Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Looking Back: Public History and Expanding Viewpoints

For more than a week I have been trying to collect my thoughts on the past eight months of the public history program. I initially wanted to summarize what I've learned, discuss the evolution of my views on public history, and the narrowing of my interests. However, when I sat down to actually do this, I realized that my interests have not narrowed, but actually expanded over the past eight months.

I am still interested in digital history and the use of technology to enhance education. I am also still intrigued by local heritage and the use of public institutions to express history to a broader public. In the past eight months I have also become interested in the divide between academic and public history, the unique research challenges which often face a public historian, and the relationship of tourism, public relations, and history. So where do all these interests leave me? At this point I'm not sure. I enjoy research, I enjoy museums, I enjoy playing with technology, and new digital applications. This summer I am doing a combination of things to expand on my interests, I am working as a research intern with The History Group and I am going to be spending some time a the Museum of Nature. Will this help me actually narrow my interests? Maybe...but having a broad range of interests isn't a horrible thing in my mind.

Overall, I think one of the most valuable lessons I learned this year is that public history is constantly expanding. Public history is no longer means just museums and archives. Public history encompasses business history, film, television, historical content on the web, landscapes, the building of parks, monuments, heritage tourism, and many more thing. Public history requires a lot of thinking outside of traditional structures, and approaching history from varying perspectives. The fact that public history can be valuable to so many different groups of people makes me hopeful that the public history field in Canada will one day grow to be as vibrant as public history is in other countries currently.

Trends and Google

Lists of what is most popular, and the most popular searches conducted aren't anything new. However, Google has expanded on people's interests in trends and created Google Trends. This search feature allows users to search anything their heart desires, and receive a chart which highlights current and past trends on the topic.

This feature is also closely related to Google's move to make searching public data such as population more accessible. Currently, if you go to and type in [unemployment rate] or [population] followed by a place in the U.S, you will see the most recent estimates and an interactive chart. The information used for these charts and is from the U.S Census Bureau's Population Division. Most importantly this is a huge step towards making census information far more searchable and accessible to the general public. This newly organized data has the potential to be a valuable to historians attempting to gauge population changes, the movement of people, employment, and numerous other facets of history.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going Cross-Eyed From Reading Online?

With so much information online people are used to having to frequently read long articles on their computer screen. Despite this acceptance of reading online, often reading lengthy passages, that aren't clear on your screen, is very frustrating. I stumbled across an application that is supposed to make reading online long chunks of text easier. Readable restyles text and backgrounds to make text clearer, larger, and just generally more readable. Readable currently cannot detect text which is interspersed with pictures, but you can auto select any text to resize it. This application has the potential to make reading those poorly digitized journal articles and historical texts much easier.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Life Photo Archive

Life recently partnered with Getty images to make the Time Life photo collection available online. These images accessible to everyone online, and their private use is being encouraged. Images can freely be used in email, blogs, social networking sites, and anything that is for personal use. The only restriction thus far is that photos cannot be reproduced for commercial ventures (not that this has stopped some sites). The new online photo archive also features sections of prints which can be purchased online. Though, at the price of $99.99 for some prints, that's not something I'm going to be investing in anytime soon.

In addition to the mass number of photos now available online, the photo archive has some neat historical features. For example, the current featured photos on the site are pictures from April 4, 1968, the day that Martin Luther King died. All the photos in this set include captions, describing the night and people's reaction to King's death. These photos provide vivid imagery of the minutes and hours after King's death have the potential to be used as a valuable historical resource.

The slogan of the site "Your World in Pictures" is pretty accurate. The site includes historical photographs, contemporary images, and 3,000 new photos are added daily. Regardless of it your interested in castles, boats, cute animals, celebrities, or history there are photos to suit your interest. Overall, the Life photo archive can be used both for personal interest, enhancing research, and teaching students about both history and current events.