Sunday, September 27, 2009

Public History Survey

The preliminary results of a 2008 survey of public history professionals was recently released. These results are available via the American Historical Association publication Perspectives on History and in the NCPH newsletter.

This survey was organized in an attempt to provide better understanding of the public history profession, and perhaps create a clearer definition of public history. Almost 4,000 persons were surveyed, in an attempt to gain an understanding of "who is drawn to this area of employment, and what their concerns were."[1]

The results of the survey, reflect the current vagueness of the public history field. Many of those surveyed did not define themselves as public historians, even though they may be involved in history outside of academia. Similarly, some historians working in academia defined themselves as public historians based on what they teach and research.

Can one be a public historian while working in academia? I would say yes, however it is not a common occurrence. There are some professors who write for a larger audience and aim to engage people outside of the ivory tower, however these persons are not the current norm.

Additionally, the most common field associated with public history is currently museum based work. Museums are definitely within the realm of public history. However there are many more ways in which historical work can be turned into public history. One of the great benefits of practicing public history is the diversity of the field, it is not limited to museums. Greater awareness of the different types of public history needs to be created.

[1] "Preliminary Results from the 2008 Survey of Public History Professionals." Perspectives on History, September 2009,

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cheap Books on Demand

I have been in favour of the Google Books project for some time, mainly because the project allows for greater accessibility of scholarship. This past week Google announced a new facet to Google Books. Now, more than 2 million books, which are currently featured on Google Books, can be turned into "instant paperbacks."

Google has signed an agreement with On Demand Books, the owner of The Espresso Book Machine. The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) can print and bind a book in the same amount of time it takes to brew an espresso. Espresso book machines are currently located in bookstores in the US, Australia, Britain, Egypt and Canada. The Canadian EBMs are currently only a few in University bookstores. This is great for the impoverished student, but somewhat limits the audience which the EBM currently reaches.

This agreement allows for one of the complaints of many Google Books users to be addressed: many people simply do not enjoy reading a 300 page book online. A retail price has not been set for these instant paperbacks, but estimates have been around the eight dollar mark. Overall it sounds like a cost effective way to make public domain books available. That being said, various governments, privacy groups, Amazon and Microsoft have already filed objections to this new agreement.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Portrait Gallery that never was.

The dream of a Canadian Portrait Gallery has died, possibly for good. Following the creation of the Gallery in 2001, the Gallery has faced a number of challenges including a lack of an institution. However, despite this lack of permanent building the Gallery managed to stage exhibitions at both the Museum of Nature and the Science and Technology Museum this summer.

It was recently announced that the Portrait Gallery of Canada will no longer exist in it's current format. Some of the functions of the Gallery will be taken over by Library and Archives Canada. However, it is unclear what resources will be available for exhibitions, staffing, digitization, and purchasing of new works. What details are available can be seen here. The Gallery's demise is yet another blow to the Canadian art and heritage community. This development may result in the diverse portraiture art and history of Canada being lost to the Canadian public.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Call for Proposals, AAO Conference

I thought this might be of interest to anyone working with digital technology in the heritage sector, particularly those persons who work with archival photos.

Archives Association of Ontario
2010 Annual Conference, Barrie, Ontario
June 16-18, 2010
From Daguerreotypes to Flikr:Grappling with the Archival Image in an Era of Technological Change

The 2010 AAO conference in Barrie aims to explore this theme in a broad and interdisciplinary manner. The Program Committee is seeking proposals from individuals from different disciplines and professions that tackle a wide array of topics dealing with the management and use of archival photographs, both physical and digital, including, but not limited to papers which examine:
* Archival appraisal of photograph collections
* Preservation of photographs
* Arrangement and description of graphic material
* Challenges and opportunities of copyright for photographs
* Use of photographs in outreach initiatives and educational programming
* The priorities and pitfalls of digitization
* Graphic material and reference services
* The impact of new technologies and software on archives today, including Adobe PhotoShop, Flickr and social networking tools like Facebook

Submitting Proposals:
The Program Committee will accept both individual submissions for a paper as well as session proposals consisting of two or three participants and a chairperson. The proposals should include the name of the speaker(s), job title(s), institution(s), title of the paper(s) as well as a description of the paper or session. Submissions should not exceed 300 words in length.

Session proposals and any questions should be directed to the Program Chair:
Ellen Scheinberg, Ph.D.
Director, Ontario Jewish Archives
416-635-2883 ext. 5187

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Summer Whirlwind

After completing the course work portion of the UWO Public History program, I packed all my bags and moved to Ottawa. I spent the summer working as an intern for The History Group and volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature. I enjoyed my time at both organizations, and was able to gain a number of valuable experiences.

The History Group (THG) is a historical research company that focuses on a variety of research topics including: archaeological, first nations, anthropological, and civil litigation. While working with THG I worked on various source identification, and research organization projects. This work was primarily involving collections held by Library and Archives Canada. Working with these collections was both time consuming and interesting. My experience with THG allowed me to gain an understanding of how to organize huge amounts of material effectively, and which research techniques work best for me.

While volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature I assisted in the botany collection. Prior to volunteering my knowledge of botany was limited at best. Spending hours mounting various types of grasses from British Columbia, forges a new interest and appreciation for botanists. Additionally, unlike many of my past experiences the Canadian Museum of Nature was not comprised soley of those from the historical field. A large portion of the staff at the Museum of Nature are scientists and researchers. This mix of professionals was interesting and exposed me to a facility which combines history with numerous other fields.

Overall, my summer was filled with diversity. Historical research and museums collection work are drastically different. This diversity is something which speaks to the field of public history and the variety of fields which a public historian can find employment in.

Digital Communications

Historians have often been accused of being behind the times in terms of digital applications. This may be true in some instances, who hasn't seen a historian fumble with a simple PowerPoint presentation. However, there are also a number of historical organizations and professionals who have embraced various forms of technology. Many of these technologies are focused on making tasks easier, including the trouble and cost of long distance communication.

One of the simplest communication focsed applications is Skype. Skype is free software that allows you to "talk" to anyone else who has Skype without a charge. You can also pay a nominal fee to use Skype to call land lines. Providing you have high speed, this is a very economical choice in lieu of long distance calling.

In addition to Skype, Dimdim is a great application for long distance group projects. Having a problem with a program? Want to share ideas? Dimdim allows you to share screens, so you can easily compare work, which ideal for anything involving groups. Dimdim is frequently used for web conferences allowing for a more open sharing of ideas than a mere conference call.

I was also recently exposed to near-time. This application is a file sharing, collaborative workspace. It is very similar to the collaborative nature of a wiki and hosts many similar features. Near-time is a bit more ascetically pleasing than the average wiki. However, the major near-time is not an open source application and may not be a practical application for many smaller organization.