Category Archives: Work Portfolio

Case studies and applied knowledge from my body of work in the digital humanities and elsewhere.

Heritage Education: A national model for instilling cultural stewardship

During my National Park Service years, I was privileged to work on a project initiated by Congress to serve as a national model for heritage education. This included development of the marketing and promotional material to communicate with participating teachers and program supporters.

The initiative was piloted as Heritage Education–Louisiana. Classroom teachers, preservation specialists, and learning professionals were consulted to ensure that the program met preservation ethics and provided professional development for teachers in innovative and evolving educational theology and techniques.

Meeting the needs of classroom teachers who must not only cover curriculum standards and benchmarks, but must also consider high-stakes testing, the program aided teachers in creating integrated lessons and activities that use local cultural resources such as archaeological sites, historic structures, and cultural landscapes as the foundation.

Workshops, Mini Grants, a website and quarterly newsletters were avenues by which the program strove to meet its goals of:

  • Enhancing and enriching Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum;
  • Instilling a sense of cultural stewardship in tomorrow’s leaders; and
  • Serving as a national model for other states.

The program lost its congressional funding after the pilot phase, and limped along until about 2010, but it’s still a worthy model for heritage education. Everyone who participated in it saw its value. You can read more about some of the resulting products and activities at its legacy web presence.

Outstanding products include:

The Summary Report embedded below won an Addy Gold Award for best print publication. It was developed with a matching program brochure and website.

Heritage Education Summary Report by jkguin on Scribd

Heritage Education Brochure by jkguin on Scribd

Heritage Lessons was a quarterly newsletter for and about teachers in the program.

Heritage Lessons Summer 04 Newsletter by jkguin on Scribd

Interpretive animations can activate audience connections to history

For me, enjoying a museum visit has always required a leap of imagination. After all, a glass case or a room barrier inherently separates you from objects. Interpretive animations as short-form video are one way to get a visitor into a state where they can better understand the context is which a space, object or event “lived” its historical purpose due to its interaction with humans.

I experimented with this concept as part of a partnership with University of the Arts in Philadelphia and my colleague, Michal Meyer. Abstracting the object or story with animation really helped focus on imaginative storytelling and more effective interpretation.

Here is a playlist of animations produced as part of this partnership.

Some are definitely better than others, but they increased in quality as we refined the process. One challenge related to this experience (where we were working with a class) is that there is much work in getting the students up to speed on the meaning of the content and desired outcomes for audiences. These were also semester-long projects for an animation class, so they are several months in production. Some animations were never quite finished.

Overall, I think they turned out wonderfully. My personal favorite is an animation of an old alchemical painting the organization had, which explained what was going on through the eyes of a creature featured in it. Here’s a preview to the high-resolution source image for that from Wikimedia Commons (click for original):

Interpretive animations Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist 17th century David Teniers II.tif
Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist by David Teniers II, 17th Century

I saw that painting almost every workday for three years. It captured my imagination all on its own, and was a no-brainer for this project. To give these project some extra attention, we “premiered” these as part of a live webcast that featured a graphic novelist and a comic book historian.

Drawing History: Telling the Stories of Science through Comics and Graphic Novels from ChemHeritage on Vimeo.

There are many examples of museums using animations as pre-visit prep (manners in the museum) as seen below, but few featuring sophisticated storytelling and animation.

There are also examples of animations being used in museum interactives, such as these at the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

I looked for examples of interpretive animations produced by other cultural institutions, and they are hard to find. If you know of something out there, please link to it in the comments. Of course, there are many examples of object-inspired animated GIFs being used throughout social media, but that’s another post.

The strategic linchpin: transforming digital tools into an interpretive platform

When you’re identifying what digital interpretive tactics work for your organization, eventually you will find one (or a combination of a few) that achieves a number of needs. This is called a strategic linchpin.

Linchpins are the result of beginning the strategic process, engaging experimentally, and giving your plans some time to percolate. The ability to focus more effort on fewer linchpin technologies is a sign that your tactical planning has truly become strategic.

The following are three examples of strategic linchpins specific to points-in-time and cultural organizations from my work in digital initiatives.

Strategic Linchpin 1: NCPTT Podcast

In 2007, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training faced the difficulty of being a National Park Service agency with a mandate to serve a national audience, despite a decade of flat budgets and a relatively remote location in northwest Louisiana. The organization needed a way to show its impact, including the influence of innovative grant projects it funded to support the use of technology for historic preservation purposes. At the time, many of its audiences were cautiously curious about social and online media technologies. Part of this was that there were not really any topically relevant media to compel their participation.

NCPTT Podcast strategic linchpin

I started the Preservation Technology Podcast as a way to empower staff to showcase their successes, and for audiences to connect to a wider world of like-minded preservation geeks. For all, it was a first step into modern online media, short of the engagement platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which were still viewed as invasive at the time. The podcast’s objectives  included the following:

  • Give the staff a voice
  • Showcase grant products
  • Promote peer research
  • Connect with a national audience on no budget
  • Encourage adoption of digital media among audiences
  • Show digital media leadership within NPS

Almost ten years later, the podcast is the longest-running historic preservation podcast being produced. Moreover, NCPTT  is noted for its role in championing digital outreach technologies, especially within the National Park Service.

Discover more about the Preservation Technology podcast

Strategic Linchpin 2: Chemical Heritage Foundation GLAM-Wiki Program

GLAMWiki strategic linchpin

In 2013, the Chemical Heritage Foundation was looking for ways to publicly share its comprehensive collections and research related to the history of chemistry. It used a lower-end collections management system and did not have a public search function enabled. It had narrative histories on its website, but they were difficult to find. At the same time, many staff members expressed frustration about the lack of quality information related to these topics on Wikipedia.

CHF chose to participate in the GLAM-Wiki initiative that helps cultural institutions share their resources with the world through collaborative projects with experienced Wikipedia editors. A Philadelphia-area Wikipedia editor was hired as a Wikipedian-in-Residence. This resulted in staff training on Wikipedia, and a systematic upload of high-quality collections images to WikiMedia Commons, and the creation of a monthly onsite cybercafe that included Wikipedia edit-a-thons.

The Wikipedian-in-Residence position was subsequently funded for a four-year term through a grant with the Beckman Foundation, and the Wikipedia content continues to be a major driver of web traffic to CHF web properties.

Strategic Linchpin 3: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens 3D Documentation

Vizcaya Barge 3D model strategic linchpin

In March 2016, I had recently been contracted by Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Fl., to give strategic shape to their digital initiatives.  I reached out to David Morgan, a former colleague to brainstorm the evolution of a concept with which we had some common experience: 3D documentation. We both worked together several years at the National Park Service National Center for Preservation Technology and Training–an organization at the forefront of innovating technologies for heritage preservation. David has since moved on to become director of the NPS Southeast Archaeological Center in Tallahassee, Fl., and made several introductions to people who performed 3D documentation in Florida.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a historic house museum and formal gardens located on Biscayne Bay in Miami. Its heritage resources are continually threatened from the climate (including sea-level rise) and inclement weather. It is also an extremely popular tourist attraction. Dual-purposing preservation documentation technology with visitor-facing interpretive technologies was an attractive idea for the institution.

Only a few people at the organization were aware of preservation documentation technologies. I wrote an explanatory document in summer 2016 that describes how the tech worked, what the advantages were and what partners could help achieve success (here’s a more general explainer based on that research). Among the benefits outlined were:

  • Preserve endangered heritage resources
  • Make resources accessible & tell their stories to visitors
  • Bridge preservation and interpretive technologies
  • Nurture academic/tech partnerships

Vizcaya formed a partnership with the University of Florida to prioritize laser scanning and photogrammetry documentation on resources that were of intense interest, but not accessible to the public. In January of 2017, UF completed scanning of the resources for preservation purposes.

In May 2017, the Knight Foundation awarded Vizcaya a grant for $100,000  to fulfill its vision to create visitor-facing virtual experiences based on 3D documentation of these resources. 3D documentation technology has come a long way in the past five years, and really, only now would we be attempting to make this visitor-facing element happen. This was made evident when I attended NCPTT’s 3D Documentation Summit in April. Many of the speakers there mentioned virtual experiences as the “next phase” of this technology. We’d already submitted our grant idea by then, but it was gratifying to know the leaders in this field were thinking the same way.

It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience seeing the idea take root at Vizcaya, knowing that the resources are being cared for, and the visitor experience as well. The values of Vizcaya’s leadership and staff, and the nature of Vizcaya itself, are what made 3D documentation its first strategic linchpin technology.

 

Social Media brings connections, lessons in ‘User Studies for Digital Library Development’

User Studies for Digital Library Development Book Cover User Studies for Digital Library Development
Milena Dobreva (Author, Editor), Andy O'Dwyer (Editor), Pierluigi Feliciati (Editor)
Library Information Management and Use Studies
Facet Publishing
June 12, 2012
Paperback
302 pages

 

Interestingly, my involvement in this book came about because of social media. Voices of the Past had been going a couple of years, when I got a message out of the blue via Linkedin. Milena Dobreva said she was co-editing a book on user studies in digital libraries and asked if I would write a chapter on social media engagement.

Though I have been fortunate to write material for a few edited volumes, this would be my first international publication (the publisher, Facet, is out of the U.K.). I was intimidated by the stature of the other chapter authors on this project, and that I was the only American. So much so, that at one point I tried to persuade Milena to go with another author I knew to be very experienced in digital libraries and archives. Here’s how she replied:

“Many thanks for this suggestion. I am inclined to ask you once again to contribute because from what I have seen from your work you would bring quite a fresh point of view and I see this as a good potential input which I would really really appreciate.”

With those words, any doubts about my suitability to the task vanished. It was still a grueling process to get the chapter written, but incredibly rewarding.  In addition to surveying the applications of social media to the digital library landscape, I got to talk to fascinating people innovating their field at institutions like the following:

Many of the connections for the case studies were crowdsourced through social media. For all the agonizing, and more so because of it, this ranks among my favorite career experiences. It brought home every message I had been preaching about social media: you can leverage it to find your voice, engagement in it will lead to unexpected opportunities, and the connections you make will strengthen your faith in yourself and others.

The book was well received, (see its reviews herehere, and at Amazon) and though social media platforms have evolved, the bedrock concepts about how digital libraries should work from a user perspective are evergreen. I know that it has been used as a text in classrooms, a well deserved result of the hard work of the editors. I am grateful they gave me a chance to help shape it.

Knight Foundation makes a digital heritage dream possible

I’ve worked the past 13 years as an advocate for strategic digital initiatives at cultural institutions. Much of that time has been spent building  buy-in,  seeking resources, and working to keep the tech functioning. Oh yes … and building in time to see “what’s next,” then repeating the process. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to take a moment in gratitude when an idea takes root.  Thanks to Knight Foundation, this is one of those moments.

This past week, Knight awarded a $100,000 Museums and Technology grant to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, where I am contracted as digital strategist. The grant will enhance the visitor experience by using 3D documentation modeling and printing to allow visitors to explore spaces of this National Historic Landmark that are not accessible to the public. Those spaces include Vizcaya’s Barge (seen above), a partly submerged breakwater decorated with mythical sculptures by Alexander Calder, and the swimming pool grotto  which has a ceiling depicting an elaborate undersea scene designed by Robert Winthrop Chanler.

Vizcaya's Chanler Ceiling 3D Documentation Knight Foundation Grant
Chanler ceiling at Vizcaya

The project combines many of the interests I and many of my Vizcaya colleagues share–historic preservation/conservation, technology, and helping audiences internalize the interpretation of heritage resources. That extends to Vizcaya’s leadership team, which has been incredibly supportive of this holistic approach to 3D documentation.

We’ve got a very talented partner team on the project as well. The University of Florida Historic Preservation Program captures our 3D documentation, including both photogrammetry and laser scanning. Our technology partner will unlock ways to adapt UF’s point clouds into kiosk-based and virtual reality products. Additionally, Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios will be strategizing the development of 3D prints based UF’s laser scanning/photogrammetry.

It’s an exciting time to work in this field. Five years ago, the tech was not mature enough to attempt this concept. Now, we’re confident that we’ll create a model that can other cultural sites can replicate. We’ll be documenting our progress in a GitHub site. While this concept was always an intention, the Knight Foundation’s entry into the museums and technology space advances our efforts by years.

If you’re interested in learning more about 3D documentation, here is a primer to get you started.

Cathy Byrd of Fresh Art International recently interviewed my colleagues about digital initiatives at Vizcaya. Hear what they had to say at the SoundCloud embed below:

 

Where Technology Meets Interpretation Workshop Resources

This past week, I had the privilege of co-leading a interpretation workshop focused on technology with Stacey Kutish, digital interpretive strategist at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia. There were about 30 attendees from gardens and related cultural sites. I’m sharing the slide deck with speaker notes, which includes the following topics we covered:

  • Audience Research
  • Setting Strategy
  • Tools and Techniques
  • What Makes Good Digital Content

Thanks to everyone who came out to this introductory workshop. Related material:

A more in-depth explanation of the strategic planning process can be found in the post Strategy Kit: Goals, Objectives and Tactics for #DigitalHeritage Outreach Planning.

Interpretation Workshop Symposium

Preservation social media leadership: The early days

In 2009, I presented to the Preservation Technology Advisory Board for the first time about preservation social media efforts. Though it was the first time the board members really heard about social media, they were incredibly supportive of the initiative.

The presentation features images by Hunter Wilson, who had a Flickr 365 project going on at the time. He would post a self-portrait every day for one year. Many of them featured compelling Photoshop effects. As I was presenting this, Hunter was at his high-school graduation. We had been interacting on Flickr for a time, and he was gracious enough to Skype in for a PR Campaigns course I was teaching at the local university.

That prior year was magic with connections that embodied the potential of preservation social media, before it became dominated by marketers and the walled fortress that is Facebook. The heritage fields were still skeptical of social media. Out in nowhere-you’ve-heard-of Louisiana, we were pioneering the frontier.

09 Board Meeting: Strengthening NCPTT’s Leadership on the the Social Web

Presentation to the NCPTT Board, May 2009

  • NCPTT Preservation Social Media Initiative and World Wide Web Clearinghouse
  • Conversation, facilitated by online tools that are: Platform-independent Free Interactive Easy to use
  •  Ultimately, it’s still about relationships [human-centered]
  • NCPTT was one of the first preservation organizations to use social media
  • Podcasting [Preservation Technology Podcast]
  •  Social Networking
  • Microblogging
  • Online Photo Sharing
  • Online Video Sharing
  • Preservation needs online leadership. The Future is Mobile
  • Training initiative provides expert guidance, connections for NCPTT [Training staff]
  • People everywhere are connecting in cyberspace to talk about heritage.
  • In 2009, many more heritage organizations have jumped on the new media bandwagon
  • … but progress is using new media effectively has been slow and lacking direction
  • Heritage is still trying to find its voice online.
  • Preservation still needs online leadership.
  • NCPTT’s role is to help the organizations make sense of social media and use it effectively
  • Communicating ourselves on the World stage can be an overwhelming task
  • We’ve been there before
  •  The right tools, mindset and people bring the job down to size
  •  Hard work and service to others unleashes the benefits of online engagement
  •  “We need to connect citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us. We must use all available technologies and methods to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted in Washington and giving Americans the chance to participate in government deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few years ago.” From Barack Obama’s campaign platform on technology Monday, March 9, 2009
  •  “We need to connect citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us. We must use all available technologies and methods to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted in Washington and giving Americans the chance to participate in government deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few years ago.” From Barack Obama’s campaign platform on technology Monday, March 9, 2009
  • You’re our heroes [advocacy role of board]
  •  What can we do to help? [Ideas, comments and discussion]

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. TellHistory.com 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?

Subscribe on  ITUNES

Connect with Voices of the Past about #digitalheritage on:

The Burning of Columbia uses digital media to commemorate history

Subscribe on  ITUNES

Connect with Voices of the Past about #digitalheritage on

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

Endnotes:

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

GLAM-Wiki use case for cultural heritage institutions

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

Accomplishments as of Spring 2014:

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

“What is Wikipedia?” featuring Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Wikipedian in Residence through the GLAM-Wiki Initiative. Read more about her work here.

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

Program Report: GLAM-Wiki @ChemHeritage by jkguin