The Conference Experience – Day One

Today marks the first day of four at the National Council on Public History (NCPH) Annual Meeting. The meeting, held this year in Nashville, TN, is my first experience with a large-scale professional conference. I have attended small conferences hosted by the University of Louisville (UofL) or nontraditional conferences like THATCamp but nothing on the scale of #ncph2015. Over the course of four days in Nashville I will get the chance to learn from experienced professional in my field, form valuable connections, experience new digital tools, and participate in a poster session.

The NCPH van ready for departure outside the History Department.

This is my first time traveling with UofL and is my first real group trip as an adult. So far it is a fun mix of school trip and road trip with friends with structure and individual choice taking equal footing. We [the UofL Public History Program] are in Nashville with a group of nine, two professors and seven students. We came down in two separate cars and the experience of road-tripping in a minivan was nostalgic for me, although this was a much smoother packing and driving process than any trips my family took when I was younger.

The Batman (AT&T) Building as we entered the city.

We left UofL early this morning and a quick drive brought us to Nashville in time for THATCamp. I have posted about THATCamp experiences before and I really enjoy the informal unconference model and the chance to learn about and experiment with old/new digital history and digital humanities tools. Since this THATCamp was part of a larger conference it was more structured with presenters and sessions decided beforehand. It was split into three sessions which took place over half a day. I attended “WordPress Basics” (which accounts for the update to the blog’s appearance), “History Harvest for Digitizing Collections” and “Using Geospatial Tools for Digital Interpretation: An Informal Conversation.” All three sessions were interesting and covered different aspects of digital history tools. Some things we touched on I was familiar with, WordPress, Omeka, Social Explorer, but others (mostly the GIS tools) I had never heard of.

THATCamp Schedule
Schedule for THATCamp at NCPH 2015

The most practical session was “WordPress Basics” lead by Cathy Stanton of Tufts University. We focused on improving our skills with the interface and the practical uses of a blog and domain name. While we were able to get in some practice on the dashboard and learn a little bit about the coding behind the site the bulk of our discussion focused on creating your own domain name and web presence. WordPress is an excellent base platform for this because it’s versatile, open source, and supported by a large and active user community. Users are constantly creating and updating widgets and plug-ins for the site so its capabilities are constantly changing. The free open source version of the site is just as versatile for users as buying the premium package or getting hosting through a third-party like Laughing Squid or Reclaim which allow you full control of your domain name and digital identity.

The most interesting session was the final one, “Using Geospatial Tools for Digital Interpretation: An Informal Conversation.” I had not considered GIS as a method of digital exploration for history work seriously before this. To me it just seemed like boring maps but today I learned that using layers of maps you can show change over time, demographics, significant places. Using mapping lets you present information visually in a way that is engaging for the viewer and easily illustrates the point you as trying to make. While GIS is the main event in geospatial presentation there are a large number of open source platforms you can use to give viewers a similar if not the same experience. From big names like Neat Line in Omeka to crowd sourced projects like the New York Public Library’s Map Warper that allow manipulation and georectification of old and new maps. Some other tools mentioned in this fast paced session were, OpenStreetMap (a wiki tool), Leaflet JS (a java script tool), Social Explorer (web-based interactive maps), Map Story (an online platform good for classroom use), Story Maps (an ArcGIS online platform), iBeacon (device that acts like a QR code), (The Digital Archeology Record), and the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. These are not the only tools available but they all are mobile friendly and provide most of the capabilities of GIS and Neat Line. The versatility and utility of mobile friendly platforms is especially important for geospatial interpretation as it allows users to experience the space depicted in real-time and see what is missing and what is new.

In comparison to the other two sessions,  “History Harvest for Digitizing Collections” was interesting but not earth-shattering. The History Harvest project was started at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and uses Omeka to curate object based community histories. Working with specific communities in the region and, in similar projects elsewhere, around the country students take oral stories, photographs of objects, and scans of photographs and documents to create a meaningful user experience and facilitate interaction between historians and the community. The project’s tenants are community, pedagogy and accessibility. With those three concepts in mind the project becomes more than a growing digital archive of local history objects. It becomes an outlet for students and the community to mix and to assure those whose items are chosen that great care has gone into the selection and research of the chosen materials.

Each session today enhanced my public history knowledge and abilities and encouraged me to interact with other professionals in my field. Tomorrow promises more of the same; learning opportunities, networking, just in general interaction with people passionate about the same things I am.


A Dissappointment

I know by now this old news for those of us interested in the film but I am still incredibly disappointed that the release date for Ron Howard’s film adaptation of In The Heart of The Sea was moved from March to December. I went from counting down days to months. The press releases on the subject cited things like the tone of the season and being closer to awards time as reasons for the switch. Are those valid? I was looking forward to critiquing the films accuracy and seeing Chris Hemsworth on the water! Is it appropriate to change the release date weeks before, after there has been significant promotion of the original date?

A Release Date is Set!

Those of you who know me in the analog world know that I have been avidly following the progress of In the Heart of the Sea a Ron Howard film based on the award-winning book In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is an essential read for those interested in the history of American Whaling or Nantucket and is the real-life basis for the story of Moby Dick. According to this article in USA Today,, they have set a release date of March 13, 2015 for the film.

Last week photos of the cast at the Nantucket Whaling Museum were seen courtesy of realronhoward on instagram like this one, Press for the film has begun! Hopefully the trailer and further images and interviews are not far off.

I’m trying something new

Last week I had an experience that I would recommend to anyone interested in the Digital Humanities/Digital History/Digital tools for pedagogy, I attended part of THAT Camp Kentucky. Dr. Kelland was planning to attend and was kind enough to invite me along to Lexington. It was a very interesting day. For those of you who are not familiar THAT Camp, which stands for The Humanities And Technology Camp, follows an un-conference model with every attendee able to contribute to sessions and decide the course of the three day conference. It was a lot of fun and I am going to include the link to the THAT Camp Kentucky webpage below with a link to a tool I learned at camp that I am hoping to use in my internship.

My Internship is with a historic house museum and Metro Parks site, Riverside, The Farnsley-Moremen Landing. It is a super neat house and surrounding property in Southwest Louisville right on the Ohio River.

Here is a (hopefully working) shortcut to the THAT Camp Kentucky page,, feel free to check out what we learned. This link will hopefully send you to a short and not very detailed timeline of my life, [timeline height=’100%’ font=’Bevan-PotanoSans’ maptype=’toner’ lang=’en’ src=’’ ], the tool uses Google spreadsheets to create intricate timelines of events that can be used for class projects or note taking. You can even embed images or video clips!

A visit to KHS

A couple of weeks ago I got to go on my first field trip in grad school! The History Department at UofL sponsered a trip to the Kentucky Historical Society, which was totally awesome. We got there right as they opened at 10 am and spent the whole day on tours and exploring their collections and exhibits. The first thing we did was get a behind the scenes tour of the collections storage area. It was a huge space full of interesting objects. They have everything from cars to paintings, and so many things inbetween. Our behind the scenes look at KHS continued with a quick peek at the archives and a look at the teaching collection used during summer camps.

The most intersting part of our visit was the guided tour of the Old State Capitol. Not only did the tour cover basic information about the use of the building and the Kentucky legislature but, since we were budding public historians our tour also included an overview of interpretive techniques and a chance to participate in some of the activities designed for school groups. The collections in the Old Image State Capitol are super cool as well. In the old judges’ chambers KHS has set up a decorative arts gallery organized by furniture style. It moves from the baroque and rococo to the asian inspired and contains both furniture and decorative arts items like this wreathe made of human hair, Image.

It was a great trip and a fantastic way to spend a Saturday.

The Ivory Problem

With all the talk of destroying illegal ivory happening already this week I wanted to get my thoughts out there. This morning on my Twitter feed the British Museum posted a link to an article in the Guardian “Prince William ‘calls for Buckingham Palace ivory to be destroyed.'” ( in which, as the title implies, Prince William asked that all 1,200 artifacts in the Royal Collection be removed from view and destroyed. The article frames the move as an extension of his commitment to elephant conservation and as an action to strike a blow against the value and significance of ivory goods. I take a different view. The pieces in the Royal Collection, most of them hundreds of years old, have historical and cultural significance for Great Britian beyond their monetary value. Given the age of the pieces they were legally obtained and they are used, as far as I know, solely for display. Examining the material culture of the past provides valuable insights beyond the written record. The oblects in the collection like the examples of scrimshaw* held in maritime museums tell a valuable story about the past and their destruction would wipe out a resource for historic research and understanding rather than further the cause of elephant protection.

I would appreciate any other thoughts on this topic. Will this be beneficial to conservation efforts? Is the destruction of historic ivory collections a loss to material culture study?


*Scrimshaw, for those who are not familiar with the term, is the name for carving, engraving, or shaping of bone or ivory most popular amung nineteenth-century sailors. The scrimshaw pieces sailors created provide an insight into the daily lives of ordinary nineteenth-century men and are scenes of ships, harbors, whaling expeditions, or patriotic or biblical images, cut outs from magazines and whales.

It has been a snowy winter

So I have not been posting much since this semester started but nothing much has happened except some snow days. I have been working on editing a paper for submission to a journal and lining up some summer internships to apply for, more to come on those as they develope.

I did discover while procrastinating this morning that a release date is set for In the Heart of the Sea. Get ready for awesome, March 13, 2015! I know it’s more than a year away but I am so excited for this.

I have not finished Consider the Fork yet. But I have been watching the Winter Olymics! I love winter sports. So many of the events get so little mention outside an olympic year that it is fascinating to learn their history and see atheletes devoted to their craft. Does anyone understand how the figure skating is scored or how many points it is out of? I could not figure it out whatching the team events over the weekend.