Monday, 1 December 2014

Printing Potential

It is no secret that technology is rapidly developing. In the past few years the world has produced many unique and sci-fi like inventions such as Google Glass. Amongst these new technologies is 3D printing.

3D printing is the process of using a digital file to make three dimensional solid objects. A 3D printer uses an additive process to create three dimensional objects. Essentially it takes the digital model and slices that model into many thin horizontal layers which are combined together to create a physical 3D object based upon the original digital file. 3D printers allow people to translate a digital image into the physical world and in doing so creates a lot of potential for digital historians.

The artifacts found in a museum or an archive are often in a strict “hands off” relationship with the public. This is usually due to the frail nature of the objects or being done to prevent any future damage. While this hands off policy is necessary to help conserve a collection it unfortunately results in limited engagement with the public. Wouldn’t it be nice if museums could let everyone touch and hold prized artifacts? Wouldn’t it be nice to allow people to handle dinosaur bones or a sculpture from ancient Greece? This is where 3D printing comes in handy.

3D printing is being used by historians and museums to help bridge the gap between the artifacts and the public. By completing a 3D scan of an artifact, that information can then be used in conjunction with a 3D printer to create an accurate model of the artifact. Museums can therefore have a display of dinosaur bones for example and then a separate section with 3D printed bones that patrons can touch and engage with.

An interesting 3D printing project is currently underway at the Smithsonian. Project “Smithsonian X 3D” is currently in beta testing and already has objects that users can explore. The Smithsonian X 3D project has made use of 3D scanning technology to begin scanning and creating digital images of their collection. Some of these digital models are available on their website and users can click on an object of interest and then manipulate the image on their computer.
Pergolesi Side Chair.

While playing around with these digital images on one’s computer is interesting, yet this is not the limit of the potential of these digital images. The Smithsonian X 3D project also allows users to download the digital information of these artifacts. This allows for people to remotely access the Smithsonian’s collection and use the downloaded data to print a replica of the artifact. This not only allows users to engage more closely with the artifacts but creates greater access to the collection as the 3D printing can be done offsite.

3D printing therefore offers digital historians much potential when it comes to visualizing, preserving and connecting to artifacts. By taking digital imaging to the next step and creating 3D replicas historians and their audience can better engage with artifacts and hopefully create an enhanced historical narrative.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

My Experiences with Twitter

As a digital historian one of the first things I did when I joined my program was to create a Twitter account. I had been told by multiple people at that point that Twitter is a great way to communicate, share projects and to network.

Prior to entering the MA Public History program I had been hesitant to get involved with Twitter. This was partially due to not understanding the benefits that Twitter had to offer a MA student and also because I had no idea how to manage a Twitter account or what I should be tweeting. In my perspective Twitter was more for entertainment, used by celebrities to connect with their fans or for people to share pictures of what they had for lunch. Once I got involved with Twitter it did not take long to see that it could be used for so much more.

It took some time to get used to this social media platform. Unlike Facebook where the people viewing your posts are usually your friends and family, Twitter can be much more public. There is also the defining characteristic of Twitter, the tweet limit of 140 characters. This was difficult to manage at first, and I found myself constantly editing and tweaking posts so they could fit within the word limit.

While at first it was difficult to get the hang of Twitter, with practice I became more comfortable with tweeting, retweeting, learning how to shorten URLs, etc. Once I found my footing on how to use the technical aspects of Twitter, the next challenge was figuring out how to get followers and who should I follow.

At this moment I currently have 49 followers. While this does not seem like a lot when compared to people who have millions of people following them, as a new Twitter user I am still proud of my modest 49. An effective method I found so far in regards to getting new followers is to not be afraid to tweet at someone.

As a digital historian there have been several projects that I have created that are online and available to the public. Instead of keeping these projects hidden away in a tiny corner of the internet where only your friends and family will see it, try going out on a limb and tweet it. Better yet, direct that tweet at people and organizations that might be interested. This is a great way to get retweets, followers and maybe even an individual or a business interested in the work you are doing.

Another useful trait of Twitter is for keeping you in the loop. Because you can choose who you follow and thereby control what kind of content is coming into your twitter feed, you will often be exposed to tweets that spark your interest. Due to Twitter I have found out about several events that I may have never heard of on my own.

While it is not an obvious use of Twitter, this social media platform can also be useful when looking for jobs. Forbes magazine posted in 2012 an article entitled "4 Ways to Use Twitter to Find a Job". The article notes that from 2011 to 2012 the amount of people who used Twitter to find a job jumped from 26% to 34% and those numbers are projected to increase.

During my time using Twitter I have seen various historical organizations such a London Heritage Council, Parks Canada, Canadian Heritage, etc. tweet about job postings. This allows you to track organizations that you may be interested in and get a heads up about job postings.

Overall my Twitter experience has been very positive. I have learned a variety of new skills and became less anxious about using social media to promote my work. Twitter is an important resource for digital historians who wish to advertise their online projects. So if you don't already have an account consider getting one and have your own experiences in the Twitter-verse.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Project in Progress: Historical Website

For the upcoming Digital History project students  are required to create either a historical website or visualization. I have chosen the historical website option and will be creating an online exhibit. This online exhibit is an extension of a physical exhibit that I have created during my research assistant position at Eldon House. The exhibit has been created through the use of the Elsie Perrin Williams family's extensive silverware collection.

About The Elsie Perrin Williams Family and Estate

The Elsie Perrin Williams estate was first purchased by Colonel William Glass, Sheriff of the County of Middlesex, in 1877. At that time the Victorian home was called “Windermere” which Colonel Glass used primarily as a summer house. Upon his death in 1893, the executors of Colonel Glass’ will sold the property to Daniel S. Perrin in 1894. Perrin was a successful biscuit and candy manufacturer in London, Ontario.
Photograph of Elsie Perrin Williams.
Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library, London, ON.

In 1903 Windermere was given by Perrin to his daughter, Elsie, as a wedding gift for her upcoming marriage to Dr. Hadley Williams. Williams worked as a surgeon for the University of Western Ontario and Victoria Hospital. While Williams was abroad in England during the First World War, Elsie chose to have the old Victorian home demolished and to build a new estate in its place.

In 1932 Hadley passed away and two years later, in 1934, Elsie also died.
After Elsie’s death in 1934 the property was bequeathed to the city and used as a park and museum. It was not until 1981, when the housekeeper died, that the city was able to use the land. Money from Elsie’s estate helped to build the 1939 Elsie Perrin Williams Public Library and Art Museum located at 305 Queens Avenue.

Project Goals

My goal for this project is to create an online exhibit that complements the physical exhibit. Due to the small size of the exhibit display case there is not much room for text. Due to this the physical exhibit is constrained to having minimal explanations of the items presented. My plan is to have the online exhibit handle each item of the collection more closely. The online exhibit will allow the audience to learn more about the collection as a whole or about specific items than may have caught their eye. 
Two silver and glass candlesticks.
The one on the left has been cleaned and polished
while the candlestick on the right has not.

Project Progress

This past Friday I managed to photograph the exhibit as a whole and as individual items. Due to the size of the collection I have chosen to just include the pieces that I have chosen for the display case. The photographs have turned out well and are a key step in the creation of this online exhibit. 
My work space in the Eldon House attic.
Due to the poor lighting within the house I moved the
items up to the attic where they could be better photographed.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Why Create an Online Exhibit?

Last week I reviewed an online exhibit, Manifold of Greatness. Overall I thought the exhibit to be well assembled and informative. Reviewing this exhibit made me think about online exhibits more thought than I previously had and as a result I have decided to discuss them in this blog post. Specifically, I will be discussing why one should create an online exhibit and their potential.

Online exhibits are becoming more common and are associated with both museums and archives. An online exhibit can be a stand-alone exhibit (not related to a pre-existing physical exhibit) or it can complement an exhibit currently in existence at a museum or archive. For the purpose of today’s blog post I will be focusing on online exhibits that are an extension of a physical exhibit.

Physical exhibits created by a museum or archive, that displays and explains all of or pieces of a collection are valuable and interesting. But they are bound by the limitations of physical space. This is where and online exhibit can be useful. An online exhibit is not restricted by physical space in the traditional sense (though there can be data restrictions depending on what kind of website you are using), whereas a physical exhibit can only accommodate so many artifacts and can only include minimal text or the exhibit will risk being clunky.

Another upside to creating an online exhibit is accessibility. Perhaps a museum that is located several hours away is putting on an exhibit of medieval tapestries. You are very interested in this subject and want to learn more about this collection. Unfortunately you have neither the time not the resources to go see this exhibit. In such a situation online exhibits can be extremely useful. Knowing that not all those who are interested in the exhibit may be able to attend, the host institution can create an online exhibit that complements the physical one. Therefore the medieval tapestry enthusiast may not receive the same experience as one would by seeing the collection in person, but can access an (often free) alternative.

As stated above the online exhibit is useful as it transcends physical restrictions while also increasing accessibility to a collection. But does that mean that online exhibits should be an exact replica of the physical exhibit? Though some may argue otherwise, I believe that an online exhibit should not mimic the original, but rather complement it.

An online exhibit should be an extension of the physical exhibit and should take advantage of the lack of physical boundaries that the online medium provides. An aim for an online exhibit is to not only attract those who could not make it to see the physical exhibit, but also those who attended the physical exhibit and wish to learn more. Therefore the online exhibit can include more in-depth information and pictures of additional collection pieces that may have been too fragile to put on display. With technology ever progressing there are new techniques, such as 3D imaging, that can allow an online exhibit to be more intriguing and informative that ever before. 

Online exhibits are a valuable project for both archivists and curators to help show their collection and the expand upon the traditional exhibit.

Some examples of good online exhibits:

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Manifold Of Greatness: An Exhibit Review

For this blog post I will be doing a review of the online exhibit Manifold of Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible.

To begin, the project Manifold Greatness was undertaken for the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible. It was jointly produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Bodleian Library and the Harry Ransom Center. This project was made possible with the National Endowment for the Humanities: Because democracy demands wisdom grant. The online exhibit has also won the 2012 RBMS Leab Exhibition Award in the “electronic exhibition” category.

The exhibit is divided into three sections: “Before”, “Making”, and “Later”. This allows for chronological organization without becoming too clunky. The site is visually appealing and easy to navigate through the use of tabs. The site makes use of a variety of mediums and creatively uses them to present their collection. Some of these media are videos, timelines, audio recordings, genealogical charts and collection galleries.

There are a handful of videos throughout the exhibit. They provide further information on the King James Bible or on the development of the exhibit itself. A feature of these videos is the inclusion of  a “Transcript” button. The inclusion of a transcript of the video is important because it provides access to a wider audience who may not be able to view the video.

A critique of the design of the exhibit would be the lack of a “Zoom In” option in the Gallery sections. In the gallery sections the user is able to look at the collection in slideshow format, where they can remain on the current page or enter a full screen mode. While the full screen mode does enlarge the document a bit, there is no feature to get a closer view. This is different from the “Read the Book” section which allows the user to read excerpts from the King James Bible. This section gives the audience the option to zoom in on the pages, allowing for a more detailed exploration of the artifact. I would suggest that the exhibit apply the same function to the rest of their gallery so that users can more closely examine the collection.

The section of the exhibit that I find most interesting is the “Compare Translations” segment. This section of the exhibit allows the user to compare passages from the King James Bible with the same passage form earlier English Bibles. This illuminates decisions that the translators made while transcribing the King James Bible. A handful of chosen verses are put side by side, and an analysis of the differences is provided. I like this section because the creators of the exhibit are not just  making the collection available to the public online, but they are also taking the time to interpret the collection and explain their findings to their audience.

Another section  of note is the “Handel’s Messiah" section. Composed in 1741 George Frideric Handel created “Messiah”, which was shaped by the King James Bible. The exhibit highlights the importance of the King James Bible to Handel’s composition by playing an audio recording of Handel’s work, while highlighting where from the King James Bible this music was inspired from.

Overall this exhibit is well laid out, visually appealing, easy to navigate, makes use of a variety of mediums, and presents the collection in an interesting way. In one of the videos, English Fellow Helen Moore states, “we decided to attempt to celebrate the King James bible, whilst at the same time, bringing to a new audience a knowledge of the processes that went into its making”. I believe Moore achieved this goal by presenting the collection in a creative and accessible way that reaches out to new audiences. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Project Completed: A Timeline of Covent Garden Market

The Digital Doors Open project was finally completed a few days ago. While I hit a lot of snags in the process of creating the timeline, I am very proud of the end result.

I was able to learn a variety of new skills and use them together to create an end product. From uploading my first YouTube video to figuring out how to do overlays in Google Earth, this project included a variety of "firsts".

I chose the Covent Garden Market as the focus of this project because of its rich history. It is also a focal point of downtown London, and therefore deserves attention from historians.

Here is the link to the project:Covent Garden Timeline

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Making Progress

As the Digital Doors Open project is coming to a close, and all the individual pieces are coming together to form a whole, I am finding myself genuinely impressed with what I have done. When I first began this project I felt rather lost. I had near unlimited options when it came to the kinds of technology I could use. From SketchUp to Timeline JS, from Google Earth to HistoryPin, the digital world was my oyster. Instead of feeling a sense of freedom I felt more lost and confused. I had no real idea of how to use most of these programs. With the help of Prof. Ross and endless YouTube tutorials, I slowly familiarized myself with these programs.

Below is a sneak peek into the finished project. This video will be embedded into my timeline of Covent Garden Market. Enjoy!