Crowdsourcing Historical Memory with TellHistory

I’m thrilled today to introduce a project that combines my biggest interests–oral storytelling and cultural heritage outreach through crowdsourcing. It’s appropriately called Tell History.

And it was developed by Alex Whitcomb and Sarah Hayes. They’re crowdsourcing video-based memories that they tie to themes, timelines and maps. We all have a friend or relative who has a fascinating story to tell. can help you help them to share that story in historical context. It’s also an inspiring story about how you can take your passion, and evolve it into a platform for the greater good. The interview starts with Alex and Sarah describing their own bit of history in the development of this project….

Crowdsourcing Historical Memory Topics

  1. What has the response been like?
  2. I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to build engagement in digital projects. How have you gotten so many folks to contribute videos to the project?
  3. Tell me a little about how Tell History works …
  4. I think it’s interesting that you use a Theme of the Week to focus your contributions. How do you identify those?
  5. What kind of audiences are contributing to Tell History, and what kind of stories are capturing your attention? 
  6. You’ve made it very easy for folks contribute to Tell History. Describe that process …
  7. How have you been using social media to support the growth of Tell History?
  8. What kind of stories and themes are you focusing on for the future?
  9. Describe what your “big picture” goal is for Tell History …
  10. A project of this scope only happens because of people who believe in you and what you’re trying to achieve. Are there any folks who have contributed to the site that you’d like to give a shout-out to?
  11. How do folks connect with you online?

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2006/2016: What’s changed over ten years in #DigitalHeritage

It was 2006 when the digital heritage bug first bit me. I was working as public information officer at a remote National Park Service office serving a national constituency comprised of several very specialized technical fields. Oh, and there was no budget for outreach.

How to reach audiences, put the organization on the map, and perhaps feel a little less isolated?

The answer came at a Ragan public relations conference that October, when it was mentioned as an afterthought in one of the sessions: “watch the social media stuff. It’s going to change everything.”

I went back home to rural Louisiana and began investigating right away. To say things have changed a lot since then is an understatement. Scarcely two years later, the world had indeed changed. The place I was working got some notoriety for its social media involvement and our audiences grew.

Today, social media has become a big part of how we establish our identities. It’s the lens through which we view one another’s stories today, and will play a starring role in how history sees us in the future. So what has evolved in the attitudes and approaches in the “culture” of cultural heritage between 2006 and 2016?

The Awesome
  1. We’re more open and transparent. Whether it’s our data or our inner workings, we’re documenting heritage preservation and putting it on platforms ranging from Github to Tumblr to Wikipedia and The Commons.
  2. We’re valuing communication that goes beyond the broadcast model. My first podcast interview was with Nina Simon. Nina rocked my thinking regarding how museums facilitate visitor interactions with “me to we design.” Nina’s participatory  ideas have gone on to influence the way hundreds of museums do business. That Skype interview led to many other podcast interviews I have had with people from around the world.  A definite cure for the cultural isolation I had been feeling in those early days!
  3. The process heritage preservation is as valued as the product. We can go into institutions and see conservators and archivists at work, and even see them talk about their work online.
  4. Personal and professional interests are more blended. We’re becoming advocates for heritage preservation. Even when the tweets are presented as “views are my own,” we’re putting out content that reflects our values and beliefs, and heritage preservation is part of that no matter the context.
  5. Technology doesn’t scare us (as much). People don’t traditionally go into cultural heritage fields because they are early adopters. But we’re learning to embrace it with digital preservation and innovative outreach methods.
  6. We’re more focused on storytelling. That was always there to a great extent, I believe. But stories about cultural heritage are certainly more accessible now and people harness the power of online video, timelines and maps to support their narrative.
  7. History is shared like never before. Because of its presence online, the emergence of mobile devices, and tools like tour apps, people can share these newly accessible stories at the touch of a button.
The Scary
  1. Increasing lack of self-determination. I worry about Facebook taking over the internet and feeding us its version of events when the emphasis used to be providing sets of tools among providers to create our own experiences. Remember the emergence of RSS and Mashups and curating your own experience? I was on the verge of tears when Facebook bought (and suffocated) Friendfeed, which I still mourn. It’s hard for cultural heritage to compete with pop culture in our increasingly algorithmic world.
  2. When tech overshadows heritage. When I see my younger friends  repeatedly switch between social media apps during any given  conversation, I wonder if they will ever know the joy of being quiet and present (an even bigger worry for my 11-year-old daughter, whose device time I limit).  A great part of respect and preservation of history lies in being present with it–with an object or at a site and letting your imagination roll with historical implications. Will we lose that?
  3. Lack of knowing why we use these tools. Though my first product in this space was a strategic plan with audiences and outcomes, those are still relatively rare. As the adage goes–fail to plan; plan to fail (or spin your wheels in irrelevancy at least). Fortunately, some folks are putting their plans out there so no one has to reinvent the wheel.
  4. Digital preservation is a ballooning issue. There are certainly innovators out there, but many organizations are still either putting a bandage on the situation or ignoring it entirely.

In the final analysis, I believe heritage preservation has been served well by the transformation of digital and social tools. We’ve evolved from a recalcitrant attitude toward social media interaction to one of acceptance. Along the way, we’ve found new audiences and allies to make the field stronger.  Though the digital landscape is a bit more complex, these tools are still accessible to everyone–from history enthusiasts to small house museums to large-scale archaeological projects like Pompeii. We all have an opportunity to make our voices heard. The more we come together online to advocate for the cause, the stronger cultural heritage as whole will become.

This post was inspired by the WordPress blogging topic: Contrast

#DigitalHeritage 1-2-3: APIs, Apps & Social Media Preservation

#DigitalHeritage 1-2-3 represents news and ideas that caught my attention recently. Have any suggestions for future editions? Let me know via Twitter @heritagevoices.

1: APIs: How Machines Share and Expose Digital Collections

Finally, an explanation of APIs I can get my head around. This item from the Library of Congress blog uses examples from The World Digital Library, HathiTrust and OpenSearch to illustrate how APIs work in digital collections.

The Big Idea: “Offering an API allows other people to reuse your content in ways that you didn’t anticipate or couldn’t afford to do yourself … That’s what I would like for the library world, those things that let other people re-use your data in ways you didn’t even think about.”

The Revelation: a demo of the International Image Interoperability Framework in action as a research tool. See for yourself how to compare and annotate side-by-side digital objects from Harvard, Yale, the National Library of Wales and other participating partners.

The Strategy: Besides the API explanation, what I appreciate about this post is how LOC is using journalism practices by interviewing people who work their about their areas of expertise. A great tactic for deepening and sustaining content on an institutional blog!

2: ActionShow App Blog on Mobile Tours

For all the years I’ve worked in cultural heritage, there seems to always be one more tour app provider I never heard of. ActionShow is the latest. And though their blog looks a little spammy at first (and indeed, does sell a product), it hosts some good, clear-eyed analysis of the issues.

The post that drew me to the site was Who Wins? Mobile Apps vs. Mobile-Friendly Websites. The topics are a virtual FAQ for cultural heritage sites considering such a tool (i.e. all of them): how much does it cost, which is easier to use, what if you have inconsistent wi-fi, etc. Use them as a guide on the issues; just keep in mind they have an app service to sell.

Here’s a useful graph on their site I’m embedding from the post Custom Built Apps versus Platform Apps:

Tour Guide App Comparison

3: Preserving Social Media Tech Watch Report

This came by Twitter:

If you haven’t been to visit the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Technology Watch Report page, now’s the time to discover it. DPC has published a 42-page “Preserving Social Media” report that should have a lot of cultural institutions thinking about why they aren’t preserving this growing part of their legacy. One reason is that it’s very hard, with rapidly shifting targets of technology, platforms and service agreements.

The Big Idea from this report (for now): “…the preservation of social media may best be undertaken by a large, centralized provider, or a few large centralized providers, rather than linking smaller datasets or collections from many different institutions.”

The Revelation: The North Carolina State University, Social Media Archives Toolkit is “a freely available web-based documentary toolkit that publicly documents our own effort to develop a sophisticated social media archival program in a way that may help guide cultural heritage organizations that are interested in collecting and curating social media content.”

Due to the complexity of these issues, it looks like we’re heading down a road where the archives profession will be start turning out specialists to deal with this ever-shifting landscape.


That’s it for today’s #digitalheritage stories. Feel free contribute your thoughts for a future edition through the comments, Twitter or email.


Traits of an e-newsletter worth staying subscribed to

Someone asked me recently to name examples of good email newsletters. I have to admit I scratched my head a bit on that one. In the last two weeks I used Gmail filters to effectively get rid of 90% of my subscriptions. Boy has my life improved!

A lot has changed on the e-news front in the past few years. Folks are really simplifying their newsletters so they are more easily viewed on mobile phones. One that I’ve historically liked is World Monuments Fund (I always click on something there). Brooklyn Museum has some good content too. Rather than sending you down rabbit holes in search of the perfect e-newsletter, I’ll tell you about some traits that make up the one I would stay subscribed to:

  • It’s a good snapshot of the organization overall. Generally it’s the only time someone will get a sense of the breadth of your offerings. Offer a variety of content from several of your departments.
  • It has short teasers with a picture. Skip feature-length stories. All your content should be able to be scanned with a couple of thumb swipes, with included links if your reader wants to know more.
  • ONE major call to action.
  • It features links and directions on following/subscribing/sharing social media. Emphasize those that have the most creative input (I.e. Storytelling) from staff. Featuring the latest episode of a podcast is a good example of this.
  • It offers a frequency option. People are inundated with email, so having the option of weekly/monthly/quarterly or by subject matter is important for keeping them on your list.

Those are my thoughts. If you think differently, I’d love to see your comments on this post. If you believe the perfect email newsletter exists for a cultural or heritage institution already, feel free to share a link to it as well.

Teaser image credit.

Can you spot the historic inspiration for the Voices of the Past logo?

When I looked into a new logo for Voices of the Past, I wanted something that represented both history and technology.  I discovered the graphic above while visiting the Minnesota Archaeological Society website, and something about it struck me. Check out the tailfeather of the bird on the right. Does is remind you of any new media symbols out there? How about this one:


MAS, which uses the entire bird on the left for its logo, states on its website:

The inscriptions … are from a 1,000-year-old pot that was discovered in 1957 near Red Wing, Minnesota by an MAS member. The thunderbird motif is representative of Middle Mississippian iconography.

I love the thunderbird legend and its symbolic meanings of courage, transformation, and victory so much that it remains my one and only tattoo.


Did Native Americans first conceptualize RSS 1,000 years ago? I’ll leave that to the conspiracy theorists 😉 But it did inspire me enough to use it as the basis for the logo Voices of the Past has today.


Tips on Creating a Large Family Tree for a Gift (with templates)

By Suzie Kolber

A large family tree framed and presented as a gift is a wonderful way to honor a person. It is the ideal choice for a milestone birthday or anniversary and has a lot of meaning. It can be difficult to choose the right template with so many options. The right one for your family may be different from what would work for someone else.

Consider Presentation
Since the family tree will most likely be prominently displayed, it should have a nice visual presentation. A circular family tree provides a continuous, symmetrical design that looks nice when framed. A fan is another option that appears like a piece of artwork when hung.

Another choice is the bowtie family tree chart if you want to include both sides of a family member. This is ideal for anniversaries where you would feature the married couple in the center and branch off for both of their families. Since there will be a lot of information or a long list of names, you want the shape to stand out even if someone doesn’t take the time to read the words.

Consider Information
To choose the right template for your gift, you have to consider how much information you want to include. This will influence the selection as to which style works best. If you only plan to include photos or a name and birthdate, a family tree with oval spaces will look nice. If you want more information included such as birth, marriage and death dates, lines or boxes will be more practical.
The landscape and pedigree styles are the most traditional. They can hold a lot of information in a way that is easy to follow. If you are giving this gift to a couple who did not have children, you may want to use a partner family tree. It allows you to trace the history on both sides of the family with the couple as the starting point.

Keep these tips in mind when designing a family tree print as a gift:

  • Choose a template that doesn’t have a lot of holes that are glaringly obvious – you don’t want to highlight missing people or unusual circumstances that may make people uncomfortable
  • Remember that your family tree chart doesn’t have to be an 8×11 piece of paper; it can be as large as you need it to be to fit the information
  • Consider making it vibrant with a colored background but choose a shade that doesn’t take away from the information or make it difficult to read
  • Find free templates online and try out different ones – you only know when something works once you see it
    A family tree chart is a fabulous gift that many people will appreciate. It is a gift from the heart and one that is personal to the recipient but that others can enjoy. Be willing to play with different styles to fine the one that fits your needs.

Suzie Kolber created to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

Book Reviews: Art of Social, Art of Work, Impact Equation and Leadership Handbook

The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick

I’ve been working in (and with) social media for several years now. Despite all the emerging services, there’s been very little that’s actually new in approaching it. Guy Kawasaki is someone I respect, and it’s the reason for looking at this book more deeply. Its stated purpose “is to enable you to rock social media.” Much of what’s here, you’ve likely heard before, scattered across thousands of social media posts over the last few years. The charm of this book is that is distills this conventional wisdom into a concise handbook on social media process and strategy. From planning to writing to SEO and graphics—it covers exactly what you need to keep in mind. A good primer for the newbie, and a good reminder for the veteran.

The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

What is the impact equation? No worries, you won’t have to be good in math to understand it. Instead, this book is a reflection of the concepts that shape today’s social media-focused values. I have to admit that one statement in the first chapter really hooked me: “If you’re in a small town in central Louisiana, your needs will be different from those of someone in New York City.” I was “that guy” in a small town in central Louisiana when I discovered my digital heritage legs. I’ve now lived in Philadelphia and Miami, and can say the principles in this book will be applicable to any time and place or stage of learning. It provides insight on establishing your platform, and then demonstrating the bravery to be different, even as you attract an audience. The book is full of simple, yet profound, truths. A philosophical complement to Kawasali’s “Art of Social Media.”

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Admittedly, some of my interest in “The Art of Work” came from the author’s name being so similar to mine. Having read it now, I can say that it’s a good, concise distillation of methods for keeping perspective on work situations.  Like many books, it’s often allegorical or filled with stories from the lives of famous people (e.g. Walt Disney, Steve Jobs). The quote that introduces part two pretty much sums up the purpose of this work “Every single that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.” The book has a balance of practical and philosophical  advice. It calls on the reader to consider their situation and, with intention, employ “deliberate practice” so that they are able to live their best lives, which is often the result of repeated failures. The author’s story about becoming a writer is particularly inspirational. Goins sums it up by saying “…finding your calling, as mysterious as it seems, is not only a mystical process; it is intensely practical. You either act of what you know, or you miss your moment.”  All-in-all, this book is a quick read that encompasses profound life lessons.

The Leadership Handbook by John C. Maxwell

One of the first business books I ever bought was authored by John C. Maxwell. Billed as “the leadership expert,” John’s relationship-centered approach is good for introverts like me to remember now and again. This book is a keeper as it distills many of his leadership concepts into brief and actionable instructions. It goes beyond handbook to function as a devotional, and a course in positive habit development. Application Exercises and a Mentoring Moment end each chapter to ensure each lesson is taken to heart. One of the most valuable pieces of advice Maxwell offers is in the chapter “Keep Your Mind on the Main Thing.” There are times in life that you have to step back and ask three critical questions: 1. What gives me the greatest return? 2.What is most rewarding? 3. What is required of me? He adds to that a closing chapter on the importance of establishing a legacy by picking NOW how people should summarize your life. What’s your legacy? The stylistic elegance Maxwell has honed over his decades of writing has produced a volume of simple truths that you’ll want to continually come back to throughout your career to refocus your life, and savor.

Note: These books were provided to be as review copies by their publishers. I wrote these reviews because I they mean something to me, and I think you might like them as well.

Cultural Collaboration through Wikipedia and The Commons << Case Study

In 2013, I started up the GLAM-Wiki initiative at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to provide greater access to the organization’s rich store of historical art, books, instruments and oral histories related to the history of chemistry. The program initiative began with the hiring of a Wikipedian in Residence and continued with trainings and edit-a-thons that have gained participation throughout the Northeast U.S.

Accomplishments as of Spring 2014:

      329 Images contributed to Wikimedia Commons
      One million views for pages with CHF images in January 2014
      14 new articles on Wikipedia
      725 Wikipedia articles edited by Wikipedian in Residence
      4,000 edits on Wikipedia by Wikipedian in Residence
      Nine “Did You Know” featured articles by Wikipedian in Residence
      145 Attendees at eight workshops and talks
    140 Attendees at GLAM Cafe Digital Humanities Events

The full report on the program, with tactical advice for other cultural institutions, can be viewed and downloaded below.

Program Report: GLAM-Wiki @ChemHeritage by jkguin

Paging the Past: A compelling gaze into “the belly button of the ancient world”

Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World Book Cover Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World
Michael Scott

Note: This book was provided by as a review copy, though opinions below are entirely my own.

Living in a world that seems to inject an element of magic in nearly every story of time and place, it's surprising to me that Delphi hasn't attracted more attention to this point in books or film. In "Dephi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World," Michael Scott manages to craft a richly detailed history of this ancient place through an accessible narrative style.

While I confess to a bit of Delphi obsession, my knowledge of it would scarcely fill two pages of this book. The span of history covered is awe-inspiring. Has a historic site—and a relative few individuals (women no less) ever held such influence over world affairs so long a time?

Here are five interesting elements of this book that enlightened my understanding of Delphi, which Scott describes as “the belly button of the ancient world”:

  1. It’s virtually hidden away. Despite its central role in the ancient world, Delphi was never exactly accessible. It lies in the foot hills of the Parnassian mountains, “resembling a fortress that Nature herself had chosen to take care of.” Nature and time have obscured the site even more, but it has never seen more traffic either—about two million visitors per year.
  2. Vapor courage was the secret sauce. The Pythia’s responses were “inspired” by a vapor chasm, over which she sat on a tripod.
  3. It changed hands more often than Chrysler. Nothing speaks to Delphi’s political and cultural influence more than surviving invasions on too many occasions to count. For a small town, it carried tremendous staying power.
  4. It was a monument to heroism (from a certain point of view). Partly because so many cultures occupied Delphi at some time or another, the monuments there are a fairly definitive gallery of world history. It’s regrettable so few have survived, but this book describes them well.
  5. Nero (?!) slept here. Nero was indeed the first Roman emperor to visit Dephi. Initially, he gave much autonomy to the city’s ruling council, and was honored with a statue of himself there. Unsurprisingly, the relationship cooled when Nero claimed some of Delphi’s statues, and the Oracle made a comment to him about mother-murderers.


There are several aspects of how this book was written and organized that I appreciated:

  • Shakespeare framed its structure (kind of). In his introduction, Scott frames the book’s three parts with a quote from Twelfth Night: “some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them.”
  • It’s chronological, but narrative. The book certainly has themes weaved into its narrative, but it is largely chronological. A wise move for making so much history make sense.
  • The illustrations add value. Quality photos and illustrations abound, always adding to the story without overwhelming it. Favorite images: “The Priestess at Delphi” and anything from the chapter on archaeological excavations of the early 20th century.
  • The end matter is a book unto itself. The story of the modern archaeological record is indeed my favorite part of this book, and it leads elegantly into perhaps the best end matter I’ve seen in any work: An insider walkthrough of the Delphi museum as it appears today, Abbreviations, Notes (about 60 pages) and a detailed index.
  • Top-grade construction. The first thing I noted about this book is the quality of its construction. The weight and feel of the paper, the binding and even the typographical presentation, make it a pleasure to read.

If Delphi intrigues you on any level, this book is a masterwork for your library. It’s authoritative and accessible, and only gets better in the final few chapters. Worth the read, in print format especially.

Question: What’s your favorite fact, story or resource about Delphi? Leave a comment below, or share it on social media with hashtag #voicesofthepast. I’ll be listening!

Paging the Past: No Greater Valor and the role of faith in a pivotal WWII battle

No Greater Valor: The Siege of Bastogne and the Miracle That Sealed Allied Victory Book Cover No Greater Valor: The Siege of Bastogne and the Miracle That Sealed Allied Victory
Jerome R. Corsi Ph.D.
Thomas Nelson
October 28, 2014

The role of faith in the military is a worthy subject as it plays a key role in a successful military. Surrounded by death, faith is both weapon and defense. In "No Greater Valor," author Jerome Corsi explores the role of faith in delivering the "Christmas Miracle" at Bastogne, Belgium, during World War II.

The narrative focuses specifically on American military faith in the Christian tradition. It’s a fair thesis in the context of the time and place of the subject matter. And, on the whole, the book is an engaging, solidly researched narrative about the beliefs of the people who experienced this chain of events.

There are several good stories encapsulated throughout the larger narrative. The stories are told from multiple perspectives using primary sources. Chiefly, this includes an exploration of General Anthony McAuliffe’s unlikely “Nuts” response to German demands for surrender. There are some good folkloric elements as well, such as the story of an eleven-man “ghost patrol” that advanced peacefully through no-man’s-land into American lines unchallenged and then disappeared into legend.

The legend of this moment in time extends to three tellings of the origins of “The Patton Prayer” by Chaplain James High O’Neill. This prayer was composed at the behest of General Patton for clear weather for battle, and printed on a Christmas card and distributed to soldiers. The prayer was credited for the unexpected break in bad weather on Dec. 23, 1944, that allowed American fighting planes to repel the Germans while other resupply aircraft relieved Bastogne’s suffering. The fortunate weather also earned O’Neill a medal from Patton.

If you’re interested in this as a historical work, you’ll find it more credible if you skip the author's hyperbolic introduction. Among other things, his remarks connect the end of "don't ask, don't tell" to the conjectural court martial of chaplains who refuse to marry same-sex military officers. The next sentence wonders at the likelihood of the banning of the Christian Bible from military bases.

The final chapter makes a more reasoned argument regarding the role of a moral code for keeping a nation united for the greater good. In “No Greator Valor,” Corsi accomplishes his goal in “picking up the pieces of history, and confronting the puzzles of the past” through compelling storytelling about people whose strength of character made a difference in a pivotal moment in time.

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