Tag Archives: Blog

Meet the Blogger: Carla Bruni of “The Green Preservationist”

Carla Bruni is an historic preservationist, architectural historian, soon-to-be energy rater, and neurotic volunteer, and in this Heritage Blogger profile, she discusses how she combines her passions to create a hospitable environment to discuss preservation-related ideas in her blog, The Green Preservationist. Carla hopes to bridge the gap between historic preservationists and green building advocates…one post at a time.

Carla Bruni (2)

How do you try to bridge the gap between historic preservationists and green building advocates? What role does your blog play in your mission?

Well, if I were to sum up how these two groups often view each other via “light bulb jokes,” it might go something like this:

Q: How many historic preservationists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Change? We should just go back to candles and forget this light bulb nonsense!

Q: How many green building advocates does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Well, that old fixture isn’t terribly efficient so we’re going to go ahead and tear your old house down and design a better one.

Obviously this might be a wee bit exaggerated, but I’ve been in meetings where the tension was so thick that I thought the cornice would explode off of the building, and as a result, nothing is accomplished. I think we need more people working with, and listening to, both green building advocates and historic preservationists with an open and creative mind. I like to think that me being active on both sides of this coin gives me a unique angle, and honestly, I’m still learning all the time, so having a blog is a great way to throw my questions and opinions out there and see what I get back.

I also give lectures and workshops for universities, preservation and green building organizations throughout the city; this gives me the opportunity to introduce “greenies” to preservation issues and vice-versa. I have recently been working with an organization to administer grant funds for green retrofits on historic homes, and the homeowners get really into it, which is super fun. On the flip side of that, I worked as a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Environment while getting my Masters in Historic Preservation, so I would always weave my preservation agenda into my environmental tours, when most of the time they expected the answer to be “buy solar panels” or “replace your windows with triple-pane low-e fiberglass sashes.”

So, after two light-bulb jokes and a couple paragraphs, I guess the answer is simply “educate people through whatever means possible.”

Why do you think historic preservationists and green building advocates need each other?

Well, it’s completely unrealistic to think that we can build ourselves out of an environmental crisis. Any new building takes a whole lot of energy and creates a whole lot of waste—from the manufacturing and mining of building materials (also depleting our resources), to transportation, to creating new infrastructures, to demolition—there is simply no way around it. Of course, it is also unrealistic to think that human beings will never build new, so we need to be much smarter about building materials, sustainability, design, density and walk-ability than we have been for the past 50 years. What I spend the majority of my time doing is working on projects that involve making older buildings more energy efficient.

Of course, beyond energy, we also need to remember our history and culture and honor much of the existing architecture around us, which typically has incredible detailing, craftsmanship and materials, not to mention that our country is so young that this stuff is literally some of the oldest architecture in the history of the United States. It’s a tough balance right now for preservationists. I think that both groups are starting to come around a bit, however, and finding ways to work together. Preservationists are realizing that due to the current state of the environment, we need to worry less about the thickness of mullions during restoration projects, and begin focusing more energy on HVAC systems and weather stripping if we want to be socially responsible and actually save more buildings. Conversely, there has been more focus on energy efficient retrofits at green conferences lately. Both of these changes are likely encouraged by the current economic recession, but hey, at least some good is coming of it.

Carla Bruni (4)

How did you get interested in preservation and architecture?

Ah, well, I stumbled upon the Robie House as a child and have dedicated my life to architecture since then. Ha, yeah, that’s totally not true. I was an English Literature major in my undergrad with a poetry focus, and thought I might go back to school for a Master’s in either Comparative Theology or Medieval Literature. In the meantime, I did public relations for the City of Chicago, worked in an orthopedic office promoting a knee replacement device, was a shipping and receiving manager at a software company, and then worked in a custom metal welding studio, among other things. Fortunately, a coworker friend introduced me to his future wife, who was a preservationist, and I was like “people can actually save buildings for a living? Whoa.”

Once the greystones started coming down around me, or being turned into unrecognizable monstrosities, I decided to volunteer with a local preservation group called Preservation Chicago, and was inspired by their chutzpah much more than I was by the work I was currently doing. I started studying architecture on my own and soon after applied to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Historic Preservation Master’s program. I began paying more attention to environmental issues at around the same time and managed to snap up an internship with the for Green Technology, where I was able to help the public on a regular basis and gather information for a manual that I was writing to help historic homeowners “green” their homes. It was both a challenging and seriously cool experience. I’m currently in the process of becoming a certified energy rater and am thinking of also getting my LEED Green Associate certification just because I can’t seem to learn enough about how these issues impact each other. I figure if I’m going to write about these things and express my opinions, I had better have an intimate knowledge of what they are all about.

Carla Bruni

Tell us about your blog “About” photo. Is there a reason you are “Superwoman?”

Oh, I’m just mostly poking fun at myself for taking on huge, seemingly insurmountable projects because I just get so obsessed and excited about things. A recent “To Do” list on my desktop actually reads: 1) Get three new certifications by the end of the month, 2) Clean apartment until it sparkles and get rid of 50 percent of my total belongings, and 3) Change the general public’s perception of architecture throughout the United States.

I realize, of course, that #2 will never happen.

Why did you decide to begin blogging?

I think it was a combination of reasons. First, I realized I was really skirting both careers and thought that perspective could be useful. There are a lot of preservationists who know about environmental issues and vice-versa, but I think that it is easy to maintain a (strong) bias when you come much later to one field than the other. While I started off with preservation, I very quickly saw the connection between the two fields in light of recent trends, so I don’t think I even know how to separate the two most of the time. Also, I think that preservationists really need to change their image, and we seem to be struggling with that. We live in a very different time than we did even 10 years ago, and now preservation is constantly measured up against exciting, innovative technologies and a sort of environmental morality that didn’t exist before. To top it off, there are a zillion new (supposedly) “eco-friendly” products and homes out there that are being marketed like mad, and it’s a lot easier to market new things than old things. It is also difficult to make the argument that some things should not change when we are constantly told that anything that isn’t new and “green” is responsible for killing baby seals.

Beyond making people understand how crucial it is environmentally to preserve, maintain and perform energy efficient retrofits on existing buildings (somewhere along the line we lost sight of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”), Historic Preservation needs a more energetic, creative and fun side to it. You can certainly debate whether I have these qualities or not, but I can at least point out the fact that we need more of this if we are going to win over the masses and save more buildings.

And also, I think my friends and family would have thrown me to the wind turbines if I didn’t start talking about something other than architecture and the environment, so I figured I’d ease their burden a bit and find a more, er, tolerant audience.

What is your dream for your blog?

That’s a really good question. I suppose I want it to be a touchstone for students, preservationists, green building advocates, planners, landscape designers and architects, etc. when they have some downtime, and ideally a way to generate more discussion on the timely and important topics. I have also been using my friends as lab rats to see if the content is accessible for people who do not already work in the field. It’s a difficult balance to strike because I try to keep the posts relatively short—an almost impossible feat for a notorious rambler—so I can’t spend too much time explaining concepts and then also get down to the nitty gritty. I suppose it would be great if a more general public could at least start thinking more about these concepts and then possibly even get more involved in their free time.

Carla Bruni (3)

Your blog has a fascinating combination of “personality” and fact throughout your posts …

I think that having a more casual and accessible tone makes more people want to listen to the issues and better able to grasp them. And as I’ve mentioned before, accessibility is really key. It is also important, in my humble opinion, to not take oneself too seriously or be so self-righteous that you ostracize people vs. bring them into the fold. I am certainly not infallible and always have more to learn, and want the blog to be casual enough that friendly and useful discussions can bubble up from posts. Of course, I also come from a rather large and loud Italian family—if you want to be heard you have to be either really, really loud or funny enough to at least warrant a pause.

I can’t yell on a blog…

You have some interesting guest bloggers. How do you go about finding them and getting them engaged?

I realized from the beginning that I needed to get some perspectives on these issues from places other than Chicago and beyond my own experiences. Whenever I meet an enthusiastic soul—either through my blog or various events—who have a different experience either nationally or internationally, I find it to be incredibly valuable. I’ve been fortunate to do preservation work in Louisiana, Washington and Idaho, and realized pretty quickly that different places have different battles and feelings regarding preservation. I’d like to keep growing the blog readership around the country, so including these voices is really important. And heck, they’re interesting!

How do you develop and maintain a relationship with your viewers?

I always to respond to people who contact me through my blog. I’m curious about what they do and ask them to come back and express their opinions. I also try to keep the tone playful enough that it is engaging and people want to check back periodically. Fortunately, some local advocates and organizations have also put me on their blog roll and this bumps up my readership. I think I’m really lucky to be involved in two fields that are brimming with feisty advocates and like to keep stoking those coals to keep the dialogue between groups alive.

Are you engaged anywhere else online? If so, where and why?

There are so many great places to read about what is going on in these areas. Vince Michael’s incredibly insightful blog on preservation issues is an excellent source for preservation info and great fun to read. I often to jump over to Matt Cole’s Twitter page, which covers a variety of issues, often involving planning, preservation, and sustainability issues—he updates it obsessively, so there is always something new and fun to look up. I also work with the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association on a variety of projects, and we’ve recently been discussing a series of video podcasts that cover discussions with contractors, architects and energy raters, as well as filming how to properly weatherize and insulate single-family homes. It is somewhat similar to the This Old House website links that I like to check out when I cant wrap my brain around how something works—really practical, budget-conscious and effective projects for homeowners. Check in at http://www.chicagobungalow.org in the near future for that. Beyond that, there are a variety of online research sources that I can access for free by logging into the Chicago Public Library site, and Ancestry.com is perfect for digging up historic census information.

What is your advice for anyone wanting to start a blog? Or get involved with preservation?

My favorite thing to do is convert unsuspecting citizens into preservationists, and when they are within my clutches, I can’t help but rattle off a variety of volunteer organizations or free field trips that I know will ensnare them. I occasionally even undergo covert operations with design school students to try and convince them to weave creative adaptive reuse ideas into their projects. It is always rewarding to fight for something that you are passionate about. In my experience, looking up and noticing the architecture around you, and having someone explain that many of these buildings are, or likely will be threatened for demolition is a startling discovery—call it a preservation baptism or bar mitzvah or whatever you like. Once people start really seeing the built world, the whole city becomes alive and more engaging, and once that relationship is there a person will fight to keep it because there is a connection and respect.

As for blogging, well, I think that we are incredibly lucky to have these forums where we can talk about whatever it is that we want to talk about and share it to a much wider audience than ever before. Some will argue that “tweeting” is the best way to do this, others just don’t like writing all that much, but if you have a hankering to express yourself, why on earth would you stay silent? Restorations may cost a lot of money, green retrofits can add up sometimes, but our ability to rave and educate and change a collective mentality for the better is free, and ultimately, what is more exciting than changing people’s minds? It’s simply the cheapest, most effective way to take over the world.

Create your own heritage-themed social network in minutes with Ning


Sometimes the needs of a heritage group extend beyond the simple need to convey information. Blogs and Facebook fan pages allow limited interactivity. But for groups whose members are intensely passionate about a topic, a free social networking site like Ning could be the way to go.

So what is Ning, and who is using it to talk about heritage?

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Essentially, Ning allows you to create your very own Facebook, complete with groups, design customization, forums, RSS capability and individual profile pages that incorporate blogs. There are also multimedia sharing functions whereby members can upload photos and videos.

According to Quantcast.com, an estimated 6.8 million people access Ning a month. Far fewer than Facebook, but you have to consider the quality of communication going on in these sites. Unlike the “drive-by” communication common to Facebook, Ning flourishes when ongoing, intense discussion is needed on a topic.

Compared to other social networking sites, Ning provides the a solid platform for effective, good-looking sites with minimal effort, according to TechCrunch.

There are several general factors to consider before starting a Ning site.

Pros:

  • You have an instant social network with a lot of the functionality of Facebook and your own brand
  • It’s customizable with colors, graphics and typefaces
  • There are a variety of privacy options for the site and for individual users
  • Feature set is continually improved.
  • Ability to track your web statistics through Google Analytics

Cons:

  • Unless your potential membership is highly prolific and motivated, you will have to manage your community intensively to keep the participation level up.
  • Once the information is in Ning, you can’t readily export it to another platform (like a blog).
  • There are hundreds of social sites out there and many folks are fatigued with signing up for them.
  • While Ning is improving, there will still be some instances (like getting a photo to show up in a post) where a rudimentary knowledge of HTML code is helpful.
  • It’s also your responsibility to deal with spambots and members behaving badly.

Participation often comes in waves. This may be affected by a major news item, event or recognition by other sites and blogs. Just prepare yourself for it.

Heritage organizations worldwide have joined Ning to share their values. Here are a few examples:

Natchitoches Preservation Network (collaborative small town heritage site)

Nat Pres

Natchitoches, La., the first permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory, is home to more than 30 organizations dealing with heritage issues. These organizations have long worked together to preserve the town’s historic legacy. While each has had its own website (often several years out of date) and publicity methods, the duplicate efforts wasted the energy of these organizations.

Ning was used to create the Natchitoches Preservation Network site.

The 151-member site uses groups and blogs to keep the community apprised of various heritage events and informs them of ongoing research and volunteer opportunities. Blog posts include anything from Community Cemetery Cleaning Day to thesis project presentations by Heritage Resources Students at nearby Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

The site also makes use of RSS and embedding of other social media to enhance the experience. It includes a virtual library of links from the social bookmarking service Delicious. It also incorporates a Friendfeed group that allows members to add news stories related to Natchitoches heritage from other sites, embedding them on the front page.

Members post photos and videos about events and places around the parish including the a series of “This Place Matters” videos in which individuals explain the importance of their favorite landmarks around the parish.

The site was also used to communicate intern research hosted at the National Center for Preservation Technology an Training during the summer. The interns blogged to the Natchitoches community weekly about the progress with their projects and how the projects benefit them as a community. They then presented their research at the end of the summer during the event “Preservation in Your Community.”

Heritage is more than just ensuring that a place matters, some heritage individuals find their passion preserving more intangible aspects, such as the art of music.

GenealogyWise (Genealogy Research)

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Genealogy is one of humankind’s favorite hobbies. We all want to know what makes us “us.” Not surprisingly, there are numerous genealogy networks on Ning. GenealogyWise is one of the largest. With more than 14,000 members and 3,000 groups, it’s very active. Using its group function, it also includes an interesting method for people to connect: by surname. The groups also tackle specific topics such as dating photos and outdoor genealogy. Nearly 400 videos (many of which are how-tos) have been posted. And to help the large membership connect, the site also holds scheduled live chats.

Museum 3.0 (Discussions on museums in the digital age)

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Museum 3.0 poses the question, “What will the museum of the future be like?” More than 1,600 people from all over the world have joined in seeking an answer to this question.

The forums serve as their discussion board for a variety of topics including the future of the audio tour, new virtual tours on different sites, Twitter as a business tool and museum-related surveys.

Museum 3.o also uses the events function of Ning to promote different conferences, seminars and networking opportunities.

Museum 3.0 also uses Ning’s video and image sharing opportunities to post more than 500 images from different museums and about 50 videos ranging from interviews to museum-related speeches to videos depicting the “Reel Texas Cowboys.”

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But heritage is not something that needs to be simply left to professionals. With social networking sites like Ning, heritage values are now in the hands of the individual.

For some, Ning enables them to research their family heritage and unit individuals globally giving them one centralized place to share aspects of their lives.  The families use their Ning sites to post family photos and videos, discuss family reunions and also research their family trees.

Regardless of the heritage you find important, let it be community heritage or your own family’s history, Ning enables you to share it all globally with folks who share those same values at the click of a button.

The sites we’ve covered are only a sampling of what’s out there. We’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite heritage-focused Ning sites.

 

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Podcast: Dale Jarvis on the art of storytelling on the World Wide Web

Dale Jarvis

Dale Jarvis is a member of a diminishing class: the storyteller. Yet, he is finding ways to share his art with whole new generation by reaching out to “use the media that they are using.” Whether it’s a podcast of traditional stories told by school children or telling stories 140 characters at a time on Twitter, Jarvis explores the web to find new ways to connect folks to their heritage. In episode of Voices of the Past, we talk to Dale about the online tools he uses and what kind of impact the Web will have on the preservation of cultural heritage.

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Jeff: Welcome to the Voices of the Past podcast. I’m Jeff Guin and today I will be talking with storyteller Dale Jarvis of Newfoundland, Canada.


Now, Dale is the Intangible Cultural Heritage development officer for Newfoundland. Dale, welcome to the podcast.


What do you do in your role in Newfoundland?


Dale: I help communities run community programs. So I go into communities, and I help them identify aspects of traditional culture or local heritage that they want to preserve. I mostly deal with things like community history, place names, traditional music–that type of thing–traditional skills like boat building. Those types of knowledge.


Jeff: Now Dale, you seem to be everywhere online, you contribute to a lot of different sites. How many sites do you actually contribute to?


Dale: I have different blogs for different organizations that I am involved with or different projects that I’m running. The most active one is the blog that I run for the heritage foundation for Newfoundland and Labrador, the Intangible Cultural Heritage blog. And that’s where I put a lot of information about the projects that I am involved with or community based projects that are starting up, workshops that we are offering, that type of thing. Just to keep people knowledgeable about what we are doing on a day to day basis.


Jeff: Well there are an awful lot of opportunities to have a conversation online, why did you choose Blogger for your blogs?


Dale: Blogger was free and easy. That was the main reason we do it. We do a lot of community based work, we do on pretty shoe-string budgets. So Blogger is a good tool for community groups and for myself to use.


Jeff: Absolutely, there are a lot of heritage organizations experiencing a budget crunch right now, and that is the great thing about social media, I guess, all of it is free, and there are different ways to communicate with it. Why did you choose to become so involved with social media?


Dale: It’s one more way of keeping in touch with people. I find that these days the first place people go when they are looking for information is online, and social media allows me to maintain contacts with people in a disparate area.


So I do a lot of work in the rural part of the province, and so it is just a way to create a network of people working in rural areas. So people that I might have a difficulty driving out to see, might be hours and hours of drive or a flight away can keep in touch using social media. And I like that it is very easy to update. So if I am doing something new on a particular day, I can very easily go in and make a very quick update. In a way that is more difficult with just a static website, and people can subscribe or not subscribe to what I do. So they can sort of choose to follow particular items that I am involved with.


Jeff: Now your use of online tools goes way beyond just the blogs. You are actually involved in quite a few social media outlets, what tools do you use?


Dale: I use a variety of stuff, and they are all sort of interconnected in some way. I use Blogger a lot. I use Twitter. I am constantly twittering about little things that I am doing. If I am running a new coarse or developing a new workshop, I will put a little Twitter update about that.


And I use Facebook a lot as well. I have Facebook groups for some of the organizations or some of the projects I am involved with. For Newfoundland and Labrador, there is an Intangible Heritage Facebook group.


This morning actually, I was updating some stuff about traditional wooden boatbuilding. We are developing a documentation coarse for people wanting to record traditional wooden boats. So it is a combination of photo documentation, drawing and oral history. So we are going to be teaching a coarse.


So I blogged about that using Blogger, and then I put a status update on my Twitter page, and then that’s all linked into Facebook. And I posted the event on Facebook as well because different people follow different things.


So it is a little bit of work. I find that I am updating a lot. I would love it if there was one, if I could do one thing and it would update all my different social media aspects. It would be great. But I do find that it is a great way of reaching out to people, and I do find that it reaches sort of a different audience.

When I am doing local history and working with community groups, the average age is sort of an older population. For boatbuilding, for example, the boatbuilders in the provence are generally older men, and they are not on Facebook. They are not following Twitter.


But there is a whole other generation of younger people who are interested in these issues, and it is a great way to reach out to them. And to get younger people involved in heritage and museum work, is to reach out to them and to use the media that they are using. So we are finding that we are getting folklore students, we are getting university students, college students who want to learn more about some of the programs we are running, and I think it is directly because of the fact we are using social media that is aimed toward that younger group.


To reach out to those older people, the people who aren’t computer savvy, I still to rely on the telephone and ads in the paper and that sort of thing, but it is a great way of reaching a broader spectrum of people and people who might not have been interested in heritage in the sort of traditional sense.


Jeff: All of this is great in communicating, but you still have a job to do. You are actually a professional folklorist, and how do you do your field work in the digital age?


Dale: I still rely on sort of old-fashioned methods of doing field work and documentation. If I am going out to sort of interview people, I still have to go knocking on doors and finding people to interview the old fashioned way.

I do use digital technology when I am doing my fieldwork. I use all digital photography, and I record digitally now. All my sound recordings are done digitally. I have a little hand-held digital recorder I use an mp3 wave recorder when I am doing my field work, which allows me to take field work and put it online pretty quickly in some ways.


One of the projects I am involved with with the university library is call “The Digital Archives Initiative,” and that’s a program to digitize material and put it online. They have digitized a lot of print material, but we are encouraging them to do more and more fieldwork documentation. So to take oral history interviews, interviews with traditional crafts people and put those digital interviews on line.


So the field work is still done the same way it has been done for 100 years, I have to go out and I have to sit down and talk to people. And that’s part of the job I love, but I am using new technology to make the processing of that information a little bit easier and putting that stuff online a lot faster.


Jeff: What’s your specialty in folklore?


Dale: My real interest is in Vernacular Architecture. That’s what I did all my MA work on, but I have a real interest in traditional knowledge and narrative and place-based narrative. So stories about place are really the sort of things I am passionate about.


Jeff: Do you focus primarily just on the folklore of Newfoundland or do you look at other countries as well?


Dale: I am really interested in collecting local stories. I am really interested in collecting local legend, and a lot of these things are migratory, like everything comes from somewhere else in some ways, and so I am really interested in how traditions blend and synchronize. And how stories from one place are adapted by people to a local condition and a local culture.


I think one of the great benefits of social media is that it allows me to keep in touch with people that are doing similar research in other locations. So if I have an interest in sharing stories digitally, it is very easy for me to find people who are interested in those sorts of things.


So for example, I am on several different listservs, public sector listservs and oral history listservs. So I know that people are doing similar work to what I am doing in India and in Hong Kong, and I have contacts with people I keep up with in Norway and in Switzerland.


Because we are all doing similar things, and the approaches and techniques are similar. We are all interested in our own local situation, but it is a real great way of sharing information and technical information.


So if someone is looking for information on how to record a Skype conversation, they put that request out on the listserve and almost instantaneously someone, somewhere in the world can get that information to them.


So it is a great way for professionals to keep in touch with one another. Whether or not that will impact how field work is done, I don’t know. Some people are starting to do field work in sort of digital worlds, and people are starting to study how societies online interact.


I think that is a fascinating field, but for me I still like traditional culture. I still like going out and interviewing the old men, you know, hanging out with the boat builders.


Jeff: Now you’re also involved with a professional storytellers’ Ning site, which Ning is a ready-made social network anyone can build. Tell us about that. Do you still have that sense of community in an online setting that you would in real life?


Dale: The Ning sites are good for sort of special interest type groups. So the professional storytellers‘ Ning group is a great way for keeping in touch with people that I might not have met in other ways.


I live on an island in Canada, so it is sort of difficult for me to met people face to face. And the storytelling community is sort of small in a way, there is not a lot of professional storytellers in the world really. And so sites like professional storyteller on Ning are a great way for me to meet sort of storytellers and find out what other storytellers are doing to keep abreast of what’s happening with the regional and national organizations.


Jeff: Tell me about your thesis work.


Dale: I did my thesis work on Vernacular architecture up in Labrador, northern Labrador, on a series of churches that were built by the Moravian Church out of Germany in the 17 and 18 hundreds. And they set up sites, pretty well-known American sites like Bethlehem, Penn., but they had also set up sites in the Caribbean and South America and in the Canadian North.


So they built these amazing Germanic churches way up in the middle of no where, these prefabricated in Sascha and then shipped over in pieces to North America. Fascinating, little-known aspect of Canadian architectural history.


And so I was studying how the architecture changed over time and how as the society changed and the local inductee population got more control over the church, how the architecture changed to sort of reflect more local concerns rather than this grandiose European style type architecture.


Jeff: That’s fascinating research Dale, and you actually contribute a lot to online media. You’re a prolific poster, you actually tell some of your stories on YouTube. Now, I imagine by now you are actually starting to get feedback on some of that content. Tell us about that.


Dale: I do get some feedback. I find that posting to sites like YouTube, and I also post video to a website called TeacherTube, which is sort of an education-friendly site. A lot of schools block YouTube, and so stuff posted on TeacherTube is more likely going to make its way into the school system.


I do get some comments from people who just happen to stumble across my stuff, people from other parts of the world. It’s not as interactive as some of the other online ways of communicating, so I never quite know who all is listening to my stories or watching my stories on YouTube.


But it is a great way to get that stuff out there. I think it is a great way of sharing stories.


As a storyteller, one thing that people ask me all the time is is storytelling dying. You know, is this a dying art? And I really believe that things are always in a constant state of evolution. I think traditions are always changing, and I think that the rise of things like YouTube indicate that people are really passionate about storytelling. They really want to share their own personal stories.

So, it is sort of a really great democratization of storytelling in a way. Maybe people don’t sit around and tell the long form fairy tales in quite the same way that they used to, but people are incredibly interested in sharing their own personal stories and creating stories and sharing them.

So I am fascinated by sites like YouTube because I think it does indicate that their is this human desire to share stories. That storytelling is something that is something that is really important to us as a species. Everyone wants to share their story in some way.


Jeff: Well exactly and storytelling is evolving. There are different ways of telling a story now, and I actually noticed that one of the things you are involved with is using Twitter to tell a story. Tell us a little bit more about that.


Dale: Yes, Twitter is one of these things that you have to sort of boil down to something to a very little short sort of thing.


So storytellers are sort of used to waxing poetic and telling these long stories. I can tell stories as a storyteller, you know, sort of those long fairy tales that take 30 minutes 45 minutes to tell, and I know storytellers who can tell one story that can last three hours.


So Twitter sort of forces you to rethink how you approach a story. I have told stories on Twitter. As part of a storytelling festival I was involved with, I actually told a long-form story just 100 characters at a time in over the course of a week.


So people could sort of follow my tweets and then read the whole story as I posted it. But I think that there is also the potential to use Twitter as well to share some tiny little stories.


There are some great little websites. There is one called Twistory, which is sort of one of these sites that collects all the things that people are putting as updates on Twitter and post them under different categories.


So you can find everything someone hates or loves at a certain moment or what they believe in at a certain moment. And they are fascinating.

Dale Jarvis



It is maybe not sort of narrative storytelling in the way that we think of it, but it is sort of a remarkable insight on into current moods and how people are perceiving their own little personal worlds.


Jeff: How else are you bringing storytelling to the online world?


Dale: I have experienced a little bit with telling stories online. I’ve told stories in Secondlife for example. I have started a storytelling guild in Secondlife. So I can go in as an avatar and tell a story.


It’s a very different type of storytelling from the sort of storytelling that I am used to where you eye contact, which is very important I find in telling a story. But people are really interested in hearing stories. So even in a sort of virtual setting where you don’t have quite the same physical eye contact, direct human interaction, people still come together to sit around a virtual campfire to listen to stories, which I find remarkable. And I think it really illustrates that human interest to listen and tell stories.


Jeff: I think it is great that Newfoundland actually has an official Intangible Cultural Development Officer and an official folklorist. Is that something that is integral to your culture there? Not everybody has one of those.


Dale: I think because Newfoundland has such a unique history in Canada. It’s the oldest part of Canada in some ways, but it is also the newest part in Canada in others.


It only joined into confederation in Canada in 1949, so before that it was its own country basically. And so since it was its on country and an island for so long, it had sort of developed its own unique sort of indigenous culture.


Very sort of Irish, west country English sort of culture. Very much based on traditions around the sea and fishing. Great live traditional music seen here in the Provence. So culture and language and music and traditional dance are really important still at the community level.


So it’s not surprising in Canada, which is this geographically large country, there are really only two providential folklorists in the whole country–one is in Quebec, which has a very distinct French tradition and then my position here in Newfoundland, which has its own very Anglo-Irish island tradition as well.

So yes, I think my position really has come about because people here really recognize that there is something unique here and that there is a value to it and that it is something worth preserving, worth saving.


Jeff: Dale, do you think the stories you are telling now are going to get lost in the online melange of different tools? Is there something that is going to get lost in the actual storytelling itself in the shift of digital?


Dale: One of the programs I run here locally is a storytelling program at the elementary school level. I work with one local school, and I go in and I teach storytelling to grades 4 to 6.


So I go in one day a week, and I work with six different classes and I actually teach students how to tell stories. So I teach them how to tell traditional stories. I teach them a lot of local stories, so stories about the fairies and local ghost stories and local legends and local folk tales.


One of the little projects that we started last year was to record those stories in mp3 format and then podcast those kids telling those traditional stories.


When I first went into the school, I said, “How many of you have heard people tell stories?” and you know, a couple of kids raised their hands. And I said, “How many of you have an mp3 player?” And like every kid in the class put up their hands.


And so what I am trying to do with that project is use new technology to promote a traditional skill amongst youth. And unless it’s meaningful to them in some way, unless it has some sort of value to them, they are not going to be interested in the tradition.


But they are fascinated by the stories, they love the stories. And they also kind of think it is neat that they can go online and listen to other kids telling their stories.


And I sort of knew it was working when one day when I was leaving the school, there were two girls talking to each other and then one girl turned to the other and said, “I’m so downloading your story.” And I thought OK, OK, I have done something right then in this school.


Jeff: Is that podcast still available?


Dale: The podcast is still available. It is holycrosselementary.blogspot.com, and you can go on and you can listen to some of my grade 5 and grade 6’s telling traditional stories.


Jeff: And how do you think the new technologies are going to affect the folklore field?


Dale: I think technologies, like cell phones, are something that we are going to see more and more get used for some of this stuff, especially like the iPhone. Especially with the GPS capabilities, and I mentioned before that I am real interested in place-based narratives, place-based storytelling. I think that we are going to see more and more of this type of stuff.


One of the projects I am involved with right now is a project that was started in Toronto called Murmur. The murmur project started off as an art project in downtown Toronto, where people collected local stories told by local people, they recorded those stories, they put them all online.


So there is a map of the neighborhood and you can go to the site and click on the little dot and listen to a person tell the story about that particular location. But then if you actually go to the street and walk down the street, there is a little sign on the street with a phone number and a six-digit code, so you can take your cell phone and dial the number, punch in the six-digit code and listen to the person tell their story on that spot.


And this a project that started in Toronto, it’s moved across Canada. There are now projects in South Pablo and Brazil, there’s projects in Scotland and Ireland, and we are starting up a similar project here in Newfoundland.


I think that that has great potential. That these sort of cell phone based stories and sort of using new technologies to get local stories and local traditions and local knowledge out to a wider public are going to be very, very popular.


I know places like the Appellation Trail and national historic sites in the United Kingdom are starting to experiment with GPS based narrative-type devices, so you can have your iPhone and walk around the site and listen to different types of stories. And I think we are going to see a lot more of that type of stuff happening more in the very, very near future.


Jeff: Do you see more folklorist catching on to social media or more of them using it these days?


Dale: I think it is going to happen. I think the technology is getting friendlier all the time, and it is getting easier and easier and people are getting so familiar now with things like Google Maps.


Even two years ago, people didn’t use Google Maps in the same way that they used today. It comes almost standard that when you are looking for place information, that you go to Google Maps. And it is so easy now to integrate YouTube video onto Google Earth. I think we are going to see more and more of this way of sharing local heritage information and local folklore on those new forms of media.


I was just at the Toronto storytelling festival telling stories, and it is very much so the traditional festival, folk festival, where you go and sit and you listen to people tell stories. And that is fabulous, and I think that the sort of heart of storytelling will always be there at that sort of very personal way of telling stories.


But while I was at the festival, there were two sort of middle-aged storytellers who came up to me and said why do we need to get on Facebook? We have been on Facebook, and we don’t understand it, and why do we bother doing this?” And so I sort of went through my social-media rant about why they needed to be on it.


And then later on in the festival, I was with the same storytellers, and they were saying, they were discussing problems every festival has about attracting new audience. You know, how do we attract new audience to the festival, and I said you know, this is part of the reasons you need to be involved with social media because that is a sort of way to attract the “under 40” crowd to come out to these types of events.


When you go to folk festivals and storytelling festivals across North America, the average age is about 40 plus, generally, but there is this whole other generation of people that are a potential audience and ultimately a potential paying audience for some of this stuff.


So I think that it is really important to start reaching out to those different people and keeping those sort of traditions, whatever they are, by transmitting them to the next generation using the new technology, new media, those types of things.


Jeff: Dale, thanks for joining us today.


Well, that’s it for today’s episode of the Voices of the Past Podcast Podcast. Now, to reiterate what Dale said, our mission here is to inspire connection to heritage values using new media. If you like, you can join the conversation at our show notes site. That’s voicesofthepast.org. Check out the heritage news and even contribute news of your own. I’m Jeff Guin, and until next time, I’ll see you online.

Two days with a power blogger: learning the art of expression, connection and influence

Lorelle VanFossen

By Bethany Frank


There are lessons that hit you like a ton of bricks, and then there are lessons that need time to simmer like homemade jambalaya. By allowing it to sit, the flavors are able to absorb and strengthen.



Last week, power blogger Lorelle VanFossen came to the National Park Service office where I intern and taught a workshop on the art of blogging and its uses in the heritage field. Lorelle stood in front of us and asked, “what do you say when someone says they have a blog?” Without missing a beat, one participant responded, “ask if there is a cure.”


That sudden burst of laughter broke the ice as we all discussed our thoughts on how blogging could potentially help the organization. Some responded with, “I don’t know; I am here to learn the answer” or “Because my boss told me to.”


But then we started discussing how blogging could help us reach a wider audience.


If you want to have a discussion on true Cajun cooking, you don’t go to Massachusetts or Texas. You go “down south” to southern Louisiana. If you want to converse with a younger audience and share your heritage values, you go online. That is where the people are. That is why we learned with Lorelle for a day and a half.


We still need and want to converse with folks already in preservation, but right now that is an older audience. What happens in another decade or so when the tools that the audience uses to communicate are obsolete?


Preservation is as much about preserving the memories of today as those of yesterday.That is what we learned to do. Instead of just jumping into the “work” aspect of blogging, we received the opportunity to begin our own blogs. Everyone was asked to find something he/she was passionate about. Something worth blogging.


We then began the “creation” part of our blogs.


We worked on finding a focus and creating a goal. Lorelle challenged us all to think about whom we were talking to. Who did we want to read our blog? And why were we writing? That was my favorite part. I enjoyed looking around the room and seeing the participants’ eyes twinkle with passion as they created their lists of tags and categories as they rediscovered their passions.


It was apparent during the outlining stage that I was in a room of established professionals. They had some of the most beautiful lists I had ever seen. But what was more fascinating were the subjects they chose to discuss.


Some found the new Apple technologies fascinating while other looked toward the dead and wanted to discuss graveyards and tombstones. One looked beyond the grave and deeper in the past to letters from a family who lived decades ago.


“If you want to get someone’s attention, you need to show them something they’ve never seen before or show them something in a way they’ve never seen before,” Lorelle said.


Lorelle reminded us that there are a hundred and ten different ways to show our passions. Some might be pioneering new land with an innovative idea. But most will broach subjects that have been discussed before, and it is our job to ensure that we cover them in a new way.


Lorelle’s lessons lingered on throughout the workshop. She provided opportunities for everyone to practice various blogging techniques and tools including video and podcasts.


She left mark on everyone by the time the workshop had concluded.


We all reflected about what we learned throughout the workshop. Our thoughts truly reflected the wide array of personalities in the group. Some found the power in block quotes and the value in writing out the plethora of thoughts and ideas in a blog format. Some were intrigued by the possibilities available with speed blogging and one even found a friend in WordPress.tv (a site with videos on how to use various WordPress applications).


The group, as a whole, found its voice. It found the ability to ensure it is heard in today’s hectic world.

Feature photo by jpozadzides on Flickr

What is social media?

For the last couple of years, the terms “web 2.0” and “social media” have been used for nearly anything new and interactive on the internet. Since Preservation Today and sites like it integrate many basic social media tools, let’s take the time to consider the concept of social media and its potential to advance heritage preservation.

In technical terms, the social media phenomenon is a fusion of cross-platform technology, open-source web code and the interactive presentation of audio, photos, videos and text. But at its heart, it’s about empowering people to achieve goals through connection with others who share similar values, regardless of their location.

Core to this connectedness is the idea of community and how it’s being redefined. For example, the purpose of Preservation Today is to inspire connections to heritage values using new media. You don’t have to have lots of money, a Ph.D., or be a credentialed preservationist to view the site or interact with it. It doesn’t matter where you live either. If you care about heritage, you belong here.

The accessible nature of social media tools, coupled with the relative anonymity of the web, levels the playing field for discussion. This takes away some of the fear of saying the wrong thing and allows people of many different backgrounds to interact as peers.

Social media comes in a variety of flavors. Some of these tools—like forums and message boards—you may already be familiar with. Others, like photo sharing (Flickr), video sharing (YouTube), wall posts (FaceBook), blogs (WordPress), music sharing (iTunes), and internet telephony (Skype), may be new.

When you visit the a site like Facebook or MySpace, what you’re seeing is a form of social media called a “social network.” Essentially, it brings social media tools together on the same web page. The efficiency of social networks is leading to an explosion in their popularity. The combined worldwide user base of MySpace and Facebook roughly equals the population of the United States.

So how’s this different from the web we used to know? For one thing, you’re no longer just reading the company line. The web is now instantly interactive with the potential for infinite conversation on any given topic. It’s like the old gossip fence, except your neighbor is potentially anyone in the world.

What’s been the reason preservation and heritage issues have been so hard to communicate? It’s because they, like politics, are traditionally local. And while probably nothing will ever most people care who’s the state representative for Burning Moscow, Nev., you very well may throw in with an online group that is fired up about preserving the Old West mines there.

So, your worldview isn’t just limited to your place of residence anymore. With social media, your interests can help define your social responsibility in the realm of heritage values. Explore and enjoy!

Major cultural sites caught in crossfire of Georgian conflict

Reports are beginning to hit the net about heritage sites that have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict between Georgia and Russia. Here is a rundown of a few of the items being discussed:

In his post Fog of war obscures state of cultural heritage sites in Georgia, Tom Flynn of the artknows blog, recounts what’s at stake–including three sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and fifteen more on the Tentative List. He references the ICOMOS, (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), website, which states “the entire cultural heritage of Georgia is endangered,” and recounts a preliminary report prepared by ICOMOS Georgia  regarding the shelling of a sixth-century Ateni Sioni Church, where affiliated professionals were working. Casualties in the heritage preservation field are being reported as well. Among the points Flynn presents in his long investigative piece:

  • Approximately 345 registered historical monuments and archaeological sites are located within the main conflict zones
  • The ICOMOS draft reports concern over news of rockets being fired into the Uphlistsikhe rock-cut city (5th-century BC-7th century), a site on the World Heritage Tentative List
  • Reports of looting of the 11th-century Samtavisi Cathedral (another candidate for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List)
  • The International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) has issued a ‘Watch List’ of “Georgian museums in uncertain conditions situated in regions occupied by the Russian Army.
  • The villages of Tamarasheni and Qurta were destroyed and possibly the buildings of the museums as well

Meanwhile, the Russian non-governmental news agency Interfax, based in Moscow, reports that Georgian fire destroyed many cultural monuments in South Ossetia. Among the monuments in question were 19th century cathedrals and architectural memorials dating to the eighth and ninth centuries. The article quotes Alexander Kibovsky, head of Federal Service for law observance supervision in the field of protection of cultural heritage as saying:

“When Georgian forces intruded to South Ossetia all mentioned monuments were destroyed or suffered a great loss because of their barbarian operations.”

The impact of the war on a team of archaeologists from the University of Winchester’s Department of Archaeology is discussed in the post Archaeological excavation affected by war in Georgia from the BAJR Blog. The team was on an expedition with Georgian colleagues to excavate a rural site shortly before the hostilities began. All of the British team, which included 10 students from universities across the UK and seven experienced archaeological and specialist staff, were able to return home the day before the conflict began. The University of Winchester had been forging ties with the Georgian Archaeology Commission to strengthen archaeology courses at Georgian universities. The expedition’s co-director, Dr. Paul Everill is quoted as saying:

“We are an expedition of archaeologists and historians, but we all share a love of Georgia, its culture and its people. We hope to find some way of raising whatever funds we can to eventually help the country rebuild.”

Related Links:

Risk of Destruction from Historic Sites in Georgia-The Cultural Property Law Blog

Georgia on My Mind-Cultural Property Observer

Georgia, Eredvi village, near South Ossetia-YouTube iReport video

ateni sioni photo by perret.rukhadze on Flickr

Armchair tour of museums and Web 2.0

Nina Simon Armchair Tour of Museum 2By Nina Simon

Confused about social media? Don’t know where to start? For the last two years, I’ve been hunting down great projects in and outside of museums that exemplify the themes of visitor participation, user-generated content, and flexible relationships between institutions and visitors.Here are some of my favorite museum projects that represent interesting, thoughtful experiments with Web 2.0:

The Bay Area Discovery Museum: A Lesson in Good Listening

You don’t need a big initiative to get involved with social media—you just need ears and a voice to add to conversations that are already happening. Jennifer Caleshu, head of marketing for a small children’s museum, is an active participant in local Web 2.0 parenting and recreational sites like Yelp!, and developed relationships in those online communities to build strong relationships with current and potential visitors.She recently started a blog for the museum, but her best work is in listening to what others are saying about her institution.She describes her social media strategy here on the excellent Museum Audience Insight blog maintained by Reach Advisors.

MN150: A Visitor-Generated History Exhibition

The Minnesota Historical Society developed an innovative permanent exhibition featuring the 150 most important contributions of Minnesota as nominated by regular people.Read an interview with the lead developer of MN150 here.

The Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum is a leader in innovative social media initiatives, from the creation of Facebook applications to crowd-curated exhibits and a “posse” collection-tagging project.You can read three articles about their initiatives here or visit their community site here.

Library of Congress on Flickr

When the Library of Congress put some of their photo collection on the photo-sharing site Flickr, it opened up whole new conversations and interpretations of their content.Read more about it here.

ExhibitFiles

ExhibitFiles is a social networking website for people who make and visit exhibitions.It is a living database of exhibit case studies and reviews and is useful for anyone looking for best practices in the field.

Museum blog types compared (with examples)

In this post on Museum 2.0, I compare the different types of museum blogs and offer a self-assessment tool to determine what type might be right for you.

Beth’s Blog and the WeAreMedia wiki

Beth Kanter is an extraordinary social media maven with a focus on non-profits.She covers everything from Web 2.0 tools to fundraising strategies on her blog and on the NTEN WeAreMedia project site.

Useum

The North Carolina Museum of Life and Sciences is doing a series of no- to low-cost experiments with Web 2.0 and documenting them here.

Science Buzz and Red Shift Now

The Science Museum of Museum and the Ontario Science Center each maintain impressive community sites that integrate real-time visitor feedback from the Web and the museum floor here and here respectively.

Teaser image by Shelley Bernstein on Flickr.

So, what is "Voices of the Past?"

By Jeff Guin

Excellent question! And the answer is evolving with the web. For now, let’s just say it started as a dream–literally and figuratively.

We’ve been hearing about Web 2.0 for a couple of years now. Like a lot of folks, I sat on the sidelines to see if it really had legs. Spectating led to genuine interest, which led to experimentation and ultimately realization of the empowering nature of the social web. And the opportunity each person now has to find his or her own voice.

It got me thinking: how has the heritage community conducted outreach to this point? By putting out yet another newsletter to tell a few thousand folks how good it is?  Or contracting another sparsely updated website packed with pdfs and technical explanations?

Those questions led to another one: what would happen if we sought to inspire connections to heritage values through direct engagement rather than controlling information or telling people what to think? Without regard to education or experience. A place that virtually shouts “If you value heritage, you’re welcome here.”

The social web is about real interaction. To give people the opportunity to feel like they are a part of the conversation, rather than excluded from it. Of course, the best thing about this new world is that it’s easy to engage in and practically free.

All it requires is an open mind and a little curiosity. Which was my state of mind waking up one morning in late June with the idea of a netcast that ties together heritage values and social media. It wasn’t easy to get to this point! But too many magical things have fallen into place for me to believe I was wasting my time. But this is just a launch pad. Without your participation, it’s all for naught.

How to participate? The first thing you can do is use this site’s interactive capabilities. Comment on the news and blogs. Suggest future story ideas. You can also take high-quality photos and video of your events and preservation projects and then share them using the great social media tools out there. Use the tag “preservationtoday” on your content if you would like to share it with the rest of the community and possibly get it reported on the netcast.

So, what is Voices of the Past? I’ve answered as much as I can. The rest is up to you.

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