Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Going Mobile: Implications of mobile technology uptake for Cultural Organizations

By Marcus J Wilson, Pooka.Pro

It is forecast that mobile web access will overtake web access by traditional computers within the next three years.  That is – users of the Internet will be more likely to want to view your website on a handheld mobile device than from a desktop or laptop computer.  But how many of us are confident that our website even displays properly across mobile devices?

If your website was designed even three or four years ago, it’s likely that it wasn’t designed with mobile phones in mind, and that could become a real problem for your organization in the years ahead.  Various emulators for different mobile Operating Systems can be downloaded, but these can be tricky and time consuming to set up, so you may find it easier to go down to your local technology store and view your website on the various display models there.

The proliferation of mobile operating systems now widely used–alongside the need to support competing modern browsers as well as previous versions of the most popular browsers–means that there are more considerations that ever when developing your website.  There are decisions to be made regarding the presentation of your information for different types of device, as well as decisions relating to the accessibility of the technologies used within your website.

One thing is for certain …  If your website uses Flash technology to display animated graphics, video or even to embed audio content, this content will not be accessible on many mobile devices – and it will not be accessible on mobile devices made by Apple (iPods, iPhones, iPads).

Recently Adobe, the authors of Flash, announced that they would cease Flash development for mobile devices, essentially marking the end of support for Flash technology on the web.  This decision was partly due to Apple’s decision not to support Flash on its devices.  However, it is also due to the development of a new technology – HTML5.

HTML5 is the emerging standard for the web, and can be used to provide a lot of the functionality demanded by the modern web that was not available in earlier versions of HTML – such as animation, the presentation of audio and video and finding the geographic location of the website user.

HTML5’s companion technology, CSS3, allows much more flexibility in the design and graphical presentation of your website across a range of devices.  This will allow you, for instance, to present a very different looking version of your website depending on whether the user is viewing it on a computer screen or small handheld device.

The good news is that HTML5 and CSS3 are supported across pretty much all modern mobile devices, and implemented across most recent versions of the main desktop web browsers.  If you are looking to redevelop your website, you should check that your web developer is future-proofing your website to work with these emerging technologies.

HTML5 also has majors implication for Apps – those handy or entertaining little programmes or games you can download for your mobile device from App Stores.

The mobile marketplace has become incredibly fragmented, with a variety of different platforms to cater for – Apple’s iOS, Android, Blackberry OS and Windows Mobile.  To develop an App that is accessible to the majority of your audience members would now require you to code that App for at least three mobile Operating Systems, and promote that App through a range of different App Stores.  Unless you have money to burn, this isn’t within the reach of most cultural organisations.  Neither does it represent money well spent in most cases.

However, HTML5 could be an ‘App killer’.  HTML5 will allow you to leverage most of the functionality contained within Apps, including geo-location, and it is accessible across platforms.  That is, you only need to develop one version of your HTML5 App, and it will work across all mobile devices, as well as desktop computers – and potentially all through your own website, without the need to submit or promote your App within a range of App Stores.

So, does this mark the death of the App?  Well, not necessarily.  App Stores are still a useful way of promoting and selling your premium App to a global audience that is not perhaps going to find your website of their own accord.  It’s also in the interests of hardware providers like Apple and Blackberry to ensure that they retain the rights to distribute unique content for their hardware to help them retain a clear competitive edge in a marketplace that is growing ever more competitive.

However, in most cases HTML5 Apps delivered via the web will provide a more affordable and practical alternative to App development for cultural organisations with a good idea of the audience for their productions and services.

The first mobile web apps to emerge have been largely of the gaming variety.  However, it is likely that we will see the first HTML5 web apps developed by and for cultural organisations in 2012.

In the meantime, for those of you wanting to check out a mobile web App, you could take a look at (best views on a mobile device).  If you want to create you’re own simple mobile web App for your venue using content from your own web feed or social media, WidgetBox can help – check out the web App Throckmorton Theatre created.  Or, if you want to experience the broader multi-media and geolocation capabilities of HTML5, you might want to try The Arcade Fire’s interactive video experiment for their song ‘The Wilderness Downtown’.

It will be important to monitor consumers’ uptake of web-ready HTML5 mobile Apps because, at the end of the day, it will be the consumer that drives the changes in the Apps landscape.

Archaeology 2.0: Open Context Means Deeper Connections to Broader Audiences

First off, I want to thank Jeff for inviting me to share a guest post on this blog. Although I appreciate the medium, I find that between parenthood, endless grant writing and reviewing, and working on Open Context, I’ve got less time than I’d like for blogging.

By background, I’m an archaeologist with a PhD awarded back in 2001. Since then, I’ve been increasingly interested in digital media and in trying to make archaeological research more transparent and open for wider participation. That’s what we’re trying to do with Open Context.


Kansa TeaserWhy Make Archaeology Open?
Archaeology largely financed, either directly (through grants) or indirectly (through historical preservation laws) by the public. Opening up data to wider sharing is a way for the public to see more benefit purchased by their tax dollars.

The benefits to the public are mainly indirect.  I doubt most people, except for the uber-archaeological-nerds out there,  are interested in raw counts of potsherds found in some remote ancient village in Jordan. Instead, the public benefits from greater openness because openness makes research more efficient, with less duplication of effort, and with greater scientific rigor. Making underlying data can open for inspection and reuse enables other researchers to “audit” claims about the past, or reuse old data to make new interpretations. Data sharing makes archaeology a discipline more worthy of trust and better able to address key issues about human history and our relationship to the natural world.


Most researchers would agree that there should be more openness and better stewardship of data. However, time and budgets are tight. Slogging through and cleaning up a messy database is not very fun. Preparing data for sharing is not something that will win you tenure (if you’re an academic archaeologist), or something that will win you the next contract (if you are a commercial archaeologist). The realities of professional life create a lot of inertia that keeps data stuck on the hard-drives of individual researchers, one crash away from irrevocable loss(!). That’s tragic, since archaeology uses inherently destructive methods (excavation). So loss of archaeological data represents a permanent loss of our shared history.

Money is also tight for this kind of work. Archaeological databases are often big, and complicated. It take time and often a lot of information technology expertise to make these suitable for public sharing. While open standards and open source applications now make this much easier and cheaper, it still takes some expensive programming effort to make something work well on the Web.

Working with Open Context

Open Context is very much oriented toward archaeological geeks. We’ve spent most of our time and effort making sure that the data can efficiently flow out of Open Context. The main reason for this emphasis is that we’re sure other people can do more interesting things with our data than we can!

For instance, we work hard at managing archaeological data, but we know we’re not great at presenting this information to the public. That requires other kinds of expertise that we just don’t have. But, by making our data fully available with all sorts of APIs and Web-services and by removing copyright restrictions, we open doors for all sorts of reuse. This enables experts at public presentation to easily repackage and reuse our content in ways that can make better sense to the public. For instance, along with other data formats, Open Context also renders its content in KML, the standard used by Google Earth:

Open Context data in Google Earth, showing animal bones from archaeological sites in the Near East


The public can also get into the act. Using our data is free and requires no special permissions. It does take a little bit (not a lot!) of programming knowledge to make good use of Open Context data. We’re really interested in getting mash-up developers to use our data in creative ways.  Open Context data can be mapped and combined with data from other fantastic open collections such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme,, or even Flickr. You can even use our data in innovative games or mobile applications. All it takes is a little bit of Web-programming skills and a lot of imagination, and anyone can visualize and explore real research data.

If you want a much longer, and more academic discussion of these issues, please see this book that I helped edit: Archaeology 2.0   The book is free and open access, reflecting a growing movement to use technology to make scholarship and learning more open and accessible to everyone.


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Since No One Knows Us, We Decided to Social-ize: the National Park Service Northeast Museum Services Center


Some of you may not realize that the National Park Service (NPS) has “museums” or museum collections.  Many of you may not know what a Curator, an Archivist, an Archeologist or a Conservator actually does behind the scenes for any museum that you’ve been to. And most of you have probably never heard of the Northeast Museum Services Center – referred to by our initials (NMSC).  But, you undoubtedly know the power of social media to connect you and other readers with this type of information.

The NMSC is an NPS program that helps parks – primarily in the Northeast – with preserving, protecting and making accessible museum and archival collections. Our team of Curators, Archivists and Conservators are available for cataloging (both archeology and archives); museum research and planning; collections conservation and general technical assistance.  Think of us as museum consultants for the parks – we help parks to assess their collections management issues; to find funding to correct those problems and then to assist them with correcting those problems.

We were fairly late to the game, but we now realize the value of social media to any organization and have started additional public outreach through Twitter, Facebook and a blog of our own.

Is Tweeting Really for Us?

For at least a year or more, that was the question bouncing around our office about Twitter and other forms of social media.  Our office is a generational mix from 20 something volunteers, interns and technician that all want to be on the cutting edge of innovation to 40+ year old staff that are unsure of the value added by websites that our kids are using in their free time.  We are also like most entities nowadays, being asked to do more with less. Two of our full-time staff members left for other jobs in less than a year and we were unable to re-fill those positions.  In that time, the workload only increased.  With that in mind, should we be “wasting” valuable staff time on something “frivolous” like Facebook or Twitter?

I’ll admit that I’m one of the 40-somethings and I was on the fence about the value that we might get from putting any staff time towards social media.  But, I/we realized several things based on general observations, calls with our parks and an assessment of social media usage –

  1. Most people are unaware that NPS sites even have “museums” and/or museum collections. We hear the same thing that you may be thinking, “But, the NPS is Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. It does not have museums like Smithsonian.” You are correct that the NPS has very few traditional four-wall museums like the Smithsonian.  But, what we do have (and that we help to manage) are 26 million artifacts and archival documents in the Northeast alone in the real places that they were used or made.  That includes the landscape drawings of the Olmsteds at Frederick Law Olmsted NHS, the library of John Quincy Adams at Adams NHP, archeological collections from Jamestown at Colonial NHP, Civil War archival collections at Gettysburg NMP, and natural history specimens collected from Shenandoah NP.
  2. Since the NMSC is a behind-the-scenes group that even lacks a public domain name, most people (NPS staff included) are not aware of the services that we provide.  In many cases, the general public may have heard the title Curator, Archivist, Archeologist or Conservator, but may not really know what we do.  We all know the objects that we see on exhibit or the documents that we use for research, but collections care is also a critical component of the NPS mission that needs to be fostered.  Not to mention the fact that all cultural institutions need to help build and diversify the museum studies workforce.
  3. Social media has already become the information clearinghouse for the museum field. While we were blindly thinking that Twitter was just celebrity gossip or blogs are a dying form of communication, all forms of social media had become the accepted way of disseminating information for organizations such as Association of American Museums (AAM), Smithsonian Institution and most of our parks.  We had isolated ourselves and we were missing critical information.

So, in late 2010 with the relaxing of some NPS social media restrictions, we decided to join the rest of the world and test out a social media initiative for our office.

Now, Go Engage Your “Audience”

Giles Parker
Giles Parker, Museum Curator, Northeast Museum Services Center, National Park Service

Okay, so, we knew what we wanted to say about the museum collections in the National Park Service and about our work. Our goals were/are fairly simple: highlight the museum collections in the Northeast Region of the NPS; encourage the public (as well as NPS followers) to adopt an overall stewardship ethic; and connect (or re-connect) ourselves with non-NPS museum professionals in order to stay abreast of the latest curatorial trends.

BUT – Who is our audience? How do we attract them to us? What are the best forms of social media to do that? And, what format should the content take?  Many books have been written about the use of social media by museums; workshops are available and the web is full of great websites that provide guidance.  None of those are focused on a behind-the-scenes program like ours that works with collections from many disparate sites and focuses on region-wide collection management issues.  We decided to turn to one of our 20-something Museum Specialists (Megan Lentz) as our de facto Social Media Consultant to develop a short-term and long-term social media strategy.

Megan reviewed existing uses of social media by museums and brought her own usage to the discussion.  We then decided to start our slow roll-out with two Twitter feeds (@NPS_NMSC and @NMSC_Volunteers ), a Facebook Page and a blog focused on our Archeological Collections Management team.  Generally speaking, we’ve engaged our varied audience in a number of different ways:

  • Setting up searches on the federal government’s official jobs site for Curator, Archives, Archeology and Conservator job announcements that need wider distribution;
  • Creating Google searches focused on issues such as “museum storage,” museum security and fire prevention that affect all of our sites;
  • Developing a calendar of key dates for our parks – such as birthdates for historical figures – as times to highlight images and facts about NPS museum collections associated with those sites;
  • Connecting with our parks and other cultural institutions through Twitter and Facebook to find collection management information that we feel should be shared and discussed;
  • Generating threads that focus on key collection management issue including the use of museum collections in social media campaigns;
  • Initiating a feed focused on the work of our volunteers and interns program (@NMSC_Volunteers) to help build the workforce and reinforce the types of museum opportunities that are available;
  • Blogging about the work of our Archeological Collections Management team.  Most people know the Indiana Jones and the excavating side of archeology, but are unaware of the curation involved after the dig.  Postings have included research and photos on bottles that may have been used by George Washington, the history of matches, and a spotlight on pipe stems.
  • Utilizing a third-party social media dashboard (Hootsuite) to plan and space out postings to all of our accounts.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In less than 6 months, we feel like we’ve made significant progress towards our goals with NPS and non-NPS followers from across the nation.  In many ways, the numbers speak for themselves. We primarily provide service to 76 sites in the Northeast, but @NPS_NMSC (190+ followers), @NMSC_Volunteers (80+ followers), NMSC on Facebook (70+ followers), and our blog (300+ readers per posting) are reaching a much broader audience.  Hootsuite also provides analytics and many of our postings get 10 to 30 additional clicks for more information. Are those numbers that you’d be interested in?

Additionally, the current NPS Director Jon Jarvis was appointed in 2009 with a set of priorities that focused on Workforce, Relevancy, Education and Stewardship.  Our early successes with social media are also helping us and thus the NPS as whole to make progress in each of these areas as well.  We’ve been able to re-connect with the museum workforce outside of our region and outside of the NPS; help parks with relevancy by focusing on the latest trends in the use of museum collections; discover some of the latest technologies such as the use of Google Maps and also QR codes that might improve access to museum collections for educational purposes; and find information on fire prevention and security needs for museum collections.  And, we feel like we’ve only just started to scratch the surface.

Based on these early successes, we will continue to support and improve upon our current social media outlets.  We plan on getting more of our staff involved and thus highlighting more of our work as well as the collections in the Northeast.  We are also considering other social media options including a blog for our entire office.  Megan continues as our de facto Social Media Consultant and monitors the latest trends in social media usage.  We are also advocating for other NPS parks and regional programs to use social media in a similiar way (with an emphasis even less on “us” and more on the actual resources).  These statistics and early successes may also help us to advocate for a public domain name to reinforce the NPS stewardship role to the general public.


If you or your organization does not have a social media strategy at this point, consider the tremendous benefits and get started.  If you don’t have a 20-something on staff to work with as your Social Media Consultant, consider bringing someone on board or contracting with someone to develop and implement that strategy.  If you are interested in connecting with more museum or NPS information, consider following some of our parks and other cultural institutions through social media.  And, if you want to know more about NPS museum collections, what a Curator does, or what the NMSC does, consider following us on Twitter, Facebook or through our blog.

For a very small time commitment, you will find that social-izing is worthwhile.

Rootstech Family History & Technology Conference – Day 1.2

rootstech teaser

Here is Charleen Mullenweg’s second post on her experience at the Rootstech Genealogy Conference. Read about her previous experiences here.

After lunch Thursday, I headed for the expo floor.  We had to get a certain number of signatures from different booths in order to get the Rootstech t-shirts, so I headed down there to grab some of them before my next session.  This is where I ran into one of the few technical snafu’s of the conference: there was no time allotted between sessions for travel or visiting the expo floor.  I had left lunch a few minutes early, but still got hung up at the FamilySearch booth, and at the booth for this wicked cool scanner called a Flip Pal (I’m seriously thinking about getting one since my last scanner just went belly up). The upshot of this is that I was very late to my next session, “Toy Story: Electronic Tools for Genealogists” presented by Sandra Crowley.  Fortunately, the Rootstech swag bag offered up a full syllabus of each of the sessions, so I can still give you the skinny of the bits that I missed.

My Rootstech shirt!
My Rootstech shirt!

Sandra Crowley’s began by pointing out that while the information that we look for is essentially the same stuff our parents and grandparents looked for, the technologies and the methodologies are quite different.  Sandra began with talking about laptops, or, if the user is looking for something more lightweight and portable, netbooks.  She spoke about the various specs that each user must examine before choosing  a model based on how the user believes they will be using the portable computer.  The same applied for storage devices, which are becoming smaller and cheaper by the hour (it seems), and for tablet computers.  She covered the three types of scanners that are available to genealogists – desktop, portable, and hand held – and the technical specs to consider when you want to buy one (big hint from me to you: a minimum 300 dpi is needed if you ever want to blow up the photograph later).  Digital cameras, GPS devices, and smarthphones are all part of her toolbox.  Sandra finished her talk after discussing the importance of connectivity, and the various options that users have if they’re denied an easy wi-fi connection.  Warning, many of those aftermarket options come with lengthy contracts.  I enjoyed this session immensely, and found her advice to be helpful, especially for non-technical users.  She left her users with a helpful suggestion: visit the FamilySearch Wiki technology section for more helpful hints about the technologies that you can use!

Then I went to “Mobile Apps for Genealogy” by A. C. Ivory, of Find My Ancestor blog fame.  A. C. recommended several apps in several categories, beginning with your basic genealogical tools for iPhone and iPad; he was particularly fond of Reunion (which only works with Macintosh computers), and included Ancestry, MacFamily Tree (also for the Macintosh), Gedview (only woorks with GEDCOM, no multimedia), Mobile Tree (only for LDS currently), and Traces of the Past (from He covered educational apps, like the Genealogy Gems Podcast App (which I signed up for immediately, and have enjoyed), and an interesting sounding one called On This Day (which I haven’t signed up for yet, but I’ll let you know if I do).  He then moved on to organization and storage apps, suggesting Research Logger, an app that manages to-do lists, the logging of research, and multimedia files, Dropbox, which works cross-platform, and has various apps associated with it, and Evernote, which allows you to access your docs and photos from anywhere.  Finally, he talked about social networking apps like Twitter and Facebook that allow you to share your genealogy discoveries with others.

When I went to go to my last session of the day, “Enhanced Genealogy through Research, Documents, Organization and Sharing,” I ran into the second technological snafu of the conference.  I found nothing wrong with Brandy Sacco’s excellent presentation, but we were not provided with a syllabus of the presentations before registration, and I was unaware that I was walking into a sales pitch for her product, Familyology.  I ended up slipping out and going back to the expo hall to pick up some more signatures and check out some more products.

Giant steps are what you take...
Giant steps are what you take…

That evening, my mother and I went to the Night at the Planetarium event, hosted by brightsolid.  We found this event to be a little disappointing – the venue was fantastic, and the movie offerings were a lot of fun.  The event was billed as a dinner, but the food offerings were poor, and there were precious few places to sit while eating.  The iced water and pink lemonade ran out by 7:30 on the second floor.  My mother and I enjoyed the 3D movie about the Hubble telescope, and my mother even  managed to snap a picture of me walking on the moon.

Thus endeth my first day of Rootstech – though it had enough packed into it that it took me until today to finish blogging it!  I hope to take lass time on it in the future posts.


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Meet the Blogger: Kimberly Alderman of the Cultural Property and Archaeology Blog

For the average person, archaeology and legal issues may not seem to have an obvious connection. Tales of archaeological discovery evoke feelings of adventure and connection to our fellow humans past and present. Not so much for the legal system. Yet there are potentially a mountain of legal issues that could put a stop to any excavation. Kimberly Alderman tackles these topics in her blog Cultural Property & Archaeology in an approachable yet substantive way.

[Note: This blog is currently inactive, though Kimberly still works in this field]

Where did your interest in archaeology and law originate?

My undergraduate degree is in Art History and Archaeology.  After university, I was doing contract archaeology work when I had the bright idea to go to law school to study “archaeology law.”  I had no idea at the time what that meant, and as it turns out there’s really no such program. But I was able to fashion myself an education in the subject by taking seminars in which I could choose archaeology law-esque paper topics.

What’s the mission of your blog?

I started blogging to better position and educate myself as a scholar in cultural property law.  They say there’s no better way to learn about something than by writing about it.  Also, I’ve met a lot of people with similar interests through the blog.  I feel like I am now part of a community of people who are dedicated to the scholarship of cultural property law, even though they aren’t all “scholars” in the traditional sense of the word.  The mission now is simply to maintain a high-quality blog dedicated to this very specific subject area.  There are others focused on similar subject areas, but mine is topically unique, as are theirs.

How did you decide blogging was the right tool for you?

Two years ago, I was living in remote Alaska, feeling fairly disconnected from the scholarly and legal communities.  The day I got satellite internet set up, I signed up for a WordPress blog and started “reporting.” I scoured the news for interesting articles, and typed up little summaries as best as I could figure out how.  I subscribed to a bunch of blogs that were topically related, and I started to get to know the other people who were blogging.  Voila!  The Cultural Property & Archaeology Law Blog was born.

Why is it important that legal issues are addressed in the conversation regarding archeology and cultural heritage?

It’s one thing to have a fascination with ancient objects, but without an understanding of the meaning of those objects, they’re just pretty trinkets.  It is equally important to have an understanding of the modern significance of those objects, whether as political tools, legitimizers or something else.  The study of cultural property and archaeology law is a quest for sustainability.  The physical manifestation of our past is finite, and if illegal excavation or exportation goes unchecked, then those artifacts and sites will be destroyed without having extracted the full possible social value from them.  Put simply, there could be no heritage community without legal protection for that heritage.

Your blog made a list of “50 Best Blogs for Archaeology Students.” How did you feel about that?

The only comment I would have on this distinction is that I think its good to educate archaeology students on the more pragmatic aspects of the discipline.  Traditionally, the study of archaeology has focused more on historical meaning than present meaning, even though both are important.  In art history, I learned that a painting created in 1750 about biblical times can tell you far more about life and society in 1750 than it can tell you about Judas or John in whatever biblical setting is pictured.  Similarly, how our modern society and legal system approaches the protection of ancient objects, and which objects are given preferential value over others, is sometimes more revealing than studying the objects alone.

Describe the big legal issues that arise in archeology/cultural property.

One of the biggest points of discussion at present is the international dispute over repatriation of objects seized in the past (quite often, in colonial times).  Less “hot topic” legal issues include looting, theft, the illicit trade and protecting sites of historical value in the face of development.  There is also significant discussion over where the burden should lie when dealing with unprovenanced antiquities — should museums and private collectors require that objects have paperwork proving they were legally excavated and exported, or should the burden be placed on source countries to stop these objects from leaving the country or post notices on the international databases of missing objects?  A topic that I’ve been getting increasingly interested in as of late is intangible cultural property.  Sometimes people (particularly indigenous groups) can inherit a “cultural property interest” in something that is intangible — an old song melody, a dance, even a sunrise.  This is taking us out of the property model altogether and that’s fascinating.  In terms of my role, I’m just an observer.  I report my observations via the blog, but whether the world cares or not, well, that’s up to them.

Where do you draw inspiration for your content?

I read a lot of other blogs, my favorites on similar areas being those by Tom Flynn, Derek Fincham, and Paul Barford, each for very different reasons (Tom’s insightful and witty, Derek is always right, and Paul is mind-bogglingly prolific.)

I also have Google News set up to give me an RSS feed on critical keywords (“cultural property,” “UNESCO,” things of that nature).  I sort through a lot of junk via those feeds to get to the interesting and relevant stuff, and that’s what makes the blog valuable.  I don’t purport to present *everything* of value on my subject area, but I try to make sure everything I post has value.

How has social media helped you share your interests?

I have no doubt that without blogging I never would have connected in the way that I have with other people who are interested in my subject area.   By utilizing social media, I’ve been able to create a virtual network of friends and colleagues who have helped me tremendously in terms of staying involved and progressing in my scholarly pursuits in this fairly narrow subject area.

What is your advice to someone interested in learning more about heritage-related legal issues?

In terms of starting a blog, that is very easy: write.  Getting involved with heritage related issues is another thing, and depending on your area of expertise there are a lot of organizations which would serve as great starting places.  A couple that come to mind include the AIA (Archaeology Institute of America), ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes Against Art), LCCHP (Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage and Preservation), and SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone).  There are also groups on the other side of the fence in terms of political views, including the ACCG (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild).  You have to figure out what your personal goal is (preservation at all costs? context over commerce? repatriation of objects to source nations? protection of traditional notions of property rights?).  Whatever your philosophical disposition when it comes to ancient objects and sites, there’s an organization to suit your needs.

What is planned in the future for your blog?

I intend to keep doing what I’m doing to the best of my ability.  Recently, I’ve started to focus more on multimedia sources of information (promoting audio and video on other sites), as that seems to be the thing.  I’m also always open to readers making suggestions as to what they’d like to see more or less of, whether in regard to content or delivery.  That’s one of the great things about blogs; they are dynamic.  They are easy to change when you yourself change, as you grow as an individual or as a scholar.

What is your blog’s ultimate goal?

My blog’s ultimate goal is to promote the scholarship of cultural property law in a fairly impartial way.  Not impartial in a way that I’d hesitate to say if I think a particular argument espoused in a book, article, or on another blog is rubbish, but legally impartial.  In my opinion, there is so much morality loaded into cultural property and archaeology law perspectives at present that a lot of the reporting is spoiled by preconceived bias.  The Cultural Property and Archaeology Law Blog strives to provides a middle ground, where the strengths and weaknesses of all sides’ positions can be considered with the impartiality of a legal observer.

“Justice” teaser graphic by mindgutter on Flickr

Using Wikis for heritage collaboration and outreach

What can a wiki do for you?

I’d like to thank Jeff Guin for asking me to write a bit about how to get started with wikis and how they can be useful to folks interested in cultural heritage. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to write about a technology I find so useful and flexible. To introduce myself, I’m one of two objects conservators working at Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. You can learn about some of what my colleagues and I do through our slideshows on Flickr. I created two small wiki projects, Pemulen TR-2 and Social Media 4 Collections Care [archived] and contribute very occasionally to Wikipedia.

What’s a Wiki?

smccThe term “wiki”, derived from the Hawaiian word for “quick”, refers to a website created with software that allows a group of people to create and edit the site collaboratively. Every change is recorded. If something didn’t go as planned, a wiki page can be reverted to a previous state, if desired. Most wikis have two areas where administrators and members of the wiki can add text: content areas and discussion or comment areas where users can pose questions or make observations about the content. Some wikis are designed such that content areas and discussion areas appear as separate pages while others have discussion areas positioned under the content areas.

MediaWiki is the open source software created for the best known wiki, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. With more than 91 thousand contributors working on over 17 million articles in 270 languages, arguably it has become a first stop for getting information on just about anything. Anyone can improve existing articles or create new ones, as long as the input meets the Wikipedia community’s criteria for notability and neutrality. A help page, “Advice for the cultural sector” includes suggestions for introducing yourself to the community and suggestions for getting started.

Examples in Heritage

The project “Wikipedia Saves Public Art” provides new users with even more help getting started. Project members created a welcoming tutorial for beginners who want to participate in this project to document public art within Wikipedia but need to know the basics of how to use WikiMarkup and get some guidance on the Wikipedia culture. Additionally, a resource page with links to their article template, style guide, and image guide provide new users with helpful tips for creating a successful reasonably respectable first article. I know because I’ve used it myself to create an article about a sculpture on a college campus.

But perhaps you’re looking to share your observations about a particular material or aspects of your original research. While this information could be incredibly useful to others, it does not fit within Wikipedia’s criteria for inclusion. There are wikis that where these advicecultseckinds of information might be more appropriate. Two, both built using the MediaWiki software, have been funded by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Preservapedia and the American Institute for Conservation’s Conservation Catalogs Collaborative Knowledge Base. Preservapedia is a source of information for those working in historic preservation and is open to anyone with an interest. AIC’s wiki is intended for professional conservators and was based initially on the Specialty Group Catalogs, written compendiums of information on specific topics related to the preservation and conservation treatment practice, though resources beyond the catalogs are now being added as well.The wikis allow the catalogs and other resources for the conservation community to be updated easily by their editors and to link related articles by different specialty groups to enhance collaborations among the disciplines. Placeography, a project by the Minnesota Historical Society where contributors can share information and memories about structures and neighborhoods, also uses MediaWiki for its software.

There are other, simpler options if you’d prefer to collaborate with even smaller groups. PBworks and Wikispaces, are two hosted software options I’ve worked with. Both companies offer users the opportunity to create at least one wiki free of charge and offer a variety of feature upgrades at a monthly rate.There are many other wiki software options.Some are hosted, others would need to be installed on a server.

Getting Started

To get started on a hosted wiki, you need to open an account on one of the sites. The sites have straight-forward, menu driven editing tools. You don’t need to know HTML or WikiMarkup, the code thats used to format Wikipedia, to create something functional quickly. In addition to text and links, most wiki software also permit inclusion of uploaded files and others have modules to include images, video, slide presentations, calendars, audio clips, RSS feeds, instant message discussions, maps, and polls hosted on other sites.

Administrators can control what sort of visibility the wiki has to the general public and what sort of editing rights members of the wiki hold. Administrators may choose to hide their pages from search engines and only allow access to members that they invite. Thus they can be used as internal organizational documents, such as disaster plans or long range planning documents.

Alternatively, wikis can be made available to search engines to allow for public discovery and administrators may allow anyone, even those who choose to remain anonymous, to comment on or edit the contents of the page, if they wish. Some sites also allow more refined control of user privileges. While some wiki members may be allowed to edit the content, others only may be granted privileges to read and not edit or only be allowed to comment in discussion areas, if the administrator desires.

Wikis can be used by multiple authors or content editors to collaborate on writing projects or presentations. The Pemulen TR-2 wiki was initially created to allow me and two Shelburne Museum conservation fellows, Rachel Penniman and Laura Brill, to develop a presentation that we gave at the Wooden Artifacts Specialty Group’s session at the American Institute for Conservation’s 2009 annual meeting. When Rachel had moved to another state for a job, the wiki allowed us to share documents, images, and ideas as we planned our talk. Now that the upnextpresentation is over, the wiki is a useful way to share and discuss what we learned with others who weren’t able to attend the meeting and is a place to continue to update what we’re learning about the polymeric emulsifying agent.

Wikis can be platforms for events. The Institute for Museum and Library Services used the Wikispaces site to create UpNext an online discussion that ran over 10 weeks, March-May 2010, exploring the future of museums and libraries. Facilitators framed and posed questions on ten pages and members of the wiki were invited to discuss those questions and raise new ones on the Discussion pages of the wiki.

Although not an exhaustive list by any means, I’ve collected more examples of how wikis are being used by museums and others interested in caring for cultural property and links to articles about creating wikis on Social Media 4 Collections Care [archive]. If you’ve got a favorite heritage-related wiki that you’d like others to know about I hope you’ll share it here.

Related Post:
Cultural Outreach through Wikipedia and The Commons Case Study

Social Networking for Family History

37680_411454183511_735493511_4853948_3330011_nAbout ten years ago I visited my local Family History Center to do some research and I got to talking with the center’s director about a recent discovery I had made.  She was so taken with what I had found that she exclaimed, “that’s such a genealogy gem, you really need to share that with other genealogists!” She asked me to jot down the steps I had followed on a piece of paper which she promptly posted on the center’s bulletin board.

As I stood there looking at the scrap of paper hanging by a thumbtack, I thought to myself, “there must be a better way to network with other genealogists and share this kind of information!”

Fast forward to early 2007 when my kids gave me an iPod for my birthday, and my discovery of podcasts.  It struck me like a thunderbolt – my virtual bulletin board! I had found my medium for sharing ‘genealogy gems’ at last! (Hhmm, that’s a catching phrase…) A month later I published my first episode of the Genealogy Gems Podcast and I’ve been having the time of my life ever since reaching thousands of genealogists around the world.

There is great power in connecting with other like minded people, and family historians have been at the forefront of capitalizing on that concept.  After all, genealogy is about people, and not just the dead ones!

I’d like to share my personal top ten favorite social networking websites for genealogy in the hopes that you will experience the fun and genealogical success they can offer.

Lisa’s Top 10 Genealogy Social Networking Sites

  1. Facebook – When it comes to social networking, Facebook is king.  And genealogists have come to it in droves, finding long last family, exchanging ideas, and following their family history faves (Follow the Genealogy Gems Podcast at Facebook.)  Take a few moments to look over and tweak your privacy account settings to meet your needs, and you’re good to go.
  2. Ancestry Member Trees – Even with all of the vast genealogical original content Ancestry has added to it’s site over the last ten years, it was Member Trees that hit the jackpot. Even though there are always little frustrations along the way when using Member Trees, they are still a must have for any serious genealogist. It’s a rare family historian these days who doesn’t have a success story to tell about a contact made through their online tree.
  3. Family Search Research Wiki – Wiki has been the buzz word at many a genealogy conference so far in 2010 and it looks like they are here to stay.  Not only does the Family Search Wiki facilitate the world’s brain trust on genealogy information, but it provides a platform for connection and collaboration.
  4. Family Tree Magazine Forum – As a frequent contributor to Family Tree Magazine, I’m well aware that editor Allison Stacy is at no risk of running out of ideas for new articles.  And yet she is sharp enough to know that her readers have opinions too, and at the Family Tree Magazine
  5. Genealogy Blogs – OK, I know that “genealogy blogs” is not one site, but more like a thousand websites.  But it’s the concept here that’s really at the heart of their value to genealogical social networking.  If you’re reading blog posts and skipping the Comments section, then you don’t know how much you’ve missed!  I’ve picked up great tips and found new online genealogists through blog comments.  Blogs come in every genealogical shape, color and size, as do their commentors.  Some of the most visited, and commented on, are Randy Seaver’s GeneaMusings, Eastman’s Online newsletter, and DearMYRTLE.
  6. MyHeritage – When it comes to international social networking, MyHeritage is the place to be.  Not only can you build your family tree, but you can share genealogical data with folks who don’t even speak your language.  There are truly no more barriers when it comes to social networking!
  7. YouTube – Part of the power of social networking is being able to find who shares your interest, and with the power of Google behind YouTube, it’s an important stop on the social networking tour.   YouTube not only sports thousands of genealogy channels (like the Genealogy Gems but also thousands of genealogy viewers and the search engine to find them.  Check out who is subscribing to your favorite channels and go check out and subscribe to their channels.
  8. We’re Related by FamilyLink – I admit it, I haven’t added the We’re Related app to my Facebook page.  But sometimes it seems like I’m just about the only one who hasn’t.  In my case it’s just the lack of a roundtuit, but thousands of genealogists swear by it for connecting with family on Facebook.
  9. PhotoLoom – A picture says a thousand words, and Photoloom melds your pictures with your genealogical data, and then gives you the platform to share it with invited family.  This is a “sleeper” gem of a website that you have to check out!
  10. Genealogy Gems – Being the social networking butterfly that I am, it’s no wonder that I always have genealogical connectivity in the back of mind as I add new features to my Genealogy Gems website.  Inevitably when I share a listener question on the Genealogy Gems Podcast, another listener will write in with the answer, and offer to help listener #1. And when I played some old reel to reel tapes on the show asking if anyone could “name that tune” that grandpa was playing, emails poured in.  It still amazes me after three years of doing the show, that there are so many folks out there keen to connect, and ready to offer a random act of genealogical kindness.

Note: you can listen to Voices of the Past’s podcast interview with Lisa Louise Cooke here.

Teaser graphic uses images by Library of Congress and by webtreats on Flickr.

Exploring Archaeology on the Social Web

archaeology social web banner

Guest post by David Connolly and Maggie Struckmeier of Past Horizons & BAJR Federation

With the increase in social networking and interactive web-based systems over the past few years, archaeology has in general been slow on the uptake, however, there were those there at the start and those that are catching on to the potential, with more appearing on a weekly basis.  They range from the stunning, innovative and genuinely useful (which get filed under favourite) to those that may have the best intentions but miss the point completely.

Not wanting to focus on the negative, it goes without saying that Voices of the Past, Past Horizons and BAJR Federation are great examples of technological openness and creativity, but it would be unfair to put them into our top ten sites.  So, without further adieu, these are the websites we feel add to the experience, by utilising the social web that now has become so much a part of lives.

Facebook Groups & Fan Pages

There are several hundred ‘archaeology groups’ and pages – however, the secret is in the interactivity, rather than just sitting there, with a never ending procession of people advertising their own pages, which then contain a list of other people advertising their page or group.   There are three stand-out groups/pages that make a good start to any day, are unique in their content and also have an active membership who contribute, comments, photos and useful links.

The Official Movement To Bring Sexy Back To Archaeology: Funny, irreverent and with attitude–a great supplement to the main website/blog.

Arch PointsEverything you never thought you wanted to know.  One nugget of information a day, from how to survive a charging buffalo to recording painted plaster.

How to be an Archaeological FieldfashionistaAn outlet for both those moments of archaeological fashion genius as well as those archaeological fashion disasters. Good fun and a way to keep connected.


Flickr is another site with a plethora of groups dedicated to archaeology from the local through experimental, aerial and world views.  But my current favourite:

Archaeology Travel PhotosLove this group as the photographs are constantly being added (over 22,000 at last count) and this means that you can travel the world of archaeology and find places and sites you may have never heard of.  Many images are complete with locations and detailed descriptions, which means you can learn a little more each day.

Canmore: Search over 275,000 buildings, archaeological and maritime sites across Scotland. Discover what photographs, drawings, manuscripts and books are in their collections and view over 100,000 digital images

And now our favourite bit: Add your own contributions to Canmore. Search for a site, register, and upload an image or add some information. Next time you go for a walk, and take a good image of a site … upload it! Next time you see a site and feel that it could do with a better description, or want to update the condition, or have additional information from local studies … add it! This is the way that National Records are supposed to be!


You would think that archaeology and video would go well together, but strangely, this is a desert in as far as dedicated channels are concerned.  We are always on the look out for new ideas and inspiration from videos on YouTube, but can go for weeks without a single decent upload. But there are 3 exceptions!

Archaeological Institute of America channelVideos about archaeology by the Archaeological Institute of America — excavation, site preservation, interviews with archaeologists, and more!

Penn State Abington AnthropologyFor students in the Anthropology and American Studies courses taught by Dr. P.J. Capelotti at Penn State Abington College. Here you will find videos related to the history and archaeology of polar exploration methods in historical archaeology and more.

Thames Discovery on VimeoWe love theses, because they range from the informative and very, very watchable, to the very, very funny! All created by Anies Hassan of Tollun Films, he has a slew of videos that show what can be done in archaeology, with a bit of imagination and an eye for a show.  Training videos on the Thames Discovery Programme, Timelapse at Catal Hoyuk, records of an excavation and even a bit of dance.  What more do you want?!


A document sharing site that links to every other social network from Twitter to Facebook, allowing the easy sharing of documents, reports and articles with a mass audience, as well as creating a stored archive.  The early adopters of this technology have remained the leaders so as we have to ignore the BAJR reports and guides, we will point towards a specific Archaeology Scribd contributor, that always has something fresh to read:

Wessex Archaeology: With 317 documents and reports online, they are doing their best to make archaeology accessible. And with over 17,000 subscribers, they must be doing something right.

Teaser photo elements courtesy of webtreats and Wessex Archaeology

John Leeke V-log: Steam Paint Removal

In this installment of his Voices of the Past Video-log, John Leeke demonstrates using steam to remove heavy paint build up from wood surfaces. Steam paint removal softens the paint film so it can be more easily scraped away. It works well with the heavy paint buildup commonly found on the exterior of older buildings during house restoration and historic preservation projects.

This method has significant advantages over mechanical scraping and shaving, chemical stripping and the dry-heat of torch, hot-air gun and infra-red lamp methods:

  • Significantly reduces the risk of starting a building fire compared to dry heat methods.
  • Helps control the lead-health risk issue because it is an inherently damp process and eliminates the lead-fume risk.
  • No fumes from heat decomposition of binders in the old paint as with dry heat methods.
  • Relatively low setup cost compared to dry heat and shaver methods.
  • Lower operating and supply costs than chemical paint removal.
  • Lower residue disposal costs than chemical paint removal.

Heritage DIY: How to clean cemetery monuments

By Jason Church

Cemetery care and maintenance is undergoing a surge in popularity that hasn’t been seen since the Victorian era. It’s little wonder. Cemetery gravemarkers are at once memorials to those we’ve loved and pieces of art. Caring for them provides a connection to a world before the internet absorbed all of our attention.

Cleaning these monuments properly is the best thing one can do to ensure that they will last for generations to come. And it’s easily done too!

Cleaning stones should always be done by the gentlest means possible. For chemical cleaning, acceptable products are detergents, solvents, surfactants, biocides, and intermittent water misting.  When choosing a cleaner it should be gentle, non-ionic, and have a neutral pH of 7 or one close to the pH of the stone. For example, the pH for marble is around pH10, thus the cleaner may be a pH of 9-10. Never use bleach or salt laden cleaners nor any strong acids or bases.

Glen Whitener showing  Elizabeth Dickey and Courtney Fint cleaning

Soft bristle brushes are required when cleaning stones. They can have natural or synthetic bristles. Vegetable brushes or soft grooming brushes for large   animals are a few that can be found in chain or farm supply stores. All rough or metal edges must be covered with tape to reduce the chance of scratching the stone. Do not use any harsh mechanical devices such as sand blasting, high-pressure power washers, or power tools such as sanders or drills equipped with a wire brush.

After you have chosen your cleaner, make small test strips to try out the cleaner and make sure we’re not going to damage the stone. Select your preferred cleaner. To make the task easier, it is a good idea to bring it in spray bottles or small containers.

Soak the stone liberally with water before applying the cleaner. Stone is a very porous material and will absorb the cleaner. By soaking it beforehand, the cleaner will stay on the surface of the stone and minimize possible unwanted effects of the cleaner. Spray the cleaner on a manageable area and work from the bottom up in small, circular motions. This will allow the cleaner to get into all the crevices. Working from the bottom up minimizes streaking on the stone surface. If streaking occurs, it would be a good idea to contact a professional.

GMCA conference 088

One scrubbing over the area might not be enough and it may take more repetitions, but remember not to scrub so hard that you damage the surface. You may also want to use different brush sizes for different areas. Keep the stone wet while cleaning. Remember to rinse with clean water after cleaning each area and to thoroughly rinse the stone at the end to make sure that no cleaner is left behind.

Cleaning cemetery monuments doesn’t take a lot of time, but the benefits could last for decades. It’s a great family activity to undertake on a nice day this spring. Pack a picnic lunch, some cleaning supplies and share stories of your ancestors with the next generation.

Related links:

NCPTT Flickr Stream

NCPTT YouTube Channel

Jason Church on Linkedin

D2 Eco-Friendly Cleaner

Prosoco Biowash Cleaner