saturday working on the material.  I also believe that like in a classroom setting, you get out what you put into an online course.  Active participation is crucial to a good course experience, be it in a seminar setting or in an online environment.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Canada’s Farming Roots: Agricultural Fairs and Education

My latest post can be seen over at Active History.  The post focuses on Canada's farmings roots and looks at the history of community agricultural fairs and large farming events such as the International Plowing Match.  I look at the importance of these events in creating communities and in educating both farmers and the general public.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Language Preservation and Digital Resources

Recently I've been reading and reflecting on numerous facets of Indigenous language preservation and revitalization.  Residential schools, colonialism, and general assimilation practices have all contributed to the loss and endangered states of many Indigenous dialects.  Despite this loss or impending loss there are a number of projects across Canada which are working to record and preserve Indigenous language.
  • The Michif language is the traditional language that was spoken by Métis peoples in Canada.  Like most Indigenous languages there are a variety of regional dialects to Michif, but the most commonly used form of Michif is based on a combination of French and Cree.  It is estimated that there are less than 1000 fluent speakers of Michif alive today.  
    • The Gabriel Dumont Institute has worked to create Michif curriculum for schools and communities.
    • The Dumont Institute has also made a number of audio and video recordings of Michif speakers available online.  A number of these recordings are also accompanied by English transcripts.
    • The Métis Nation of Ontario has also started to gather and promote resources on Michif, including audio and video recordings and a Michif word of the day program. 
  •  The Ojibwe language is the traditional language of over 200,000 people in Canada and the United States, making it one of the more common Indigenous languages in Canada.  Despite this heritage very few youth are taught Ojibwe and the language continues to be endangered.
    • The Ojibwe People's Dictionary was created by the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota.  The Dictionary utilizes content from the Minnesota Historical Society to create a virtual space which highlights audio and video recordings of Ojibwe speakers.  The Dictionary is searchable in English and Ojibwe and highlights historical photographs and documents to provide context to the language material.
    • Noongwa e-Anishinaabemjig People Who Speak Anishinaabemowin today.  This resources was created by the University of Michigan and features a number of online lessons, stories, listening exercises, and resources.  The interface is a bit outdated, but is fairly simple to use.
    • There are also immersion programs and formal Ojibwe language instruction programs all across Ojibwe territory.  Locally the College and University where I live offer language instruction, and there are two First Nation run immersion programs.
  • There are also a number of online resources being developed for the preservation of Cree, Oji-Cree, Inuktitut, and other traditional dialects.   
    • The Listening to Our Past website focuses on the preservation of Inuktitut. I wrote about this resource awhile ago on the Active History site. 
    • The Cree Linguistic Atlas combined geography with language learning.  The Atlas includes syllabics, audio recordings, and English translations.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rolling the Dice With Guided Tours

Our group with our tour guide at the Ermatinger Site
Interpretation can make or break a museum visit.  Context, signage, and interpretation strategies are essential to creating a heritage environment which is inviting, educational, and ultimately enjoyable.  Properly trained interpretive staff can infuse a visit with enthusiasm, context, and information that isn't always accessible to the average visitor.  Untrained or less than great interpretive staff can also make a museum tour seem boring or uninformative.

One of the most surprising guided tour experiences I've had recently was at the Ermatinger-Clergue Historic Site in Sault Ste Marie.  I had previously visited this site with a co-worker who had previously worked at the Ermatinger site.  That visit was great, my co-worker talked a lot about the development of the Historic Site and institutional practices at the Site.

My most recent visit was with a larger group of 12 people and we had a formal tour provided by the Site's curator (who was in period costume for the occasion).  Our guide focused mainly on the history of the area, fur trade politics, and First Nation-Settler relations.  The majority of the group I was visiting with was from out of town and learned a lot about local history from our guide.  I was impressed by how well she geared her discussion and annotates to the interests and learning levels of our group.  The guided tour allowed me to learn more about the site than I had on previous visits and allowed our large group to partake in a shared experience that we could then discuss in a educational context later on.

Deciding to take a guided tour at an institution can be a dice roll between getting a tour leader/interpretive staff member that is knowledgeable or one who seems to dread their job.  Which leads to the question, is participating in guided tours worth the effort?  It depends on what type of museum visitor you are and what type of institution you are visiting.  Some people like to move at their own pace and read every artifact label in sight, making a guided tour too fast paced and broad sweeping for their preferences.

Many guided tours provide collection and institutional overviews.  This can be great if you have limited time, want to learn more about contextual factors that aren't mentioned in current exhibits, or as a new way of seeing an institution you have visited many times.  Guided tours are also great if you are visiting a museum in a large group, as it allows for a shared learning experience that is sometimes missing from large group visits to museums.

One of the easiest things to do is ask museum staff about the tour prior to taking it.  Ask about tour length, depth, exhibits/spaces covered -- does the tour let you into spaces that you can't see as a solo visitor, and about the staff leading the tour.  Alternatively, a lot more institutions are now posting detailed tour information on their website, making it possible to look into tour options before you arrive at an institution.  I find knowing what type of tour I'm entering into saves me a lot frustration and helps manages my expectations.

What was your best or worst guided tour experience? 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Natural Heritage: Agawa Pictographs

One of the many great experiences I had last week, as part of a trial summer institute being piloted at my work, included a trip to the Lake Superior Provincial Park to see the Agawa Pictographs.  Lake Superior Park is a beautiful park on the shores of Lake Superior and the Agawa Pictographs are just one of the many natural attractions within the park.

The earliest recorded mention of the Agawa Pictographs is in the 1851 writing of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. The Pictographs are generally thought to be between 150 and 400 years old and were painted using red ochre paint.  Schoolcraft's writing describes the Pictographs based on images provided by Chief Shingwauk of the Garden River First Nation.  Cheif Shingwauk's early drawings outline two sets of Pictographs -- the one set is now known as the Agawa Pictographs and the other has never been located.

To view the Agawa Pictographs visitors have to climb out onto a ledge that extends over Lake Superior.  The ledge can be slippery at times and visiting the site during good weather and in groups is recommended.  The climb to the Pictographs is breathtaking and truly worth the effort, though I wouldn't recommend it if you are prone to fear of heights or have a fear of water.  The nature of the Pictographs -- painted using a natural substance and constantly exposed to the elements -- has contributed to the deterioration and fading of the images over time.  It is unknown how many other images have already disappeared or become inaccessible.

Some of the figures depicted in the Pictographs reflect spiritual and oral traditions in Ojibwa culture. One of the most visible and well known Agawa Pictographs is a depiction of Mishipeshu, the water spirit who lives in Lake Superior.  Mishipeshu is known as a water lynx and it is believed to control the conditions of the waters in Superior; if he was content the water would be clam but if enraged Lake Superior would be violently rough.

There is a slight irony in the fact that the Pictographs are located in what is now a Provincial Park.  The land which was once home to a nomadic and vibrant First Nation peoples is now owned by the government and used primarily by tourists -- the original peoples of the area were evicted by the government and relocated.  Granted, the Provincial Park has helped preserve this segment of Canada's natural heritage, but it is important that visitors acknowledge the traditional territorial rights of the area and are aware of the history that isn't presented by the Agawa Visitor's Centre.