Category Archives: Radio

Hear from heritage thought leaders on how they use the web to connect and advance their goals.

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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The Burning of Columbia uses digital media to commemorate history

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Have you ever dreamed of what it would be like to go back in time to take part in a historical event? In this podcast, we’ll meet someone who has been involved in helping many folks do the next best thing. Her name is Carrie Phillips, and she is the director of marketing and communications at Historic Columbia in Columbia, South Carolina.

Historic Columbia used digital media to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the burning of that city during the American Civil War. This kind of concept is gaining popularity in a variety of contexts, and I think you’ll agree that Carrie’s group designed Burning of Columbia expertly. Here are the highlighted topics from that interview:

  • About the historical event “Burning of Columbia…”
  • What inspired the design of the campaign
  • What were the goals
  • Who was involved and what their roles were
  • Deciding mix of platforms and message
  • Advice for others considering a similar approach
  • Audience feedback
  • Companion website
  • The future for this project
  • Tweeting historical events


Downloadable case studies on livestreamed webcasts, museum interactives, and the use of Wikipedia for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums.

Laura Bang on classroom digital humanities projects at Villanova University

This podcast features a conversation with Laura Bang. Laura works with Special and Digital Collections at Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library. She’s also active in the Philadelphia Digital Humanities community, which is where we often collaborate.

She’ll tell us about two digital humanities projects built by students at Villanova. One takes a look at the heritage of the small town of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The other examines a historic manuscript from Peru. These projects are good examples of how simple ideas can preserve cultural identity … and help students learn those values while growing their digital skills.

Other links mentioned:

Voices of the Past on Twitter

“Paging the Past” book reviews:

Teaser photo credit:

Dale Kronkright on Shaping Georgia O’Keeffe’s Digital Image

Dale Kronkright

Can virtual connections and digital media yield tangible benefits for heritage resources? Dale Kronkright says “yes.” And, that’s based on his experience as head of conservation at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico. In this interview, he’ll talk about the Georgia O’Keeffe Imaging Project. The project field-tested three technologies in “Computational Imaging” and brought its audiences along for the ride with real-time updates on the social web. Their approach was profoundly effective, without being too complex from the production standpoint. There’s a takeaway here for most any heritage project.

If you’d like to learn more about the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Imaging Project, or Dale, visit:

GOK Conservation:

Project blog:

Dale on Twitter:

Other links mentioned in this episode:

“Digital Heritage Planning” A strategy kit with use cases and best practices for demystifying goals, objectives and tactics:

Philip Graham on partnering research with social media outreach at a national level

This show explores an approach to new media that we rarely get to see — a coordinated, research-based strategy that brings together cultural heritage institutions throughout a country. One of the organizations spearheading this efforts is the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Sites of Scotland (RCAHMS). This interview features Philip Graham, Public Engagement Manager for RCAHMS. Philip will talk about the Digital Futures for Cultural Heritage Initiative, and how is own organization is going beyond social media engagement to encourage user-contributed content. If you’ve struggled to build consensus about digital outreach even within your own institution, you’ll find this interview compelling.

INTERVIEW TOPICS (with timestamps)

(2:00) About the Royal Commission, and description of Canmore research database (

(4:30) Open Source approach to programming/coding platforms.

(5:30) Workshop series: Digital Futures of Cultural Heritage Education (

(10:55) Beyond Text research-based partnership (

(12:50) Role of Scotland leading in cross-institutional partnerships for the sake of reaching the public about cultural heritage

(16:00) Lessons coming out of these efforts that can be replicated as a model in other countries

(19:10) Keys to success in gaining buy-in for digital outreach

(22:10) The importance of individual connections online

(23:50) Links mentioned in this episode, and related material:

Post by Philip for Day of Archaeology website:

Connect with Voices of the Past on Google Plus:

Post on how to start expanding your heritage circles using Google Plus:

Carla Bruni provides levity, and rich preservation content for broad audiences

SAIC Alumni Profiles: Carla Bruni (MS 2008) from SAIC on Vimeo.

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An inclusive approach to historic preservation outreach, coming up on this edition of Voices of the Past. #00:00:50.7#

Welcome to Voices of the Past. The show that helps you connect to — and advocate for — heritage. I’m Jeff Guin.

I want to start this show with an invitation to share your questions and success stories on the website. Connect by visiting us at and comment there, or look for your favorite social network at the top of the page. Or you can click the “send voicemail” tab on the right side to share your thoughts and questions directly from your browser .

Speaking of heritage success stories, I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with Carla Bruni. Carla is a historic preservationist who is author of two blogs. She’s also a good friend and supporter of Voices of the Past. We’re going to talk about her latest blog,, which explores ways to make historic preservation more accessible to the public. I know of few people who articulate the challenges and opportunities in that arena more effectively. Here’s that interview …

[INTERVIEW] #00:01:45.1#

Guin: Carla, you’ve been on Voices of the Past before, featured in a blog post. What are you up to these days? #00:02:07.7#

Bruni: Last time I was talking about my blog “The Green Preservationist,” which I’ve had going on for a few years now. There’s a few things I learned writing that blog that made me want to create a new website called [site dep. I talk a lot about sustainability in preservation. I’ve been concerned for a long time about those topics and wanted to focus on growing a preservation audience. Preservation is kind of a dirty word in some circles. I wanted to change that and not necessarily call it preservation but at the same time encourage preservationist thinking by simply talking about vintage buildings and how things used to be done and making them more fun and positive. Think of it as being “sneaky preservation” in the way that we’re targeting an audience that doesn’t realize they’re preservationists but they are compelled to preserve regardless. #00:03:11.1#

Guin: What kind of content can people find on your site? #00:03:13.5#

Bruni: We have things like a fun style guide so you can figure out what different parts of your building are called. We want to talk about what the general styles of buildings are in the first place so people can get interested and understand better where they are living and connect more to it. We have a series called “Barn Porn” that people seem to think is fun. We take or find pictures of beautiful barns in all different parts of the country from different time periods. We come up with sort of playmates profiles that we call “HayMates.” This is to help people look at architecture and not just see rotting buildings, but something that can be fun and sexy from a certain point of view. We just want people to care about buildings again. #00:04:12.6#

Guin: Sounds like a great educational tool, and possibly even a heritage education model. #00:04:25.4#

Bruni: It’s kind of like when you hear people say, “when you’re walking down the street, just look up.” Nobody does, but the cornice tends to be the most beautiful part of the building. We just don’t pay attention. We want to do that with kids as well, who don’t notice buildings that much and don’t really have an opportunity to learn about them or understand the materials. It kind of like “Preservation Lite” in that way. It’s introductory, but at the same time we have hundreds of resources on the site. Technical and otherwise. I’ve heard there are people from the National Trust reading it now. And I’ve heard lots of stories of the content cracking people up at work, which makes me really happy because preservation offices can sometimes be kind of sad places. Things go wrong a lot. So it provides levity while providing rich resources. If you want to know how landmark your house or know how to properly repoint a building, that’s also on the website. #00:05:50.2#

Guin: You have a collaborator on this website … #00:05:50.2#

Bruni: Elisabeth Logman is my collaborator. She’s done a lot of landmarking. She’s also a masonry and mortar expert. We went through the same graduate program a couple of years apart but became friends through our common need to proselytize preservation and still smile. #00:06:12.2#

Guin: Where are you taking the site? #00:06:15.3#

Bruni: Elisabeth designed the site and it’s the first website she’s done with this kind of depth. We’re always tweaking it–always trying to get feedback on the content–what’s working, what’s not. Looking at our stats and figuring out what stories people are responding to. We’re on Facebook and tweeting now with the “building revival” brand. I’m playing around with the social media part of it, trying to figure out what to post where. Am I posting the same things on Facebook as I am Twitter? Is there a point of doing that? We’re trying to study who our audience really is and how to grow it. #00:07:23.5#

Guin: Do you have any particular kinds of partnerships you are looking for with the site? #00:07:26.8#

Bruni: We want preservation organizations to participate. We also have a lot of stuff about green building and sustainability. We even have content about canning and composting in your home, so we have a really broad scope. That’s something I wanted to change after Green Preservationist because I had some people from green building interacting, but it was mostly preservationists. We’re willing to partner with anyone who cares about old buildings and has anything to do with them and the space in and around them–that we don’t find unethical or frustrating. Probably not window salesmen! #00:08:26.9#

Guin: Does this replace the Green Preservationist blog? #00:08:29.6#

Bruni: Green Preservationist is more technical and specifically geared toward green building people, preservation, and people working specifically in the field. For Building Revival, we’re targeting a really general audience. People like my friends who have nothing to do with architecture and normally bore them to tears over beer talking about these things. I find them liking these stories online and engaged with the content of the site. #00:09:11.3#

Guin: I love how you integrate topics of vice into your blog posts–porn is a very popular term, and the key to one of your most popular posts on Green Preservationist. #00:09:25.4#

Bruni: Absolutely! To be clear, it was about “ruin porn”–architecture. But I swear we got most of those hits from people searching porn online. I’m aware of that and I’m fine with exploiting that as long as it gets people reading things that I think are important. #00:09:50.6#

Guin: Did you coin that term? #00:09:50.6#

Bruni: No. Ruin porn as been around for a few years. “Barn Porn” was Elisabeth’s brainchild. Barn porn sounds good to the ear–the vowels hit right, it’s fun and everyone giggles when we say it. That’s what it’s about. We work in a pretty tough field where we tend to be on the defensive about what we do. Everyone needs to laugh a little more and have fun with it. #00:10:22.8#

Guin: You can defuse some of the spirited debate or at least give it a more positive spin when you apply humor. #00:10:31.3#

Bruni: It terms of sustainability, it’s not just growing an audience. I know a lot of people who were in the preservation field and are now librarians. One person I know is a yoga teacher. People can burn out in this field. It makes me happy to hear people are enjoying the content. #00:11:20.4#

Guin: You do a lot of consulting, correct? #00:11:20.4#

Bruni: I do a lot of educational programming. I do a lot of work with the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. I’m working on another project with the U.S. EPA. I’ve done a lot of work with the Chicago Department of Environment, working on their green rating system trying to make it more preservation friendly. I do landmarking as well. I consult homeowners privately sometimes to help them make their homes more sustainable. I help them put a plan together to prioritize what they’re doing to make sure they don’t throw their money out the window. My focus in graduate school was greening historic properties. At the time it was a challenge, but now it’s everywhere. It got me on the right path working with environmental groups–some really smart, innovative people. I’ve been working on the environmental side to help push the preservation agenda through that way. I find that seems to work better than pushing the environmental agenda through on the preservation side sometimes. Things have changed a lot over the past few years. We’re learning more about passive houses now to use historic homes and implement more of those practices. #00:13:02.2#

Guin: What’s your grand vision for making preservation tangible and practical to everyone? #00:13:07.5#

Bruni: I think its just about collaboration. We’ve been a bit of an island. First I saw it in terms of we need to be friends with the green building advocates and professionals. But it goes beyond that. One key we can take from the green building movement is they are very adamant about involving engineers and landscape architects and designers–everyone on the ground level when they’re planning something. I think we need to be more mindful of that too. Planting trees around that historic house is extremely important. How can we reach out to different groups and be really integrated with that instead of our own specialty field? I know we can make more money specializing but I think the effect is that we come off as inaccessible and sometimes a little elitist. It’s a stigma that we need to continue to combat. #00:14:12.1#

Guin: The fact is that everyday folks can do as well for their historic homes even if they can’t necessarily afford a professional. #00:14:24.1#

Bruni: Just showing how easy it is to fix your boiler and tune things up–little easy fixes so things aren’t so intimidating that we want to rip them out and replace them with things that are supposed to be easier to maintain but often are not. They’re just newer looking. Breaking down a lot of that lore that surrounds old things that are “just so hard to deal with.” They’re generally not; they’re usually a lot easier to maintain because they were built to last for a much longer period of time. #00:15:09.1#

Guin: Tell us again how people can connect with you. #00:15:09.9#

Bruni: The website is Folks are still welcome to check out Twitter account is “buildingrevival.” Facebook is also “buildingrevival.” #00:15:37.5#

Guin: There’s branding for you! So if we google “building revival” we’ll probably run across you.” #00:15:49.5#

Bruni: I sure hope so! #00:16:01.1#


Related Links:

Building Green Bridges and Fostering Pride

Carla on Twitter


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iPads break digital ground in Pompeii archaeological research

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Welcome to Voices of the Past–the show that helps you discover and advocate for cultural heritage. I’m Jeff Guin. I want to start this show by reminding you that you can connect with the Voices of the Past community at our Cultural Heritage Outreach Strategies group on Linkedin. It’s a place to share the challenges of communicating cultural heritage and perhaps find a few solutions as well. You can get there directly by visiting #00:01:01.9#

Pompeii: It’s the world’s most recognizable archaeological site. But did you know it was also the place where the iPad was first used as a field documentation tool? Archaeologists working at Pompeii have been pretty progressive in communicating their finds through new media as well. Working in this milieu of old and new is Dr. Steven Ellis. He directs the Pompeii archaeological research project at Porta Stabia. In this interview, he’ll talk about the iPad project, including what it was like to be featured in an Apple ad campaign. Additionally, he’ll explore other emerging technologies being used at the site and tell us the story about why he chose archaeology as a profession. Here’s that interview… #00:01:44.0#

Guin: Tell me how you first became involved in the work at Pompeii and what your role there is currently? #00:01:49.7#

Ellis: I first got involved as an undergraduate student in the 1990s. I went on to do my Ph.D. at the site. I took an interest in retailing and looking at the shape of the city and its retail environment. More recently I have been working as director of the Pompeii archaeological research project at Porta Stabia based at the University of Cincinnati. #00:02:30.5#

Guin: You’re leading a team in one of the most recognizable archaeological sites in the world. How do you manage to stay focused on the resources while in the public eye? #00:02:42.8#

Ellis: There are about 10,000 people who can pass through our site each day. Fortunately for us, we’re in a little lost neighborhood of the city, which is roped off. There is a lot of media attention as well. We have a responsibility to make sure that people beyond the academic community know what we’re doing. We have a great team who all help with the outreach. #00:03:38.3#

Guin: One of the ways your team is connecting with the public and archaeology professions is through blogging. Tell me how that got started and who is doing the blogging there? #00:03:53.9#

Ellis: That got started through John Wollrodt at the University of Cincinnati. He is the brains behind the digital side of the project. The blog he set up is called “Paperless Archaeology.” It talks about the next directions in how we do archaeology. #00:04:42.5#

Guin: You use a lot of other digital means to communicate. Where can folks go online to learn about your project? #00:04:48.8#

Ellis: Connect directly through the website for the project. We have links from there to our blog and publications.We have a Facebook page. #00:05:43.1#

Guin: Your team received a lot of publicity for its use of iPads in the field when iPads were still new. How did that come about and what it was like to be the subject of an Apple ad campaign? #00:05:53.1#

Ellis: It’s been an incredible ride. We decided a year prior to all this that we would try to become a paperless project. At first we tried the smaller iPods. They were great for somethings, but weren’t physically big enough for field documentation tasks like drawing. When the iPad came out, we knew it would be our way forward. We initially thought we would just approach this as a trial run. So took about a half dozen into the field to see how it would work.We were stunned with how successful it was. They came out in April and we were in the field in June, so we didn’t have a lot of time to convert our project data and our mindset toward the way we collected that data. #00:07:31.9#

Steve Jobs and the marketing team at Apple found out about our use of the iPads, so we had conversations with them about the technology and future directions. They sent out a team that spent quite a while documenting what we were doing. It brought quite a bit of attention to our project. #00:08:32.3#

Guin: The technology was still new then. How did you adapt the iPad to your documentation systems? #00:08:45.0#

The smartest thing we did was to use off-the-shelf products. We’d never have had the time to develop custom applications.What we were finding was that all the applications we needed something tweaked, we’d go to the developer and mention that we think it was a useful feature, and next thing you know, it’s in the software.To see that happen so quickly was great. #00:10:23.0#

Guin: Did you have to change your process, based on the tools? #00:10:24.2#

Ellis It improved it in everyday. It took us a while to see that.Our team has had a lifetime of using paper and pencil. Our databases were mush more dynamic process. It was incredibly faster, cleaner, neater and more robust. #00:12:56.9#

Guin: Can you think of another instance in which a technology has been adapted this way for an archaeological application? #00:13:02.0#

Ellis: Not since the advent of the home computer in the mid-1980s have we seen something that has been developed for a consumer market to be used so effectively in archaeological research. The home computer revolutionized archaeology and our ability to look at lots of data and crunch numbers in ways we were never able to do before. Tablets are the next phase in that revolution. Another advantage is that unlike other technologies–from total station surveys to ground penetrating radar–tablets are made for the general market and so you can take this technology into the field and practically everyone knows how to use it as opposed to just one technical specialist. #00:14:55.8#

Guin: What’s your perception of how widely this is being adopted in other archaeological sites? #00:15:01.9#

Ellis: Just from the feedback from the Apple people, it seems to be taking off. There’s certainly a lot more projects now that seem to be gearing up. One of the questions is about the expense of these devices. On the other hand, when you look at the cost that goes into publishing archaeological excavations, the cost of tablet computers is quite minimal. I think more and more projects will start to take them on. #00:16:13.7#

Guin: Technology is integrated into all aspects of archaeology at this point. Perhaps in the popular imagination, folks still think of archaeology in terms of Indiana Jones, but that’s changed a lot. Archaeology is very integrated with digital technologies. Tell me about some of the other hardware that you’re using at Pompeii. #00:16:52.4#

Ellis: We’re using a number of technologies at Porta Stabia and another project I co-direct the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project. We’re working with ground penetrating radar there. Pompeii has been particularly interesting because it’s the oldest continually excavated site in the world, so it’s seen everything. It’s been there for every chapter in the development of archaeological research. #00:18:10.9#

Guin: How long have you been at the site? #00:18:14.8#

Ellis: We’ve been at the site since 1997. #00:18:22.9#

Guin: So many people know about Pompeii. Is there something about it that might still be surprising to the public? #00:18:33.4#

Ellis: I think what’s surprising is how little we really know so far about the history of the site. There’s so much attention to the volcanic event that destroyed the city that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the preservation of the site. The site wasn’t really preserved–it was destroyed for the most part. In that sense, I think the public is surprised about what is destroyed and what preserves and what we are left with to understand that final period of the city. But we are interested in finding out how the city developed over the centuries to get to the way it was in 79 A.D. when it was destroyed. That’s where the wave of interest has come from in the last ten years. We’re trying to push the boundaries that way. #00:20:00.1#

Guin: How do you put those pieces together? #00:20:00.1#

Ellis: We’ve been doing traditional excavations below the ground level before the 79 A.D. period. The approach is similar to urban archaeological sites that have several hundred years of complex history. We walk into a site that was cleared for us in the last 200 years or so, down to the 79 A.D. layer to record what is standing, and then excavate down to the floor layer to find the earlier versions of the spaces, the rooms and the walls–all the activities that happened there. For our own excavations, that takes us down to about the second century B.C. It’s very difficult to walk across Pompeii today and see that much which is older the the second century B.C. There are few layers, though. We have some activities from the fourth century B.C. We go back even further than that to the very earliest lava that was deposited there 10,000 years ago. #00:21:56.2#

Guin: Are you involved in other archaeological projects than Pompeii? #00:21:59.1#

Ellis: I direct another project in Greece at the Panhellenic Sanctuary at Isthmia. We’re looking at a section of the ancient Panhellenic Sanctuary that was excavated by the University of California at Los Angeles in the 1970s. They found a whole array of wall and buildings which they were never really able pinpoint when they were there and what kinds of buildings they were. So we’ve been trying to apply some of the techniques we learned in Pompeii to learn how sanctuaries worked in antiquity beyond just being temples and monumental buildings–looking at all the infrastructural items that help them to operate. #00:23:24.3#

Guin: How much time do you spend during the year at archaeological sites? #00:23:40.2#

Ellis: I’m away for about two months of the summer at those sites. Then, periodically throughout the year. #00:24:03.9#

Guin: Is the team working continuously, or is the excavation seasonal? #00:24:11.4#

Ellis: We have seasons when most of us work on the site but some people are based there or and elsewhere throughout the world who are working on material throughout the year. #00:24:40.2#

Guin: You mentioned that you have some preservation issues in Pompeii. Since you aren’t there all the time, how do you ensure the work you do on site is preserved throughout the year? #00:25:05.8#

Ellis: We backfill our trenches at the end of the season. Anywhere we’ve broken ground. We also have people in Pompeii who are there throughout the year and keep an eye on the site. It’s always on our mind with the city in such peril. #00:25:51.8#

Guin: Is you team involved in trying to make the situation there more stable? #00:25:59.2#

Ellis: We have conservation effort going on there onsite. In terms of the architecture, we have an engineering team that checks on the site before we arrive each year to make sure everything is stable, and then check on the site again when we leave. There’s also the artifactual stuff that we’re pulling out of the ground. We work very hard to conserve that material. #00:26:44.5#

Guin: You have a colleague, Dr. Andrew Wallace Hadrill, who has published a book on Herculaneum. Do the various archaeological teams in that area interact much? #00:26:56.8#

Ellis: In terms of official projects, there’s about 6-10 of them. We have a good relationship. We go to see each other’s sites and collaborate on data. We always seem to be at different stages in our projects and often work at different times of the year, so it’s not always easy. #00:27:52.1#

Guin: What inspired you to become and archaeologist? #00:27:56.2#

Ellis: The wanderlust. The sense of adventure. Particularly for that “adventure of time.” My father is a travel writer, so I was fortunate to have all sorts of great travel experiences. I remember very distinctly visiting archaeological sites and being blown away by them, as most people are. I had enough naiveté to make something of it. I really enjoy that sense of being able to travel back in time through imagine. Anyone can travel all over the world, but to travel back in time is a greater challenge. Archaeology helps me feel like I’m doing that. #00:29:14.9#

Guin: What do you do from here? Pompeii seems like the ultimate in the archaeological profession. What do you still dream about? #00:29:30.4#

Ellis: I love studying ancient cities–especially Roman cities. I’m also fascinated in how communities are formed and interact with each other. These are all questions we have in the modern world as well, so I find lots of great parallels that way. Pompeii is a magical place, but I do have designs of packing up one day and heading off to another Roman city. I’ve often joked that I’m cutting my teeth at Pompeii. There’s so much there. If I can take the skills I’m learning there somewhere else, I’ll feel very lucky. #00:31:02.6#

Guin: Does the city still have the ability to surprise you? #00:31:05.7#

Ellis: It really does–every season, every week, everyday. We discovered the ninth known public well in all the cities. These are very important infrastructural spaces because they were brought in fairly early in the construction of Pompeii. They were very important social centers. What we found in it was the volcanic debris of the 79 A.D. eruption. It had collapsed the roof, the upper floor and the floor itself into this large public well. It was fascinating to go through and make plaster casts of the wooden beams that had fallen in. We also found a wicker basket and we planned to do some analysis of what might have been in the basket. Trying to connect things like that into bigger questions of what’s happening in Pompeii at the time of the eruption, etc. All sorts of things to find in there. It keeps it fresh. #00:32:48.1#

And that was Dr. Steven Ellis of the University of Cincinnati. If you’d like to learn more about the work going on at Pompeii, you can find a full transcript of this interview–along with all the relevant links–on our shownotes site at

Also in the show notes, I’ll have a link to our post “Going Mobile.” Marcus Wilson explains the trends and implications of emerging mobile technologies for Cultural Organizations.

That’s it for this edition of Voices of the Past . Until next time, I’m Jeff Guin, and I’ll see you online.

Related Link:


Credit: iPad teaser image from Flickr

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Talking Pyramids’ Vincent Brown on Managing News Content with Social Tools

Have you  ever wanted to learn hieroglyphics? What if a podcast could help you with that? There is one out there and it’s produced by this episode’s guest. His name is Vincent Brown. Vincent is kind of a new media renaissance man, with a focus on Egyptology and the pyramids. In addition to the podcast he created, he also maintains blogs and a very active Twitter community. That’s one of the things he’s going to talk about is optimizing your Twitter participation for creating a community: crafting relevant tweets and how to optimize those with hashtags as well. Here’s that interview. [Timestamp #00:01:39.6#]

Vincent Brown: I’m a web designer by trade. Before I got into freelance web design, I was an IT network administrator. I was a trainer as well and taught web design. I actually invented a form of Twitter with some guys in my group. I always thought that it would be fantastic to be able to update a website from a mobile phone. We actually got a prototype working. That was 2006, and in the same month, Twitter came out, so I jumped on to that. That’s the powerful aspect of Twitter–to have it on the sidebar of your blog and have those elements remotely feeding into it. #00:02:53.5#

Jeff Guin: Did you have any concept as to how things would evolve with Twitter? #00:02:54.3#

VB: No way. I wasn’t even thinking about social aspects. I was really just thinking about remotely updating a blog, and of course it’s much more than that. #00:03:05.3#

JG: You have quite a community there. Was it intentional for you to build a community through Twitter? #00:03:21.7#

VB: Originally, I started using it as a news outlet–as a micro-blog. My blog posts take hours to write. I get carried away, so there’s a lack of time for doing regular blog posts. As a way of combating that, I decided to post the micro-updates everyday. I generally put out 10-20 a day through my Google Reader feeds that I’ve developed over the years. And that expanded into doing lessons on Twitter as well. I was learning ancient Egyptian, which being a complex language, is a long-term study. I thought if would be great to help my colleagues who were studying with me to have flash cards. So I started by creating a flashcard for one word each day. At the end of the week, I’d compile them and make a chart, which I put on Flickr. Then I thought a video would be even more effective. So I created a video each week to recap six words. Being a trainer, I knew that learning requires extras like sound and visuals for easy memorization. I added music and different backgrounds and released it as Creative Commons content. I really enjoyed the community collaboration of using others’ content and doing that through Creative Commons is a good way, because it allows all involved to be credited for their work. #00:05:48.5#

JG: And this podcast is still available. I discovered it on iTunes. #00:05:53.3#

VB: Yes, it’s available on YouTube and Vimeo as well.  #00:05:58.4#

JG: Who were the folks you interacted with in social media early on? #00:06:01.9#

VB: The Brooklyn Museum was on the forefront early, doing amazing things. They took a few trips to the hospital with their mummy. They did CT scans on a mummy the museum has. Shelley Bernstein, the IT person there, decided to live blog it. I set up a live Twitter feed and embedded it in my blog. I also automated the Twitpics as well so they were coming out on my blog, and encouraged my readers to interact with them so that she was able to receive questions and could ask the curators and scientists questions. The museum also has embraced Flickr in a big way–really pushing The Commons. Flickr was one the first social media companies to embrace the idea of The Commons [here’s a list of participating organizations]. It’s a feature of Flickr, so it was powerful for the museum to put their archives on The Commons. There are a few others: Boston University and Harvard collaborated with Peter Der Manuelian of the Giza Archives, to create some fantastic representations of the Giza plateau and some of the tombs there. #00:08:54.7#

JG: Tell me more about your blog. That really is the heart of your community. #00:08:56.4#

Unas Pyramid - Sarcophagus chamber
Close up of the north-west corner of the sarcophagus chamber. The dusty lid of the sarcophagus can be seen in the lower part of the image (Courtesy of Vincent Brown's Flickr Stream).

VB: I started it in January 2008. I created a few other websites before that, including Pyramid Texts Online, which is more academic than Talking Pyramids. I traveled to Egypt in 1997. Although the internet was around then, and I did a lot of research online, it was really hard to ascertain which pyramids were open. I was disappointed to arrive at the Great Pyramid and found that two of the three chambers were closed. In fact, another pyramid that I was very interested in going to–the Unas Pyramid in Saqqara, which is the most elaborately inscribed with texts, was sadly closed when I got there. I thought there really should an online resource where travelers can go to find this out. That was impetus behind the site. I also wanted to get into blogging. A website is quite static. Little did I know that a blog requires much more attention, and regular updates. I’m still building up those pyramid pages. I’ve been using social media on those static pages by pulling in, for example, Flickr collections of those individual pyramids. I like that because the content is constantly changing without me having to manually do it myself. #00:11:16.5#

JG: How did you get interested in Egyptology? #00:11:21.5#

VB: It’s hard to pinpoint because I’ve always liked Egyptian music, especially. The first time I picked up a guitar, I wanted to play an middle-eastern sounding riff. It’s my favorite sound. One of my first memories when I was about four-years-old was sitting down with my father to make a cardboard pyramid. It was said that if you put a piece of fruit in a pyramid shape, it will preserve it. It was the era of Uri Geller who was doing the spoon bending tricks. So we put a grape inside and folded it up and sticker-taped the sides. Being four, I wasn’t sure what the word “preserved” meant, so I just thought as long as I could rattle the box and hear it, it was preserved! So that’s my earliest memory. Then, in 1996, I read Secrets of the Great Pyramid by Peter Tompkins. It was a pretty comprehensive book that got me really interested in learning more. A year later, I had saved up enough money to go to Egypt and it continued from there. #00:13:34.0#

JG: Is your professional background purely in web design, or are you also a professional archaeologist? #00:13:41.9#

VB: No, I have no professional background in archaeology or Egyptology. #00:13:50.1#

JG: Yet, you’re an authority … #00:13:57.5#

VB: Funny, isn’t it? That’s the nature of the web, combined with passion. If you love something enough and dedicate your time to it, then anyone can master anything. I have a lot of learning to do still. There’s over 100 pyramids in Egypt and that’s a lot of study. Also the language–that’s an ongoing thing that I dive in and out of as time permits.  #00:14:29.5#

JG: Let’s talk more about your Flickr stream, because you have a fairly comprehensive set of photos there. Tell me what inspired you to create your photostream and what the future might be for it. #00:14:45.5#

VB: As I said before I first found out about Flickr when I was teaching web design. It was a great project, because there were community organizations who needed websites made, and I had these guys who could create websites. It was a skill-building process in which Flickr became a major tool. Because of the Creative Commons content there, we could legally use Flickr as a source of images for these websites. I opened up my own personal account, and encouraged my friends and family to do the same. In the old days, you would have to compile photos into a five or 10 megabyte attachment in an email that no one wants to receive. Obviously, Flickr is fantastic for holiday photos. I also find it fantastic for research and use it as a search engine. Recently a friend told me about a church he was visiting in Holland, so I went straight to Flickr and found hundreds of photos. He was describing the patterns on the floor, and I responded “Yes, I see.” He says “what do you mean.” He was surprised so much was already on Flickr. It’s a hugely powerful tool. #00:16:49.7#

JG: You’ve got all the big guys covered: Flickr, Twitter, etc. Are there any other forms of social media that you use to deepen your connection with your audience. #00:17:01.5#

VB: There’s also Delicious is really powerful. I used to have bookmarks, which got really big and unwieldy. Delicious is a terrific online tool that allows you to give your bookmarks tags to keep them organized and relevant.  That is also fed into the sidebar of the blog as well. The thing about YouTube is some people don’t realize how you can used for anything other than upload. I only have a few videos of my own online. However, I have created playlists for all sorts of topics, such as individual pyramids. These playlists are added automatically to each pyramid’s page. Apart from the playlists, I’m always favoriting as well. When you arrive at my channel, you always see the most recent video that I’ve favorited. Sometimes I don’t watch all the videos right away and will come back on the weekend and watch them all in the playlist then.  #00:19:48.2#

The big news has been the uprising in Egypt. I’ve tried to keep my focus on pyramids, but it’s hard with such a huge event, so I made up a playlist of the Egyptian songs that were written during and after the protests. #00:20:13.6#

JG: Have you found that those events have driven additional traffic to your blog? #00:20:14.3#

VB: Yes. I’m posting more regularly since this is big news. I’ve tried to keep my readers informed about the looting at the individual pyramid fields. That’s been hard. Official reports have been conflicting and it’s very ongoing. #00:21:05.1#

JG: A lot has been made of the role of new media in the social unrest in the Middle East and other places in the world. What’s your opinion? #00:21:14.0#

VB: It seems that is the case. It started with a post on Facebook by the Google executive Wael Ghonim that was an impetus for the uprising. Twitter was a very big part of that as well. We saw when the internet was turned off, that Twitter and Google joined forces to create a service that would allow people to send tweets through a public phone box, or any phone. We saw two giants come together beyond their competition. Then, once the internet was turned off, the people were in the streets and there came a point when social media didn’t matter anymore. But people were still recording video with their phones and other devices. When the internet came back up, we got to see those stories. Social media played a big part, and I don’t know if it would have happened without that first Facebook post. #00:22:55.2#

JG: How do you curate the news that you put out? #00:22:58.3#

VB: It’s very time consuming. It’s a matter of sitting down and skimming through those feeds. I also use Twitter as much as Google Reader. I have a lot of lists that I look at and particular people that I follow on Twitter. It takes me several hours everyday to do that. #00:23:50.3#

JG: Related to Twitter, you mentioned your lists. Explain how you’ve broken your lists down. #00:24:04.7#

VB: My lists are my meat and potatoes. That’s where all the action happens. I’ve got an Egyptologist list that is purely people working in that field. Then there’s a museums list, and a general ancient Egypt news list, which comprises anyone talking about the topic. This lists are private right now as I try to curate the information, but I’m considering opening those up more. #00:25:23.5#

JG: You are for hire as a web designer. What’s your web design specialty? #00:25:37.6#

VB: My specialty is care and attention to the client. I don’t do cookie-cutter sites. Training is important is well. I want to empower the person to be able to update their site as well. For that reason, I used WordPress a lot, so that people can update their content without having to pay me or someone else to do it. I also train them in social media and often set them up with a Flickr account and teach them to make that useful to promote their website. And also using social media to help them promote their site as well, so there’s an ongoing promotion service if they want that. If anyone does want a site made, they can contact me at Talking Pyramids or through my business website “Vintuitive.” People can have a look there if they want to see some of the sites I’ve made. #00:27:14.8#

JG: What’s your strategy for updating your social media? #00:27:18.4#

VB: For Twitter, I post 10-20 updates a day, depending on the news. YouTube, a couple of times a week. Flickr, once a week. Being from South Australia, it’s not easy for me to go and take photos of pyramids. Some I’ve posted have been from the South Australian Museum’s Egypt Room, for example. People also send me photos. Flickr is very powerful for contacting people who have just come back from Egypt. Everyday, I’ll finish my news posts with a photo, usually on Twitter. Those will usually come from a Flickr search. I’m always looking for feedback from visitors to find out which pyramids are open. Official sites will say one thing and things may be totally different on the ground. Ticket prices will also go up and down. It’s a bit time consuming, but it’s also a good way to expand the network. Those people will start following my Flickr stream and blog because they are obviously interested if they cared enough to visit the pyramids. #00:29:37.2#

JG: Do you find that you have different audiences for each of the social tools you are involved with? #00:29:52.8#

VB: They’re very different audiences. I have a lot of schools linking to a post on ancient Egyptian games. I think in year six primary schools, they do a segment on ancient Egypt. That post receives more hits on my blog than any other. I’ve got a post on how to make a paper pyramid that’s very popular with schools as well. I don’t know how many people follow me across these services. There are a lot of people who just follow me on Flickr. Same with Twitter. Some of those people who read my posts of Twitter never go to my blog. Some bloggers will only use Twitter to announce new blog posts. They are shortchanging themselves because Twitter is a fantastic resource for reading. I spend a lot of time reading there. It’s really just a matter of spending time to manage your filtering. I think most people, when they come to Twitter think this is all about “that guy eating a ham sandwich” or “someone watching television.” Of course, it’s about following the right people. #00:31:46.9#

JG: How do you filter you Twitter feeds other than your lists? #00:31:52.4#

VB: I use TweetDeck, which includes rows and rows of searches. I’ll run a search on “egyptian uprising”. There’s the hashtag #Jan25 which is what I tag any post to do with the Egyptian uprising. Hashtags are a big part of emphasizing what’s important on Twitter. I will do searches on particular hashtags and save it in a TweetDeck column. I’ve intentionally kept anything not related to Egypt out of that Twitter stream, and that’s why I have another Twitter account as vinbrown. I use that account for digital archaeology. #00:33:57.7#

JG: This leads to one of my pet peeves, which is use of hashtags. Many people are putting the hash symbol in front of every noun in their tweets, and it’s annoying and unreadable. From your perspective, what is proper hashtag etiquette? #00:34:14.2#

VB: Don’t look at the trending topics and use those hashtags.  Too many put something like #justinbieber in front of something that has absolutely nothing to do with him. I always put any hashtag at the front end of my tweet. It’s stripped out of the sidebar on my blog. Its is okay to make up your own hashtag, as I started doing with #digitalarchaeology. It’s being used my a number of archaeologists now.  #00:36:24.7#

JG: I’m seeing #digitalarchaeology in a number of tweets beside your own. What does it mean? #00:36:43.1#

VB: In the examples we talked about before, I think the work of organizations like the Brooklyn Museum online would qualify as digital archaeology. Also, much of the efforts to recreated archaeological sites in 3-D is a powerful thing. There’s also people like Sarah Parcak, (, and egyptologist who specializes in using satellite technology in two ways–not  just to search for sites on the ground, but also to use GPS to navigate to those sites on the ground. That process has enabled archaeologists to find new sites. That’s definitely digital archaeology. #00:37:55.4#

JG: Have you been involved in any uses of SecondLife in archaeology? #00:37:58.7#

VB: I dabbled in Second Life for a project of my own. But I found on the Discovery Channel a really innovative project in SecondLife, which was The Book of the Dead. Now we’re not just recreating a three dimensional space. #00:38:49.0#

JG: Are there any unexpected connections you’ve made through your online communication? #00:39:01.2#

VB: One thing I really haven’t talked about it Pyramid Texts Online. I’ve been contacted a lot through that website from people who are doing work in this field. For example, the Toledo Museum wanted to know if there was any way of getting high resolution images of the pyramid texts. It’s a long process of finding those hi-res images, but I did eventually find them. What I did with the site was to create a nonlinear presentation of the texts. There’s contention among Egyptologists regarding how they were originally sequenced. By putting them in a linear format in a book, you’re forcing the reader into a linear sequence. Really, the only way you effectively present them without bias is to present them in a 3-D sense. That’s how Pyramid Texts Online came about, in a two dimensional application of that idea. When you go to the site, you can read the whole north wall of the sarcophagus chamber. I recreated the wall from a photographic plate. Those photos came from an old book called the Pyramid Texts of Unas. Turns out the photos were taken in 1950 by a guy named Fred Husson. I did some research and found that he is still alive and well. I contacted him, and he didn’t have the photos, so it was back the research. Then I found that both of the people who were involved in making that book Natacha Rambova (wife of Rudolph Valentino) and Alexandre Piankoff, were born in the same year and died within a few weeks apart in 1967 before the book was finished. So it was handed over to the curator of the Brooklyn Museum at that time. So I thought, if he finished the book, the images were likely to be in the repository at the Brooklyn Museum. So I contact Shelley Bernstein, who I had the interaction with on the “monitoring the mummies” project, and asked if she could find a record of the images. A week later, she got back to me and said they had found them. It was an exciting moment to have copies of those photographs finally go back to Fred. They were recently used in a publication.  #00:43:14.8#

JG: Do you use your own podcast to learn hieroglyphics? #00:43:19.2#

VB: That was the reason I created it. The vocab is the hardest thing. Eventually, you memorize all the signs and realize what they mean, but it’s another thing to know all the vocab. It’s an ongoing thing and I’m still learning. I can read basic steles and funerary inscriptions, but some of the more complicated things like pyramid texts are very difficult. We are now working to create a 3-D representation of the pyramid texts. Part of that recreation will include analysis of the texts from a variety of people, somewhat like a wiki. Each line could be translated, and then updated with additional commentary and viewpoints. The problem with a MediaWiki format is syntax, especially for the older members of the group.  #00:46:45.5#

JG: Why do you think that is? Not that wikis are mind-numbingly complex, but why should you need to know any code at all to use one? #00:46:46.4#

VB: Especially with Wikipedia, you would think they would drive that forward. They did recently upgrade their interface, but it’s still not there. It’s a fantastic resource. And you have to think, who’s making these edits if it requires that kind of technical know-how.  #00:47:35.2#

JG: I agree. Vincent, thanks so much for visiting with me. #00:47:41.7#

VB: Thank you, Jeff


Additional resources from Vincent:


Podcast: Heritage branding, analytics and international perspective with Jamie Donahoe of Adventures in Preservation

adventures teaser

What if you could take your vacation time to not only see a new place, but meet new friends and use your hands to preserve built heritage all at the same time?

That’s just the kind of unforgettable experience Jamie Donahoe facilitates around the world. She co-founded Adventures in Preservation with the mission to save the world’s architectural heritage by supporting community-driven preservation projects that seek to create economic and environmental sustainability.

Jamie has a very down-to-earth personality that comes through in her communication online as well. In this interview, she talks about how she uses the web to tell the stories of heritage resources. But, just as importantly, she’ll explore how the Adventures in Preservation concept came about, and hopefully give you some insight into developing and marketing your own heritage brand.

Jamie Donahoe at Bartow-Pell Mansion
Jamie Donahoe at Bartow-Pell Mansion

Guin: Your site is called Adventures in Preservation, and was actually just rebranded. Tell me how it got started, and where you are today. [Time stamp #00:02:30.6#]

Donahoe: We used to be called Heritage Conservation Network and we started back in 2001 with an idea that a friend of mine–Judith Broeker–had. It was a typical Catch-22: People wanted to learn how to preserve buildings, but there was very little opportunity to get practical and experience. What was available was very expensive. So she had this idea of finding buildings that needed help. We did that for a while, and it eventually faded away. Then, in 2001, I was in the process of moving from Bangkok to Switzerland, and she said she would like to give the idea another try. So, I said let’s do it as a non-profit as a way to get grants and work with different types of structures. We launched Heritage Conservation Network, and we have projects in Italy, Mexico, and throughout the U.S. Word started to spread, and we found ourselves with more places in need of help than we had people to work on them. So we decided we needed more volunteers. We changed the focus more toward the volunteer vacation than the preservation training. You don’t need experience to go on the trips, although we love to have people along that will share their experience. That’s where we started. Then we did some research and decided to change the name to Adventures in Preservation, which seemed to be a little more dynamic and fun. For some reason, people couldn’t remember Heritage Conservation Network, just as they can’t remember names like The National Register of Historic Places–it’s always the National Historic Register, or something like that. We’ve had workshops in eight countries at this point. #00:04:57.4#

Guin: It really is a greater experience than just the classroom. Is that what inspired you to enter this “realm of endeavor?” #00:05:09.0#

D: In terms of the hands-on stuff, yes. Similar to the environmental movement, we really believe that the heart of preservation is education. By making preservation more accessible to people we help them realize that much of what they see around them has historic value and help them gain an appreciation of that. Just like teaching children you recycle for a reason, you try to convey why a building should be preserved by pointing out its special architectural value, history, setting, etc. I think that’s why our trips do well. We do a pretty good job converting people who aren’t yet die-hard preservationists. #00:06:02.9#

G: What do you see being the most common story about why people want to get involved? #00:06:09.8#

D: First, there are people who are contemplating a career in historic preservation, but aren’t yet sure it’s for them. We have a high success rate with that. We’ve had people pounding rocks for a week in the hot sun and they finishing saying “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life!” We also get a lot of “desk preservationists” who have never had the opportunity to do any of the hands-on stuff. For example, preservation planners may talk to planners or see their plans get implemented, but never have the opportunity to get their hands dirty. They then return to their jobs renewed and connected to what they’re working for. #00:07:06.8#

G: What do you see for the future of Adventures in Preservation? #00:07:20.8#

D: We’d like to continue to grow. We get many more requests for assistance than we can possibly account for. A sustainable level for us right now is 4-5 workshops a year. We’d like to expand that to 15-20 fully-staffed programs around the world each year. #00:07:51.9#

G: You alluded to the evolution of the brand. Adventures in Preservation is a name that sticks. Probably there are many heritage preservation organizations who are contemplating reworking their image for the digital age. Tell me about the process you went through, and what advice would you have for others? #00:08:19.9#

D: We made a decision early on, due to environmental concerns and the global nature of our work, to be a virtual organization. There are just two of us, so the nature of internet communication lets us accomplish quite a lot. There are so many ways to communicate now–Twitter, Facebook, etc. But before those, we had a strong presence using website and e-mail strategies. We’re very lucky that the person who set up our website was very together and designed our presence to be organized, easy to navigate and polished. In redesigning the website, we began to incorporate social media like embedded video and images to make the experience more dynamic. Interestingly, we have hits from 72 different countries, and when we look at our stats, we have a number of people who choose to receive our e-mail in text only, and have very slow connections. We have to consider the needs of our audience because we have projects in Africa, South America, and other countries. So everyone should keep in mind that not everyone is running broadband and wireless. #00:10:37.8#

G: How did you come up with the new name? #00:10:42.6#

D: In Boulder, Colo., you get a lot of creative and outdoorsy people. So Judith convened a panel–some had marketing expertise, others had adventure travel expertise–who generously donated their time. They brainstormed coming up with a name from both the heritage and travel angles. The name Adventures in Preservation came out of that with the tagline “restore a building, renew a community.” That is essentially what our projects do. #00:11:28.5#

G: You’re using your website to great effect, and your social media presence as well. I’ve never been on one of your trips, but I’m certainly a fan and follower. Tell me how you picked the communications tools that you did and how you use them in such a targeted, conversational way. #00:12:13.6#

D: Unlike many preservation organizations that work locally or regionally, we work all over the world. We honestly sat on the idea of getting into Twitter and Facebook because we couldn’t imagine fitting it in. It got to the point that we realized that we had to be on there if we wanted to start attracting students and younger people to the programs. Then, information started coming out about the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women 55 and older. We knew we got a lot of those people on our trips, so we knew we had to be there. We didn’t want to miss the boat. I’m a total information junkie and love computers, so I love finding so many interesting things on Twitter. We had people become fans because I talk about so many topics. I don’t know yet it that has translated into people coming to our workshops yet. I’m still having fun. What’s been useful about social media already is getting feedback from people who might tell us they can’t go on our trips because they are too expensive. Because we have a dialog already going, we can let them know we sometimes have scholarships or financial assistance, and offer other tips for reducing their costs. We can also communicate that more broadly to other people who might be thinking the same thing. #00:14:23.7#

G: Have you run across anyone who went on your trips and really discovered a new passion, and went on to become involved with preservation as a mission in their own lives? #00:14:33.2#

D: A lot of our guests already have a preservation bent anyway. There is a woman who has been on four trips with us. She is a self-described conservation junkie. There are more people who went on a specific project and became preservation advocates of just that project. For example, in Waynesville, N.C., at the Francis Gristmill, there’s a man there who turns out to be my father’s long-lost cousin. He lived part time in Waynesville and saw an article in the newspaper. As retired engineer, he was intrigued. So he joined that workshop and has since become one of the key volunteers of the Francis Mill Preservation Society. He is now one of only three people who know how to run the mill, so that resource certainly benefited longterm from his participation in that project. #00:15:47.2#

G: What sparks people to make the leap to sign up for one of your projects? #00:15:58.8#

D. That is the $100,000 question. Ordinarily, they see something on the website. It interests them personally, but not quite sure so they call for more information. We do have a lot of people who hear about a project, instantly fall in love with it, and sign up. To show you how far the web has come since we started, there is a group called the Analysis Exchange, and they match mentors. They are helping us with the web analytics, which is more deeply scientific than I ever knew. That is helping us understand how people are interacting with our website and informing what we do to communicate through it. #00:17:03.4#

G: What analytics platform are you using? #00:17:09.9#

D: We’re using Google Analytics, and learning so much. I always just looked at the reports to note if our hits had gone up, but have now learned an incredible amount. I would recommend that any non-profit organization that’s looking to use its website to help further its mission to contact them. #00:17:42.2#

On a return visit to Francis Mill in 2009 to check up on the structure. Pictured are Tanna and Tim Timbes of the Francis Mill Preservation Society, Jamie's daughter Colleen, Jamie, her uncle Jerry Donahoe, and Ken Walton, who also volunteered at the first workshop in 2004 and has become a long-time supporter and volunteer.
On a return visit to Francis Mill in 2009 to check up on the structure. Pictured are Tanna and Tim Timbes of the Francis Mill Preservation Society, Jamie's daughter Colleen, Jamie, her uncle Jerry Donahoe, and Ken Walton, who also volunteered at the first workshop in 2004 and has become a long-time supporter and volunteer.

G: How important is an international perspective for a preservation organization? #00:17:46.8#

D: I think an international perspective is important for everything. I’m personally very grateful to have worked overseas for so many years, and for my daughter work grow up overseas as well. I think the more information you can get for any problem you are facing, the better. A lot of the problems buildings in the United States are now having, people in Europe dealt with 200 years ago. We have to share that knowledge. There’s a lot of historic reinforced concrete (yes there is such a thing) here that’s falling apart due to humidity, and they bring in experts to deal with those problems. Steven Booker is an Australian conservation architect who went to our workshop in Slovenia two years ago and just fell in love with the country. He agreed to come back this year and lead the work. His perspective is that our purpose is to share our stories and experiences and hopefully they decide that approach is for them. But we’re not telling anyone how they have to do anything for it to be right. It’s about doing what’s right for the buildings, but also helping people make informed decisions. #00:19:22.3#

G: How can people connect with you, and are there any new areas of the web you are starting to explore? #00:19:33.6#

D: We have started blogging, and the site is called “Preservation Journey.” We’re currently merging the blog into our main site. Blogging is fun because it can be about anything–Twitter on a larger scale. We’d also like to be able to do commerce online more easily. This is a bigger issue when you are working internationally. For example: we have people who are Slovenian and they want to go to a workshop in Albania, but PayPal may not take their currency. As the world becomes even smaller and web software makes these kind of transactions easier, these problems will continue to become fewer. #00:20:48.4#

G: Do you ever get to do some of the hands-on work, or are you stuck in the virtual space? #00:20:48.4#

D: I get to do a little of both. I had a good time broiling in the sun at the Bartow-Pell Mansion. My best experience was at the Francis Mill, though. Partly because of finding my father’s cousin. The people were great. When I was there in 2004, the building was in a state of near collapse. The east side was completely water damaged. We had two weeks there, and the last hour, we had a boom crane lift this 26-ft. hemlock sill beam and we slid it into place. It was the greatest experience of my life, other than having my daughter. We were all saying “Oh my God, we did it! We saved this building!” There’s not too many opportunities you can say you really did that. #00:22:06.6#

G: Very good! Is there anything else you’d like to add? #00:22:07.8#

D: We certainly invite you to come along on one of our workshops. We’ve got some great ones planned for the future!

More links:

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Mike O’Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe talks about discovering shared family history through new media

“Who are you?” A simple question, but one that could take someone on the adventure of a lifetime. For Mike O’Laughlin of Irish Roots Cafe, it took him on a trip to discover his Irish roots and began his journey to help others find theirs using his books, blog, podcast and personal tours of Ireland. Today we join Bethany Frank as she talks with Mike O’Laughlin. Mike is going to explore the ease of podcasting and how he uses it to share connect folks around Irish heritage worldwide.

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Frank: Well Mike, thank you so much for joining us today at Voices of the Past. Tell us about yourself.

O’Laughlin: Well I guess we are talking about how I got into the website and the Irish heritage or the Irish American heritage, and actually now it is the Irish heritage all over the world — Canada and Australia and England and Ireland and the U.S. It’s amazing. And it really started when I was a young boy when I go to the grandparents’ house with the parents on Sunday. And the old folks would always talk about the old days and sometimes they would hold it over you about how they knew everything and you didn’t even know who these people were. So at one point I came and found a travel brochure to Ireland, and it said, “O’Laughlin’s Castles.” And it said, “Here’s an O’Laughlin’s Castle in County Clare.” And my O’Laughlin family knew we were Irish, they didn’t know why, they just knew it. And maybe it was the “O” in front of the name, but I thought, “you know what. If I could go over there and see that castle and claim it as ours, then I would have something on them and I could drop by on a Sunday now that I am a little older and tell them some things that they might not know.” That’s really what started the whole thing. I made a reservation with an B&B whose owner was the same name as mine. From there I came out with a book and it just kept going and I just kept writing, and now I am the most published author in the world in my field of study in the world. But you notice, I didn’t say the best. In the world–there’s a difference.

Frank: There’s a difference. Well, why did you go about starting your blog?

O’Laughlin: Really I was on the web for several years before I even started the blog. I didn’t really understand exactly…I know it is whatever you want it to be when you get right down to it, but I didn’t quite understand exactly what people were doing and I wasn’t real comfortable with it. And I go, well, I’d have to take a lot of time if I wrote a syndicated column or something along those lines. So I waited and finally, I got the podcast going. The podcast actually came first. I thought, “Well, this is a perfect way to get into it. I’ll put the shownotes from each podcast onto the blog and maybe add some things now and then. So that got me into blogging very comfortably since I had several podcasts going. Actually, we’ve got seven different podcast series going now. All the way from genealogy to song and recitation, and local history and history in Ireland. And it’s really blossomed.

Frank: You said before you’re very well published and can see all of the stuff that you’ve published on your site. How did you make that transition from publishing books to publishing podcasts?

O’Laughlin: Basically it was born out of fun. I had no idea how easy it was to get started. Now, it takes a while, maybe 50 shows or so before you start to understand what sound is and how to adjust it and the different kinds of microphones. But in the beginning I got this new Mac computer, which is an upgrade, and my IT guy that came in and was helping me with it said, “Oh, you’ve got to check out GarageBand.” And I thought, “yeah, yeah, I’ve got so much to worry about.” And thought it was just maybe if I was a kid and I wanted to practice the guitar, that’d be the place the go. I didn’t know that you could do a podcast in five minutes. And I just went right to GarageBand, pressed the button to record, and there my voice was recording. So, it was so easy to start that it got me hooked. And plus it was fun, and who wouldn’t want their own radio show?

Frank: Have you ever done radio shows or anything like that before?

O’Laughlin: No. I had been interviewed a few times and I was active in cultural things on the Irish side. So, I started up a group and the local radio station interviewed me a couple of times, and I think I was on television once. But very small little parts, but I always thought it was great fun.

Frank: After you started, you hit start on GarageBand for the first time, how did you get it to evolve?

O’Laughlin: I will tell you, it still takes me a while to jump into things. But I had recorded in my living room several shows, and it’s not really shows. It was interviews with seven of my friends in a roundtable discussion on genealogy. This is back in 1984, and I had saved those recordings. And I thought, “Hey, I will just take each of those, break them up into seven segments and make those my first seven podcasts.” So really I got over the nervousness of it by the first seven podcasts were really rebroadcasts from 1984 that I had been done at home. So I sort of cut my teeth on that and got familiar with it and then started to try to refine things.

Frank: How’d you go about refining them?

O’Laughlin: Well, first of all, better microphones. And then the little setting on the machine. I didn’t know what those were at first, like the echo and the reverb and the different voices. I hadn’t really experimented with them. And how you keep the sound even and something like compression, which makes sounds that are a little too small come up to a level you can hear them and the ones that are a little loud come down to where you can hear them a little better. So little things like compression settings and the difference between the different kinds of microphones. And some are too sensitive and pick up every noise in the house when I’m recording or in the Cafe here when I’m recording, especially if it is a busy night.

Frank: You mentioned recording in the Cafe.

O’Laughlin: Yes.

Frank: So, it’s a real Cafe? Not a virtual one?

O’Laughlin: It’s a Cafe. Is there a difference? I’d say, at times it is just my place. And then at special times of the year, we open it up and it’s a cafe. And we do serve the food and we do have the performances. And we do record the Irish Song and Recitation Festival, and we are getting ready to have the seventh one of them, and I have been practicing old style Irish song, which I find very few people know about so I feel safe with that.

Frank: What exactly is old style Irish song?

O’Laughlin: Well they call it the sean nós. And it was usually solo and in the Irish language, although it’s loosened up in its interpretation now. And it usually told a story, and shoot, the old fellows might come in from the sea and be singing a song, and that was it. It’s really natural singing, I think, without so much concern for particular notes or phrasing. And each time it’s not the same. And I thought, boy, that sounds like the way I sing anyway. You miss a few notes and it’s not always on the same track. So I thought I’d give it a try. And we started up a little group here in town for sean nós, and we are just having fun with it.

Frank: So, back to Irish Roots Cafe, how did that get started and what all is it?

O’Laughlin: It’s really, that’s a very good question, It’s really presence of everything I’ve ever done on the Internet. And it is just a combination of everything because I’m spread out so far and I am just one person. I have no help other than volunteers that come in and help with the podcast or I interviewed, that type of thing. So it is a way to tie it all together, and it’s a way to put all 60 of the books I’ve written or published up online. And it was also a way to get all seven podcast series going and feeding into each other. So, it really started to tie everything in together. Plus I could have some fun, and I could talk about the things I like, like rare old books. And some little history tidbits now and then, and I’m still…I have a side site, that if you go to my site and you click on “Quick and Easy,” that’s the pages where I can play with myself. I don’t have to give them to a webmaster. And so I do a lot of little strange things there. And then give them to my webmaster and then he puts them on the formal pages.

Frank: And so you have an annual festival with Irish Roots, correct?

O’Laughlin: Yes. And that is basically the Irish Song and Recitation Festival. And we will get folks together and we will sing songs and then we will vote on who wins, and it can be anything at all. You never know what’s going to be walking through the door next.

Frank: On your site, you have your Irish Hedge School, and you talk about carrying the sod.

O’Laughlin: Yes. Well I will tell you. If you go back and read Irish history particularly in the 17th Century, that’s when the Irish culture, the existing culture, was plundered. There was nothing left and even the old Bardic traditions started to disappear. And everything was, you might say, government schools. And the new people that were coming in and taking over Ireland were maybe ruling it in a different way, and they said, “No, no Irishman can actually be a teacher. No Irishman could actually teach Irish.” That type of thing, and you cannot have your own school. And if you have a school house, you will be fined. And so, or maybe they will ship you to the Barbados. You never know what’s going to happen. And so, it was pretty rough times.

So in rebellion, the Irish said, “We’re going to keep our ways and our education, and we’re going to find old cow sheds or we might go and teach out on the side of the lawn on a sunny day next to a hedge row where nobody can see us.” And so the name “hedgerow” came about because of that. And so it became “hedge schools” with “hedge teachers,” and the hedge teachers would travel the country all on their own. They were sort of like migrant teachers, and they would be on the run sometimes. And they would hide, and they would meet with the local people and the local people would have to like them and send their kids to school. They might pay them with butter. Might pay them, if they were real lucky, they might get part of Patty’s pig. But it was a pretty rough way to go really. And you could imagine the conditions, but they actually taught Greek and Latin, things like that in these schools. And some of the folks of the upper classes were amazed at how these peasants that were holding their horses when they went into town could speak Latin and Greek.

Frank: So then how do you incorporate that with your site?

O’Laughlin: Well what we are doing is also teaching and trying to bring up and save the Irish culture and heritage in what little way we can by reviving the old ways, the old songs, the old history. The history podcast brings back the history of Ireland. We have the Irish in America, which does the local history in America and reminds people what role the Irish played in America, what role their ancestors played in America and in settling the country. And there’s things we’ve forgotten. So each one of these podcasts really brings back part of that history and brings it alive just like they did in the old days with the hedge schools, except I think, we have a lot more entertaining time doing it.

Frank: On your site you mention an Irish DNA project.

O’Laughlin: Yeah, that’s really my current issue. That’s were I am focusing right now. I am working on a book on Irish DNA, and I have been interviewing some folks that do Irish DNA for a living, and They’ve done movies on it. It is really fascinating what that’s going to do with what the whole genetics thing (15:28) means to people.

Frank: Can you tell me about it and what all is happening with it?

O’Laughlin: I think we are linked up with Family Tree DNA, and we interview them everyone once in a while with the podcast to tell us about R1B, which is a distinctive Irish marker, or moving up to M222, which is another marker. And so, they tell us what to look for and what has been traced back and examples of let’s say this fellow, the minute he took his DNA, he knew he came from this village in County Clare because that is where this DNA marker first started. So we are having some remarkable success stories with people who cannot find their family heritage, their location in Ireland or really in Europe or anywhere in the world. And that’s really what got us started and it takes the place of…well, if you have reached a dead end in genealogy research, it’s really the only way to go. And let’s say you were adopted and they couldn’t get any records, well they could take your DNA, and you might be able to find out what county or town or area that you came from. And it’s just another part of genealogy resources.

Frank: Did you go through all of this stuff and track your own heritage?

O’Laughlin: Yes. That’s way back to that first story when I talked about O’Laughlin’s castle. I was actually real lucky on my way over. I actually found the O’Laughlin ancestor and the Donoghue ancestor, which was my mother’s side. And that’s a story in itself. But I got very very lucky, and very few people can get that lucky. I actually had a flat tire in kilkan nora (17:06) County Clare, which is the town that eventually I found my ancestors in. I went up and talked with Father Van (17:14), who is the priest there, while my tire was being changed. I’d gone to about 10 parishes before then, and he took me down to the church, opened a safe and handed me the birth register they had kept, and I guess they had sent a copy in to the government when they had collected them. But he says, “Here. Look at it and lock up when you’re done.” Well, I was shocked at that too, but I said OK. It was a bit chilly, but I didn’t care. I kept going through this register page by page until I found it. The exact date that say Peter O’Laughlin had gotten married, and there was the marriage on that date in that parish. And so I nailed it in that case, and it was amazing. The feeling was just incredible. The whole search, to say that I’ve done this. And it was almost just as amazing in County Clare with my mother’s folks. I had to take time. You know you can’t be too pushy when you’re asking people for help. And I found that if you were patient and you went back maybe a second time or a third time, and just casually mention that you were looking for family roots in a certain area or a certain name, you might actually get some pretty intelligent answers, whereas in the beginning they might just think, “Oh, this guy, they don’t know what he is doing. He’s just going to fly by in a car and be gone tomorrow. He has no idea what he’s talking about.” But I have found out that if you ask more than one time, even to the same folks and you’re patient, you’d be surprised. You could have some pretty good luck.

Frank: So, you’ve done your journey for genealogy, and you have all these resources for other folks to work on their journey. Why is having it all available through the web and through the Internet important?

O’Laughlin: Well, I reach the whole world. Or the information reaches the whole world. And I get feedback, and I get corrected if I’m wrong. Somebody says, “No wait, here’s the family history. That’s a little bit off what you’ve got there.” And never in the history of the world could somebody like me be in their house, reach out and get 5 million hits a year from people all over the world–Australia, like I said before, Canada, England, Ireland–regular conversations and regular input. And it’s not a one-way thing. You are sharing back and forth both ways. It could have never have happened. And it is really a way to share knowledge, and it is almost like a quickening. The world is so much smaller now. And here is one of the good things that the smallness of the world has brought about. You can share things and understand things, whereas before you’d never have a chance. I don’t know that I ever would have talked to someone from Australia about Irish roots–or maybe about anything unless I bumped into them on the street.

Frank: Are you anywhere else online other than just on your website?

O’Laughlin: Well my blog propagates pretty well since I am an author on Amazon. I’ve got a, with each of my books, I’ve got a blog. So I have several blogs on And then I have a separate blog on, which is like a gigantic site for all things Irish–Irish news and all things great and small in every subject what so ever. So, that helps reach out to a whole new group of people that I might not be able to contact. Those blogs are great, but still, my best pull is the podcast.

Frank: Where can folks find that?

O’Laughlin: The podcast is at And I’ve got all seven of them there. And we’ve got three different kinds: regular audio, video podcast and then the enhanced podcast, which is a podcast that is audio, but you can put pictures up on the screen and embed links in it. So if I am talking about the McCleary family on the screen, you can have a little link and it will say, “Go here to see the McCleary family.” And you click it and you go while you are listening to the podcast. So that is sort of fun. And I think you have got to have QuickTime or you have got to have iTunes for that to work, but it is just another form of podcasting that is nice to play with.

Frank: And then with your website and with everything else, what is your ultimate goal?

O’Laughlin: Ultimate goal. Well, since we’ve been doing it for forever, I would say it is just to spread the word, to enjoy the Irish culture and heritage, and particularly enjoy the Irish-American heritage on my part. And the Irish-Canadian or the Irish-or whatever country you come from. But to enjoy the good parts of it, and to realize what are some of the good things that bind us all together and that we’ve all experienced in the past that can help us in the future. And it is also always fun to compare one culture to another, and to understand them and the things you have in common and the things that they have differently. And really you get into being an historian after a while because there is no way to avoid it.

Frank: Is there anything else that we can expect in the future from Irish Roots?

O’Laughlin: Oh my gosh. Well we are going to keep up the podcast, and I am going to try to add some links pages. I haven’t had time to do much with links, they change so quickly. And they take up so much time. I prefer to just go with data and things that help directly with research. But we are going to add some links and some more on the Song and Recitation. I’m going to do some more on that. And definitely we are going to have, I am going to do a book on Irish DNA and expand the page to explain more on our site to increase our links on the DNA links. That’s sort of the future of so much of what we’re doing.

Frank: What is your advice to anyone wanting to go seek their ancestors and find out about their genealogy?

O’Laughlin: Well the first thing you have to remember is to start researching at home. If you don’t live in Ireland, you don’t want to start researching in Ireland unless you have some kind of clue. What you want to do is find the place in Ireland that you came from on a piece of paper in the country that you’re living in. So you’ll want to find, Ireland is organized by counties, so you will want to find your county first of all, and then go in for the records. And if you are in America and you want a birth certificate or a marriage certificate or an obituary in a newspaper, you want that to say, “Came from County Clary (23:49) Ireland in 1850 with two sons and his wife.” And there you have your connection and then you can make the jump and look for the folks with the same surname and first names in Irish records. The top thing to remember: start in your country and start with every piece of paper they might have signed and with the computers today and all the massive databases, you can find out fast. You will find out with more information than you want to sort through as apposed to back in the 1980s, sometimes you couldn’t find enough to look at. Now, there’s plenty.

Frank: What’s your advice for folks their own blog or website and want to get interested in podcasting and stuff like that?

O’Laughlin: Well, if you want to get into it, first of all, follow your instincts. Follow what you think is fun, and then develop that into what you want to do in a more real sense. And then that way, it will carry you through. Because there are time when you are going to say, “Well I don’t know anything about microphones and what I want to do is get the word out to people on this or that.” Well you learn a microphone. It might take a while, but you will be much smarter at the end of it and everything you’ve done. You just start one piece at a time, and a blog is real easy to do. It doesn’t cost anything really. There’s sites that you go up for almost nothing, and so expense is no excuse. It just might take a little bit of time to understand it. And podcasts, I’m telling you, you can have a podcast going in five minutes and another five by just pressing a button and sending it off to iTunes, if you are using them. And then it is going to take you some time. It might take you 50 shows before you get a pattern down or you get the sound down, or you start understanding about echoes or microphone sensitivity. But that’s OK. You just go and you have fun and you will grow into what it is you want to be.

Frank: As far as social media is concerned and genealogy, what do you think is the future of genealogy with the impact of social media?

O’Laughlin: Well of course it’s changed things greatly. There’s going to be some megasight, it’s already happening. And I saw this 10 years ago, but as everybody gobbles everybody up with huge databases, there is going to be a few places who have most all of the data, and then the important thing is going to be making that data understandable and accessible. And of course, supplying new input to people. Now, you can always do that with a podcast because it’s current. It’s like a news show. And that will always be valuable to people no matter what and the same thing with the blog. And so, it’s really not a lot of work to do. It is a little more work to do the podcast than the blog because you have to learn about audio, but once you do it, it’s rewarding. Well with my podcasts, my genealogy podcast is first with the number of audience and then my blog is second and then my other podcasts fall in behind that. So it gives you an idea, you can reach a lot of people, and some people will not read and some people will not listen. So if you go both ways, you are hitting both people.

Frank: You’ve helped all these folks find their heritage, do you have a story that you can share with us with one of those journeys with one of those families?

O’Laughlin: Oh I tell you. One of my early trips to Ireland–I regularly took people over to Ireland that were members and helped them have a good time and also help them search their ancestors if they still wanted to do that when they got there. Most people want to just enjoy themselves when they get to Ireland, I’ve found, but a few people are looking seriously. And I tell you, our bus driver that drove us around at, at the end of the first tour he said, “You know what. I didn’t understand you guys. Coming over here, searching through graveyards that nobody cares about and they are just sort of a fixture in the community, it’s just overgrown with weeds and no one cares.” He said, “I couldn’t imagine why anyone would fly across the ocean and come over here, but once I saw the look in Ms. So-and-so’s eyes when they found the name on that gravestone”–you know when the tears come into your eyes. He said, “I understood.” He said, “We don’t know what we’ve got here in Ireland. We’ve been here forever so we don’t have to go hunting. And you do.” So that was a real neat comparison. Of course they don’t have to go looking. They know. That’s where they’re from. And that was in a, I think, Quaker graveyard. It was through this little town and we found an old graveyard, and one of the people had found the name there and that happens all the time with research.

Frank: Thank you so much for chatting with me.

O’Laughlin: And thank you.