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Audio Podcast: Kaitlin O’Shea on collaboration, platforms, and the role of historic preservation in the blogosphere

In this edition of the Voices of the Past audio podcast, we’ll meet Kaitlin O’Shea. Kaitlin is the creator of the Preservation in Pink blog and newsletter. She will explain how the iconic pink flamingo, and a group of bloggy friends, have helped her  find her voice to take the conversation about historic preservation to a wider audience.

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Intro: Coming up on the Voices of the Past Podcast, we’ll meet a blogger who’s painting the preservation world in pink.

And welcome to Voices of the Past, the podcast that connects you to the world of heritage online. I’m Jeff Guin, and today I’m talking to Kaitlin O’Shea of the blog Preservation in Pink. Kaitlin uses a combination of collaborative blogging and printable media to reach her audience.

And Kaitlin, thanks for being here, and I wonder if you would just start by telling us, what is Preservation in Pink?

O’Shea: Well, it’s a long story. I am happy to share it. It was first a newsletter. When I graduated from Mary Washington in 2006, I went to work for a couple of years. And in the first six months, I realized just how much I missed my classmates and the comfort of the department, and the constant conversation that we would have anytime of the day. Whether we were in classes or studying or out drinking coffee or whatever. I suddenly had this one project that I loved. It was an oral history project. But it was only one thing. I didn’t have my buildings, I didn’t have my conversations. I was interviewing people and transcribing. And that was the extent of my day usually. So I decided that I need to do something. And I could have just read book after book, but when you get home from work, you are still kind of tired. So I have always loved to write and once upon a time, I had a dream of working with a preservation magazine. And I decided that maybe I could write about it. I have this one friend who had been blogging, but she just had a personal blog. And I thought, well, that is kind of interesting, but I didn’t start with a blog. So I decided to try a newsletter. I had four years of journalism experience in high school. I still remember all the lessons that I learned there. I did layout and editing and things like that. My very first issue, I think I only told one preservation friend about it. And she encouraged me. She’s like my preservation cheerleader. And I said, well, I am just going to write all the articles and show people what I can do. And then next time I will ask people to contribute. And she wrote one article, and I wrote six pages of stuff and sent it out to everybody I knew.

Also back in school, senior year, in one of my classes, we watched an anti-Walmart video about how Walmart came into Ashland, Virginia. And the people were fighting, and for whatever reason they chose the pink flamingo to be anti-Walmart. And the movie, it was just so heart-wrenching and by the end Ashland, Virginia lost and they got their Walmart. And my friends and I, we were distraught. We were heartbroken. Some of us were already not shopping at Walmart, and we decided we loved the pink flamingos. And so that kind of just picked up speed that last semester of school.

To fast forward again to the newsletter. This time, flamingos have just been out of control. We would send each other little flamingos and do little things like that. So I was tossing around the idea of including flamingos just for fun, and thought it was not that serious, but then I decided that it was going to be mine and I wanted it to be fun and not just “preservation.” Somehow I came up with Preservation in Pink, and it just kind of went from there.

Guin: Excellent. I think sometimes when people think preservation and they think preservationists, they think strident… obstructionists… just talking about average, everyday people. And this seems to be a reputation that has developed overtime, justified or not, but looking at your blog and even the beginnings of it, you’ve got some elements in there where you have a very strong preservation ethic, but it’s presented so well and so subtly that it has a different tone to it. Is that something that was intentional on your part?

O’Shea: I started Preservation in Pink with the mission of teaching people and showing them that preservation is not just academic, it’s not just professional, it really applies to every part of everyone’s life. Because it’s not just buildings, it’s not just battlefields. It’s quality of life, it is pride where you live, it’s heritage, it’s knowing where you came from and where you want to go in respect to the past. And all these things together, whether it is shopping locally or respecting the environment, it’s really important and if we do all that then we will all live in a better place.

And that is a lot to take in all at once, so I try to insert it here and there where it is talking about local shopping or this fun preservation activity, I mean really. I can connect anything to preservation, just give me a few minutes.

Guin: Well, how do you define historic preservation? What’s your personal definition?

 

Kaitlin O'Shea in an architectural salvage shop
O'Shea visits one of her favorite places: the architectural salvage shop

O’Shea: It means a lot of things to different people. For me, preservation is collectively looking toward the future with respect for the past. It’s understanding communities, the way of life, your built environment, your heritage values, in the sense that we need to remember the past in order to create a brighter future. That’s the basis of my definition. But the methods of doing that are all the facets of historic preservation, which to me is this huge umbrella term. But it involves architecture history, research, community and preservation maintenance, folklore, museum studies, economics, archeology..the list is never ending. For historic preservation, it provides us the opportunity to shape and direct a world in which people are proud of where they live even though people may be proud of different areas for different reasons. We have to respect cultures and areas and regions. When people have tried in what they and where they live and where they came from, then every action they do in a place matters. And that’s how we can create a better place and that’s how I believe historic preservation has the ability to save the world.

Guin: I guess in that same thing, taking that a step further, looking at your blog, you have a lot of things that are strictly historic preservation or strictly heritage values, but then you sometimes go into some things that are a little peripheral there. And you mentioned Walmart earlier, and actually one of your most popular posts is about Walmart. Can you talk about that?

O’Shea: Sure. That post–Save Money, Live Better–I wrote because the campaign just bugs me, and I won’t go into that. I think that one is one of the most popular because people are Googling “Walmart” or “save money, live better,” and for whatever reason, Preservation in Pink just pops up. So that remains one of the most popular posts every single day. We can get 100 views in one day, just that one.

Guin: Looking at your popular posts, and what people seem to respond to, what seems to make up a good blog post?

O’Shea: I guess I would categorize a good blog post in a few different ways. One is obviously a popular one. One like Save Money, Live Better. If that is getting a lot of people to visit Preservation in Pink, and maybe see the blog and are looking for something preservation related, and not just Walmart related, then that’s great. That helped increase the visibility.

But I guess a good blog post, from my perspective, is one that is well thought out and meaningful, and brings people to historic preservation maybe in a way that they didn’t know before. There is just some little anecdote I told that they became more interested in it. Maybe the story was interesting that day or maybe one of the guest bloggers wrote something fun, maybe broadening their horizons, and hoping that they will come back.

Sometimes I say that a good blog post is one that my sister, who is a freshman in college, will comment on. Because she is just starting to understand what I talk about and what I do. And if she found it enjoyable, then I figured that a lot of people might have enjoyed the post that day.

Guin: Well, tell me bout your favorite blog post on Preservation in Pink. What’s the must read blog post on your site?

O’Shea: I have a few that are my favorite, a lot of them relate to my oral history project, kind of just days on the job. Because they mean a lot to me and to kind of share what I do and what I did as an oral historian, and remember a fun day of what it was like to be in oral history every single day.

One of my favorite to write is called, Why they don’t let me outside. And the title is inspired because most of the time I am inside. But once in a while, in my office we would just go outside. And that day I jumped and kind of twisted my ankle and it was still a really good day, but by the time I got home and sort of fainted from a swollen ankle. And it was a mess of a day. But after I fainted and woke back up, I was fine.

Guin: And you still have good memories of that day?

O’Shea: Yeah. So kind of posts like that. Another one is Oral History and Me: It is Complicated. Not love-hate, but sibling relationship with oral history. It’s so frustrating, but you love it no matter what.

And then I have some others that are more personal reflections. One is called Old Memories: The Evolution of My Favorite Place. And that’s about my grandmother’s town in New York. And I grew up playing on the beach, but now that I’m older, I don’t play as much, but I run on the beach. And I appreciate the place in a different way. And all of those I attribute to touching out on preservation values in a non academic way that I hope people enjoy.

Guin: The reason that we have these cultural resources is because of the people and the traditions handed down. In talking with those people you get a lot more insight and context about the cultural resources themselves. So I think that’s great. Well, you mentioned earlier your newsletter and your journalism experience, and design and layout. You’ve used that in the Preservation in Pink newsletter. Now not many bloggers do this. Why did you do this, and who is this newsletter targeted to?

O’Shea: Again, the newsletter was first and the blog came after. I needed a way to keep Preservation in Pink on the web for anyone who wanted to access it because I can’t afford to print it and mail it to everybody. And that is kind of silly since everything is on the web. So the blog, at first, was just two posts a year. I need articles for the newsletter, and then in 2008, I started putting on more posts every couple of months. And then toward the end, I really wanted people to read Preservation in Pink. I really needed this to go somewhere, and so I started making it a daily blog. And the newsletter and the blog are intended for the same audience. But it is a wide audience. It is anyone who is interested in preservation because it is what they do or because they don’t know much about it. And I try to gather articles from the wonderful contributors that seem to always be willing to add something. But everyone has different experiences, and for me to just share my own on the blog is not the same as having a newsletter. Having a newsletter kind of bring out more voices than my own, which I imagine people don’t want to read all the time.

Guin: Then let’s look at how your blog has developed over time because aside from having a newsletter, which is kind of rare for a blogger, you also have multiple contributors. And that’s not that rare for a blog. For a heritage blog it is fairly rare. How did that start?

IMG_4753O’Shea: Really, having a 5-day per week blog was kind of hard. And to come up with something that is hopefully interesting everyday. Right now it is three to four with grad school getting in the way. But I thought maybe I could be like other bloggers. I read a lot of different blogs: running blogs, wedding blogs, friends blogs. And a lot of people have guest bloggers. And I thought that would be a good way to draw in more readers/viewers. People could say, hey I wrote for this blog, go read it.

So the guest bloggers, I guess they started out kind of slowly. People I knew, my friends from college and fellow preservationists. And it was a nice break for me, and I figured it was a nice break for the readers. It was something different. It was something I couldn’t write about because I didn’t know much about it. And now I have a permanent posting up on Preservation in Pink asking for contributors and bloggers. Some people are more willing to contribute to the blog because it seems like less pressure. I mea, it is. I always feel like the blog is less serious than the newsletter. I mean, when I talk about cats and flamingos and whatever, it is a little more fun. And it is also more time-sensitive. So, one guest blogger, Brad Hatch, he has a ton of “preservacation” blogs, as he calls them, because he has a whole series that he wrote for me. And we posted them every couple of weeks or so. Whereas keeping all that for the newsletter would be a lot. And having a series in the newsletter that’s only twice a year is hard because that is asking readers to remember or go back six months ago and follow up from that first article. Whereas on the blog, I can link from post to post and readers can find it that way.  So I guess the newsletter developed the same way, there was not a lot of people at first and now there is many many people. For this next issue, I have even different contributors than usual. It’s really just helped to bring more of an audience. And more diversity.

Guin: Excellent. Well, you talked about being a grad student. I know that’s a lot of pressure. I want to hear about how you balanced being a grad student with doing such a rigorous blog schedule. Also, I am sure you are involved with other forms of online media or social networks as well. How do you balance all that?

O’Shea: I am just the type to do what I have to do. And it was a concern, maybe I wouldn’t have enough time. But I decided, no. It has come this far, it is still getting a lot of viewers. And I really enjoy it. It is kind of an outlet. So, if I don’t feel like writing my paper, maybe I can do something a little bit easier like writing a blog post. It also keeps me connected with everyone in my grad-school bubble. It’s the same of balancing anything else. I like to run a lot, I help out with the UVM track team. As far as other social networking, I have a few other blogs that are not like Preservation in Pink, they are just for fun or to keep track of running or something. Those I only do when I have the time.

Guin: Do you promote Preservation in Pink through any other networks? Do you do anything else other than consistent blogging to attract readership?

O’Shea: I do. I have a Preservation in Pink Facebook group page. And when I have a newsletter or I am asking for contributors, I pretty much email everyone who has ever met me. Any more former and current classmates have done a lot to help. They will share it with people they know. Send on the newsletter or send on the website. Last year I made business cards and postcards. So anyone who wrote for me, I send them a “thank you” with some business cards and also a Preservation in Pink magnet. Some people put it up at work so their coworkers saw the magnet and asked about the website. I try to make sure the tags and the categories are sometimes general and sometimes specific. So it could come up in photography, it could come up in preservation, and people could come across it that way. I have it on my resume. I like to share it with fellow preservationists.

Guin: Knowing that you are in graduate school right now, and knowing that you are going to have to get a job, does that affect what you blog or what you blog about?

O’Shea: It’s the same as when I started. I won’t write anything that I think is too judgmental or something that I would look back and go, “Oh geez, why did I write that?” I mean, my opinions might slightly change or my intellectual understanding of something might change, but I feel that what I put on Preservation in Pink is fit for anybody to read. And I am really honored when people way above me have read it.

Guin: Well the great thing about a blog is that if you do evolve intellectually or learn something new, you can always update the post or you can go and write another post and reference the old one. And it’s OK to show that you’ve learned something. And your readers learn along with you. So that’s great. Well, you mentioned early about using WordPress, and I use WordPress. I am active in the WordPress community. And you talked about tags and categories. And I don’t think that is something I have covered on Voices of the Past before. Can you tell me, in your opinion, what the different is between a tag and a category. And how you use those concepts to optimize your posts.

O’Shea: Well, this is just my understanding, and I might be slightly off. But from what I found, is tags are what people come across when they Google something and categories seem to be just within the site itself. I have a lot of tags because of all the posts, and I try to minimize the categories. So categories I use if someone is searching within Preservation in Pink itself. How can I find out your roadtrip posts. Whereas tags I look at as something people search on the web that could bring them to Preservation in Pink.

Guin: You said that you actually get inspiration from other blogs sometimes. What other blogs do you actively follow?

O’Shea: A new blog that you just did a feature on, My Own Time Machine by Sabra Smith. I think we are blog soulmates. Our blogs are similar, they are complimentary, they are a lot of fun. I love what she writes, so I have been following that since she started.

I follow Place Economics, which is not updated that much, but I like reading whatever he writes.

I follow Route 66 blog. Another WordPress blog. It is like the clearinghouse for Route 66 news.

Then I follow unrelated preservation blogs as well.

Guin: Obviously social media and blogging and all this stuff is growing. And a lot of heritage folks, although some have been slow in coming on board to using the social networks, that is going to change. And folks are getting on there wondering, what do they do to get started. Especially with blogging because that seems to be the heart of any social media effort. What advice do you have for those individuals or organizations getting involved in blogging for the first time?

Kaitlin O'Shea with the "flamingo girls."
O'Shea and the "flamingo girls."

O’Shea: I would say, if you have something that you love and you want to start a blog and write about it and talk about that subject, don’t start it expecting tons of readers and comments. Do it because you love it and keep doing it. I mean, Preservation in Pink isn’t the biggest blog out there by any means or even close to it, but the readership has grown immensely between this year and last year, and it is just consistency and I don’t really do it for anyone other than myself. I write for people who are interested in preservation, but I do it for myself too. So just keep at it and share your blog with anyone you know. I guess that’s my best advice for anyone.

Guin: OK, I want to take a step back a bit. What made you decide to use WordPress instead of any of the other blogging platforms that are out there?

O’Shea: Well, I love WordPress, let me just say that. I don’t really like Blogger for a professional looking blog. I think it is too simplistic and too kind of bubbly. You can’t create very many pages, and I don’t know much about creating your own template. Whereas WordPress had all these beautiful templates and you could change them all the time. And add all these Widgets, I think we call them. And those were really the only two I knew. I guess TypePad and so many others you have to pay for, or at least you used to. But anyone who is going to start a blog, I always recommend WordPress because it is just really easy and really fun.

Guin: Well, good. Kaitlin, thanks for being on Voices of the Past.

O’Shea: Thank you very much!

Outro: And that was Kaitlin O’Shea of blog and newsletter, Preservation in Pink.

Now, if you would like to learn more about Kaitlin and Preservation in Pink, that is at voicesofthepast.org. There you will find a transcript of this interview plus several others we have done with other folks in the heritage field using social media to make a difference in their world.

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

LOGO

Meet the Blogger: Electric Archaeology’s Shawn Graham on Simulating Ancient Social Gaming Networks

As a Registered Professional Archaeologist in North America a Member of the Institute for Archaeologists in the U.K., Shawn Graham knows the finer points of working in the field. But these days, he’s taking the world of archaeology — and ancient civilizations — into the digital realm with simulations called Agent-Based Models (ABMs). Shawn’s blog “Electric Archaeology: Digital Media for Learning and Research,” explores how we can learn more about how digital tools can be used to better understand archaeological phenomena and, more importantly, the people behind them.

grahamint

Tell us how “Electric Archaeology” began?

By training and inclination, I’m an archaeologist. As part of my thesis work, I became interested in social networks in the past. But I was frustrated at some of the limitations of social networks analysis. It only allowed me static snapshots. I wanted something a bit more dynamic. One thing led to another, and I became interested in agent-based modeling, using ancient social networks as the skeleton. This led me to a conference at the University of Nebraska in 2006. Feedback I got there suggested that I should blog my research. I started ‘Electric Archaeology’ shortly thereafter. There are many archaeological blogs out there, but comparatively few that focus on archaeology-as-a-digital-humanity. So I found my niche.

What exactly is Agent Based Modeling?

Agent-based modeling (ABM) is a simulation methodology. But instead of trying to create some sort of comprehensive equation that describes the object you are simulating, you instead describe the behaviors of individuals. Then, you replicate these individuals, and allow them to interact in an environment. Because each individual has its own unique suite of characteristics, the way they interact cannot be predicted. So you end up with emergent behavior. This emergent behavior is what you’re interested in. Take for example a traffic jam (one of the standard examples for explaining emergence), Every car has its own driver. The driver has limited knowledge about what’s going on, on the road. She can see in front and behind. Woops! The guy in front has just stood on the brakes, so Suzy has to swerve. This causes Jacques to step on his brakes, and honk his horn… ad nauseam…

From above, these limited interactions cause a traffic jam to emerge. The jam travels backwards down the highway, relative to how the cars are moving. New cars enter the jam, and old cars leave the jam – but the jam continues to exist. The jam can be said to exist at a higher level of complexity than the individual cars that compose it.

How is this relevant to archaeology?

In terms of ancient history, one of my first ABM’s concerned the diffusion of information in the Roman empire. Specifically, I was interested in what the conception of geographic space implied for how information travelled about. The Romans didn’t use maps, per se. Rather they had lists of ‘itinteraries’, or descriptions of the towns one had to go through to get anywhere. Rather like saying, to travel from Montreal to Detroit, go via Kingston – Toronto – Windsor – Detroit, instead of looking at a map. So I turned these itineraries into an environment for my individual agents to interact on. Then I gave one a ‘message’, and measured how long it took for the message to diffuse to everyone else. I found structural differences in the way space was conceived then that seemed to map onto archaeological materials.

What did you learn with your first ABM?

Well, it did seem to suggest alternative explanations for patterns in things like the expressions used in tombstones – what might be called Romanization … but it was published, and so it showed me that there was something to this ABM approach that I could use for more complicated questions.

For example, how do political and cultural territories emerge? What was it about Roman social organization that allowed it to whether the periodic self-extermination of elites? That kind of thing. The first question I tried to address with my ‘TravellerSim’ model; the second one with my ‘PatronWorld’ model.

TravellerSim took about four months to build, test, validate, and write up; PatronWorld has been the project of about two years, but I’m happy to say that it’s in-press and will be published shortly.

So how do these technologies affect archaeology in terms of openness on the web?

They allow us to ask questions of the material that we couldn’t ask before. They make our assumptions about the past explicit — or rather, they force us to be explicit. When you make a model or a simulation, you are encoding a particular view of how the world works into your code. It’s a kind of rhetoric. So, I have to make all of my code available for others to interrogate, challenge, adapt, or expand. It could be that my models all contain some kind of fundamental flaw in my assumptions about how the ancient world work.

That would still be a good result, if someone else read my papers and said, “Graham’s wrong — his code implies x, y, and z, and we know that that wasn’t the case for reasons a, b, and c,” It forces openness.

If somebody publishes a model, but doesn’t let you see the code, then you have no reason to believe the results. For archaeology, I think it’s a good thing, in that it promotes openness with data. For any discipline, really. Folks who sit on data do not help advance knowledge.

How many ABMs have you made?

Three that I’ve brought to publication; I’ve got another three that I’m toying with. The neat thing about the envrionment that I use — Netlogo — is that the models are a bit like Lego blocks. You can use parts of one in another one. So once you get going, it builds up its own momentum. I know of a fellow at another university who is using some of the components of my models in his own models.

How prominent are these models in traditional archeology?

I think they’re gaining ground. They have been used successfully in research relating to the Anasazi in the American Southwest, and to a degree in work related to Mesopotamia. I think I might be the only person currently building models on Roman antiquity. Though I know of some graduate students who are beginning to explore it in their own research.

Social networks analysis is also gaining ground in archaeology and ancient history; it’s a rather different methodology, but a key feature of my ABM work is that I try to run my models from starting positions known from antiquity, based on the social networks that were evidenced then.

So how did you first get started with this?

Well, I first heard of the methodology when I was starting my Ph.D. back in 1999. I was chatting with a geographer from the University of Bristol; I was interested in GIS then, but he described running an agent model on top of the data from a GIS, and I was hooked.

Unfortunately, at that time, building an ABM was rather complicated (it’s still not altogether easy, but it gets easier all the time), so I had to shelve the idea. I resurrected it when I did my postdoc. I saw a workshop on ABM advertised, persuaded my supervisor to let me go, and I was away to the races, as it were. The workshop at Nebraska was their Center for Digital Humanities’ first workshop on the subject, and I was an invited finalist. The other folks were presenting interesting work on data mining and lexigraphical analysis of historical texts.

My work was certainly different. 🙂 But I got a real boost from the feedback I received there, and I’ve been carving out this niche ever since.

I should clarify – the workshop I attended to learn about ABM was at Mesa State College in Grand Junction Colorado; that was in 2005. The Nebraska workshop was in 2006.

What role does your blog play in your research?

The blog connects me the wider community of researchers who use agent based modeling in their own work. Agent models are used to understand everything from how pedestrians might cross a new intersection layout, to the spread of Avian Flu. There’s a lot of fertile cross-collaboration, in terms of sharing ideas and so on.

Shawn Graham

“For any discipline, really … Folks who sit on data do not help advance knowledge.”

Where else are you online?

Well, I’m in LinkedIn, and I participate in some group blogs like the Ancient World Bloggers Group. My day job is as an online faculty trainer, so I’m online in that sense every minute of the work day 😉 I also contribute to some general Classics social network sites like ‘eclassics’ on ning. I post occasionally to game sites like Civfanatics.com too.

Could you tell us some about the “When on Google Earth” project?

“When on Google Earth?” is just a game, really … I saw a blog post by some geologists, who were playing “What on Google Earth?” In their game, someone posts a pic from Google Earth, showing a particular landform. The aim is to identify the nature of the landform, and where it is on earth. The winner gets the bragging rights, and gets to post the next picture. So I adapted it to archaeology. There is a lot of archaeological material visible on Google Earth, so I had it in my head that this could be a kind of public archaeology. I started it this time last year, and it’s now in its 79th edition. Some other folks created a Facebook page to keep track of the game. After that initial post I made, I haven’t been able to win a round since!

You seem to be finding archeology through many of the social networking sites. Could you explain to us the “TweetMapping Archeology?

TweetMapping is a concept where the tweets on various subjects are mapped against either the location where they were made, or against the location that they mention. On the original tweetmapping site, the fellow used Yahoo Pipes to create an application that would tweetmap whatever search term you punched in. So I punched in ‘archaeology’ and ‘archeology’ and linked it to my blog.

The idea then is to give the most up-to-date view of what is sometimes called ‘the hidden web’, the web that Google and the other search engines don’t search (although that is now rapidly changing). So if anyone was tweeting about the latest archaeological news, ‘TweetMapping Archaeology” ideally would display it.

Could you tell us your involvement in Second Life as Canadensis Yellowjacket?

Ah! That’s a project currently onhold, until I can get a better internet connection! I’m on satellite internet, so the lag time makes navigating SL extremely difficult, if not impossible.

But what I have been trying to accomplish there was related to public archaeology and archaeological education, and the concept of immersiveness. When you play a video game, or enter one of these 3-D worlds, you soon stop saying — “my character just flew up the side of the building” and you start saying ” I just flew up to the roof!.”

They allow you to project yourself into them (there’s really interesting work going on at the moment about this phenomenon as it relates to autistic people). So, if you can’t go on excavation, you could at least learn something about what is involved by being a part of a virtual one in Second Life. So I built one. I could link objects in Second Life to archaeological databases elsewhere on the web.

Once I get better internet service, I’ve been invited to build one of my “excavations” on the island owned by the American Anthropological Association.

Another possible use of SL for archaeology involves reconstruction sites. A fantastic project is the virtual ‘Catalhoyuck’ project and OKAPI; see Colleen Morgan’s work (she’s absolutely brilliant), which she blogs about at middlesavagery.wordpress.com.

So with all the different ways to connect out there, what do you think is the future of archeology and related conversations?

It’s going to be exciting. I know some folks are experimenting with Google Wave, though I haven’t had the opportunity yet. Google touts it as the next best thing… a sort of real time multi-user collaboration suite. I think the best archaeology is going to be using the web and whatever else emerges on it to make the ‘writing’ of archaeology more participatory, more collaborative. You might call it more democratic. But I hesitate to say, since I’ve got a bad track record in predicting the future.

As an undergrad in 1994, I was asked to write a paper about what I could find on the internet regarding the Etruscans. I believe I wrote something to the effect, “this internet is filled with garbage and will never be useful to archaeologists.” So anything I say, take with a large lump of salt.

Platforms are beginning to emerge online that allow archaeologists to share and disseminate the raw data generated during their studies; that will be an interesting thing to watch.

What would you like to come of your blog?

I would hope it continues to attract readers who view it as a great resource; I also hope it continues to be a venue that connects me with researchers and other interested individuals who can say, “have you thought about … have you seen …” My blog I regard as my ‘public service’ to the profession.

It’s where I reflect on what’s happening, and provide pointers to new technologies that might have an impact on how we explore and understand the past.

I saw one person tagged it on delicious with ‘mildly interesting’. If I can get that up to ‘fairly’, that’d be good … 😉

What is your advice to beginning archaeologists and bloggers?

Well, a blog is a great place to reflect on what you’re doing, and what your interests are. More and more graduate students are keeping blogs about their research, and are using them to reach out to other students and professionals. Ask yourself why you’re doing this, and where you hope to take it.

Some excavations keep blogs as a way of reaching the interested public; and some of the most exciting research is documented on blogs, since the publication cycle can take so long. Academic blogs are starting to be viewed as legitimate publication vehicles, and that’s a trend I hope continues & accelerates.

 

 

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Meet the Blogger: Tony Cagle, serving up “old” news since 2004

In the world of heritage bloggers, Dr. Anthony Cagle is virtually ancient. According to his site “Archaeoblog,” he has been serving up old news since January 2004. And while he frequently offers insight on all facets of archaeology, he’s not afraid to throw in a bit of personal insight as well. Just take a moment to contemplate his Ode to Beer. Tony recently visited with Voices of the Past to talk about how he got in on the ground floor of the blogging revolution and what it takes to sustain a heritage blog for the long haul.

You were kind of the Lone Ranger in the archaeology profession when you began blogging. What compelled you to communicate in this way?

Short version: I saw Glenn Reynolds on his Instapundit blog getting a gazillion hits a day just for typing “Heh” and thought “Hey, I could do that.”

Long version: I’ve been messing around on the Internets since the ‘80s when it was just e-mail and BBSs on university computer terminals and I was just starting graduate school in archaeology. Then when the Web got going in the ‘90s, I participated in online discussion for mostly information technology (IT) based ones (I put myself through grad school doing statistical programming for the local public health department). I also played around on a couple of the start-up e-zine fora that were more oriented towards the general public, mostly by following the IT forum hosts to their new digs. So I’ve been swimming in the rough-and-tumble online world for a while and enjoyed interacting via the written word in this sort of rapid-response world.

Once weblogging came into vogue, I looked around and didn’t see much in the way of interactive web-based archaeological sites (pun intended). There were archaeological sites aplenty but they were the sort of top-down information-imparting sites that academics prefer. Academic archaeologists tended to prefer (still do, mostly) private email listservs for discussing purely academic topics, and creating web sites that largely mimicked their class structures. The reason I and so many others like blogs is both the interactive aspects – through both reader comments and other blogs – and the rapid updating that’s possible. You can not only post a link to an article or another blog post, but you can critically comment on it (positively or negatively), update it with later comments and links, and get reader comments that add very different perspectives.

I also thought that professional archaeologists were not doing the greatest job communicating with the general public about their work. I’m not the first one to think this and I readily acknowledge the difficulties involved. Academic archaeologists, especially those without tenure and just beginning their careers, are working in a very complicated environment in which all of their professional work is being scrutinized by their peers either explicitly or implicitly. In most cases, scientists tend to give their colleagues something of a stink-eye when one of them “goes popular” and attempts to communicate with the general public; it’s the cost of necessarily simplifying the field and developing the persona necessary to connect with ‘just plain folks’. John Hawks, a now-tenured physical anthropologist at my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madision, has talked about this a lot on his blog.

The alternative is leaving the business of popularizing archaeological work to reporters and others with limited technical knowledge, or those with an axe to grind. In steps the Web wherein one can directly interact with both peers and the general public on an equal level and with the time and space available to get as detailed as you want.

tony-egypt

What is your intended “mission” for ArchaeoBlog?

First and foremost to provide an outlet for my need to blather on and on about whatever interests me. Yeah, it’s somewhat narcissistic, but that only extends as far as my hit counter indicates. The Internet is the great leveler that way.

But at base it’s really pretty simple: learning new stuff, both for me and for readers. I chose to be a general interest archaeology blog rather than concentrate on a narrow subject because. . .well, just because. I read the science journals to find out what’s going on in some depth in my chosen areas of interest and I blog to get a broader sense of what’s going on out there.

In a way, it’s like that old adage about teaching: if you want to learn about something, teach a class in it. I had a professor back in graduate school that served a stint on the National Science Foundation reviewing grant applications and he told us that during his time on the panel reading all those grant applications for an incredible variety of archaeological work, he had never felt as tuned-in to the wider world of archaeology as he did then. It sounds rather trite and cliché, but the best way to learn is by reading and talking a lot, and ArchaeoBlog lets me do both of those, and I hope it provides an opportunity for readers to do the same.

So I really try to post a lot of links to news articles that I find interesting or significant and that I think others will find interesting and significant, links to online academic papers that those with an interest can look at for themselves, and provide whatever technical commentary I have. I occasionally post an extended treatise on some subject or other that I happen to be working on, but I’m more of the Linking School of blogging.

You’re quite prolific. How do you keep content flowing on your blog?

Like everyone else: Wherever and whenever I come across something online. I have a couple of news-aggregator tools from the search engines that email me archaeology-related links (mostly from mainstream news outlets), academic listservs, reader email, some of the other fora that I post to. Archaeologica also has a daily news feed. And I review the odd TV program, book, or movie with archaeological links as well. Mostly, I try to provide links, links, and more links. When I first started I felt the need to link to absolutely everything I saw that had anything vaguely to do with archaeology; I eventually cut that down to items that have enough content so that they actually say something, or that were either generally significant, or that just plain interested me for whatever reason.

Of course, I also post on subjects I happen to be working on currently. I recently began doing a volunteer project at a local cemetery recording the older monuments for conservation and just to have a record of what is inscribed on them. I decided to do the entire data collection digitally on a PDA, no paper involved at all (I hate data entry with the heat of a thousand suns) so I’ve done a few posts on how that process has worked and what I’ve been finding. Some of the monuments have inscriptions in languages with which I am unfamiliar and ArchaeoBlog readers have provided information on the language and possible translations. And I occasionally dip into my own archive of field photos and do a post on what is being shown, what it meant at that particular site, etc.

I don’t limit myself to strictly archaeological topics either. I also post at another blog, Car Lust, and occasionally include some of that content at ArchaeoBlog. I also venture into old albums, old TV shows – the recent Land of the Lost remake provided ample fodder for posting – and movies, and a recent fascination I had with shaving. I’ve also posted on some personal stuff like my various house remodels, car remodels (I have a 1978 Mustang II that I did some restoration and modifications on), and various topics involving my array of felines. I try to avoid the latter since constantly chattering away about cats is the quickest way to bore non-cat people (of which I consider myself to be one, thank you very much) to death. Granted, cute cat pictures tend to drive traffic, but one must maintain some semblance of decorum. I usually try to work some archaeological angle into things, even if but for humorous effect.

Ann Althouse, a law prof at the University of Wisconsin, is a master at this. Although she has seemingly posted less and less on strictly law topics, she used to sprinkle non-law posts in with her generally Constitutional law discussions and the format made her extremely popular. Of course, she also poss on that great traffic-generator, politics, which I won’t touch with a ten foot. . .errr, trowel. Not that there’s no politics involved in either archaeology or heritage issues, but getting at all partisan is an easy way to stink up the place with vile comments. Heck, I got enough vile comments from an offhand comment making fun of shell middens. . .

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What facet of archaeology most inspires your interest?

Finding out something about the past that no one knew before. That also sound rather trite and cliché as well, but really that’s what science is all about and why any of us got into it in the first place. The actual finding of artifacts is kind of fun, but that’s always been sort of ancillary for me; I can go into my back yard and dig up a rock no one has seen before so it’s not really the finding of stuff that interests me. I tend to view the archaeological record as data rather than objects of artistic or monetary (“treasure”) value. One of my favorite archaeologists is A.L. Kroeber, who invented the frequency seriation method of telling time in the absence of stratigraphy. For a generation of archaeologists it was the main way of structuring the way we view archaeological record and, via cultural history, is still a big part of how archaeology is done today. Contrast that with probably the most famous archaeological find of the twentieth century: Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. While spectacular, it really didn’t have much impact on the business of archaeology outside of Egypt. And unlike radiocarbon dating, which came out of physics, this was a strictly archaeological invention that treated artifacts as quantitative data rather than starting points for speculation about past lifeways. Its results were replicative, could be corroborated by other methods (stratigraphy and later radiocarbon dating), and is really one of the few methodological innovations attributable to archaeology alone. Of course, Petrie came up with a similar scheme in Egypt with his Sequence Dating and at roughly the same time, which is simply fascinating in its own right.

Of course, there are the field stories, too. In how many other professions can you relate how you stumbled back from a party in Karnak temple during the nightly sound and light show and had to suddenly duck behind a sphinx because the lights are coming on right where you were about to become an unwitting part of the show?

Err, or so I’ve heard that can happen.

You seem to have found your calling in archaeology. When did you first catch the archaeobug?

Oddly, it was never a lifelong passion. When I was a kid I was a dinosaur fanatic. Then in high school I gravitated to computer nerd-dom and even started out college as a computer science major. I started getting disenchanted with the actual business of computer science – did I want to write assembly language code to sort linked lists the rest of my life? Why, no, I didn’t – and as part of the ancillary classes in the Arts and Sciences school I took an introductory anthropology course. I latched on to bioanth and archaeology, wound up in a human skeletal anatomy lab class, took a bunch of other archaeology classes, and bingo, I found myself trying to explain to my parents what I was going to do with an archaeology degree. The Indiana Jones movies helped sell it (to me and to them I guess) and also reading Donald Johannsen’s book Lucy also sold me on it as well (even though it’s not technically archaeology).

Of course, instead of trouncing around the world finding cool stuff, I found myself measuring half a dozen attributes on hundreds of pieces of lithic debitage (which I guess is kind of the archeological equivalent of writing assembly language code to sort linked lists) but I actually liked that.

You started blogging at the dawn of the social media revolution. What’s your perspective on using new media tools to communicate heritage?

It opens up a whole new avenue of communication, not just quantitatively but qualitatively as well. Instead of statically reading a book or watching a television program, people can now go online and interact with professionals involved in heritage issues, ask questions and get answers in quick order. They can also provide their own insights and that makes the communication process a two-way street. In a way, it’s a completion of the process that started with the printing press. Before, all people could do was talk with each other in a limited area. After, they could read things from people anywhere in the world, but not really talk back. Now, with the Internet we’ve completed the circle and people can read and respond to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Hence, we can now go online anytime and find out what people are doing with similar interests half a block or half a world away. I’ll give you an example. I started a volunteer project surveying and assessing older monuments at a local cemetery because I noticed, while taking some evening walks at the place, that some of them were looking pretty unreadable and it might not be too long before all of that information was lost. So I went online and looked for other people doing similar cemetery restorations and assessments to see what sort of data they collected, what was important for conservation, etc. Turns out there’s something of a cemetery restoration movement that’s been going on for the past few years and there’s an enormous amount of information out there on what other people have done, what to look for, the best ways to clean a monument without damaging it, etc. Most of the people doing it are non-professionals who had an interest in conserving these properties and learned the best methods for preserving them from the few professionals that were out there.

Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit again) calls it an “Army of Davids”, which fits rather nicely into the archaeological/historical context here. There’s a lot of valuable work that amateurs can do and are doing to contribute to identifying and preserving archaeological and historic properties in their local communities. That’s very powerful.

How has blogging changed the way you think about communicating heritage?

First and foremost, I’ve learned that any issue benefits from communication. People have something to say and these issues shouldn’t be left to just “the experts” and the government. We all have a stake in preserving certain objects and areas, and really in determining what is worth preserving. I think most people are naturally interested in preserving certain aspects of history and will respond when they’re brought into the discussion early and often. There’s a lot of expertise out there that can be tapped into. Archaeologists and historians can’t cover the whole country, so we need to bring in the general public and let them contribute. I’ve learned a lot from commenters that you just don’t get from just talking to academics and such. It’s amazing how much you learn by just, you know, talking to each other.

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.