Tag Archives: cultural heritage

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

Dale Kronkright

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

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

GOK Conservation: http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/conservation.html

Project blog: http://okeeffeimagingproject.wordpress.com/

Dale on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GOKConservator

Other links mentioned in this episode:

“Digital Heritage Planning” A strategy kit with use cases and best practices for demystifying goals, objectives and tactics:
http://voicesofthepast.org/2010/03/31/social-media-planning-for-heritage-organizations-differentiating-goals-objectives-tactics/
Expanded: http://voicesofthepast.org/2014/02/02/planning/

Pinterest.com/heritagevoices

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

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

INTERVIEW TOPICS (with timestamps)

(2:00) About the Royal Commission, and description of Canmore research database (http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk)

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

(5:30) Workshop series: Digital Futures of Cultural Heritage Education (http://digitalfutures.rcahms.gov.uk/about/)

(10:55) Beyond Text research-based partnership (http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/news/beyond-text-project)

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

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

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

(22:10) The importance of individual connections online

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

Post by Philip for Day of Archaeology website: http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/philip-graham-rcahms-western-isles/

Connect with Voices of the Past on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+VoicesofthepastOrgheritage/posts

Post on how to start expanding your heritage circles using Google Plus: http://voicesofthepast.org/2012/07/12/start-expanding-your-heritage-circle-on-google-plus/

Going Mobile: Implications of mobile technology uptake for Cultural Organizations

By Marcus J Wilson, Pooka.Pro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPads break digital ground in Pompeii archaeological research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Link:
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/ipad_at_pompeii_does_tech_really_revolutionize_how.php

 

Credit: iPad teaser image from Flickr

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You don’t have to be a King to find your voice

This is a post I’ve literally waited over a year to write. It concerns something only a handful of people have known about me to this point.

king george vi
king george vi

In late 2009, I found myself in a Wikipedia-induced causality loop. You’ve been there. One search leads to another one and then a morning has suddenly passed. I don’t know where this particular one began but it ended with the story of King George VI and the commencement of production on “The King’s Speech.” I immediately put the film on a Google Alert.

Reading the ever-increasing number of stories and blog posts about the stellar film was excruciating since I apparently live in the last place on earth the movie would ultimately run. I’m proud to see the film is as beautiful and brilliant as I’d hoped.

Why the weird obsession? Because it’s my story too — and the story of many others who conditions that affect their hearing and speech. While most of us will never influence the course of history, the struggle is much the same.

The Beat of a Different Drum

From the time I was a child, I knew I heard things differently than other people. I could discern sounds no one else seemed aware of in some situations, but there were others in which I couldn’t make out the words of someone standing talking directly into my ear (particularly when there was background noise). Severe ear infections throughout my pre-teen years led surgery to put tubes in my ears and have my adenoids removed. The pain went away, but the problems with sound and articulation continued. My family moved a lot in those years, and with each new school, I’d eventually end up in a speech counselor’s office.

Several years ago, I got fed up. I’d been to audiologists, speech pathologists, and had my hearing checked countless times. My hearing was perfect–hypersensitive even–so how could I have so much trouble understanding and articulating speech? None of the local doctors could tell me.

Finally, I turned to the ultimate “expert,” Google. I listed every hearing and speech-related symptom that was driving me crazy.

Here were the top two search results I saw:

I was dumbfounded (no pun intended) reading those entries. Literally numb. Having a name for my “defect” didn’t change its reality, but it changed everything about how I viewed it. In that moment, I remembered the nine-year-old boy hiding in the corner at public events because the noise was driving him mad and didn’t feel contempt for his weakness. Instead, I felt respect for someone who never gave up hope that some day he would find a way to make a contribution.

Life with an auditory processing disorder is a Skype conversation with a long time lag, or hearing someone speak a language you don’t know and waiting for the translator. Sound comes in, but has to settle before the can brain process it and forms a response. The kicker is that the response, no matter how perfectly formed in the mind, doesn’t automatically articulate itself the same way vocally. Additionally, the ability to filter sounds is limited, so I can hear conversations going on throughout a wide area.

Me at one week
They say I took the heavyweight crown in the week-old division.

APD is thought to be caused my two things–recurrent ear infections as I mentioned earlier and oxygen deprivation during birth, which also fit my story. In 1970’s small-town Louisiana, your general practitioner was your only doctor and you didn’t question his word even if it killed you. My 4’11” mother had a difficult, prolonged labor with me before her doctor realized her pelvis was too small and performed an emergency c-section. Besides a temporary conehead and scratched-up face (from my fingernails), those hours in the birth canal resulted in flattened cartilage and an unknown period of time without oxygen.

Again, I contacted doctors, audiologists and pathologists throughout Louisiana, certain they could do something with this new information. I got one acknowledgment, which was “this condition can only be treated in children. There’s no point in a diagnosis, because the wiring in your brain is set.” Probably true, but I wasn’t willing to stop there.

My odyssey led to Judy Paton (the second link in my Google Search) in San Mateo, Calif., who specializes in working with adults. She performed the testing, confirmed the diagnosis and provided advice to keep challenging the speech and hearing center of my brain. One of the things she suggested was to work with a vocal coach. The musical element would improve diction, timing, rhythm and tone.

Just Breathe

Another Google search led me two buildings from where I work in rural Louisiana to Terrie Sanders, one of the few McClosky-certified vocal trainers in the country.

As in the film, we did some of the funny exercises (lying on the floor, skipping, swinging arms, stretching the tongue). The emphatic cursing trick depicted in the movie I discovered purely on my own, and it is frighteningly effective. But the biggest revelation was awareness of my breath.

I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear, and no-one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their voice and let them know that a friend was listening. That must ring a few bells with you, Bertie.  ~Lionel Logue, The King's Speech
"I knew I had to go deeper. Those poor young blokes had cried out in fear, and no-one was listening to them. My job was to give them faith in their voice and let them know that a friend was listening. That must ring a few bells with you, Bertie." ~Lionel Logue, The King's Speech

“Inhale from the diaphragm and let the words flow out with the breath,” my teacher would say. “Just breathe.” It seems like the most natural thing, doesn’t it? Biologists say it’s an involuntary function of the body. For sustaining existence, that’s true. But I would discover that deep, life-giving breaths are a matter of intention. If two words can sum up a personal philosophy, “Just Breathe” became fuel for my thoughts, a moment to decide, a prayer — and perhaps most surprisingly, the foundation of a decent tenor singing voice.

So why am I in the communications field? Seems like the ultimate masochism, doesn’t it? Sometimes, absolutely! But we all have “something” to overcome in the quest for a legacy. And meaningful connections can be forged in so many ways that have nothing to do with skills of articulation.

Still, public speaking is no longer just the realm of world leaders and Dale Carnegie types. We all have to do it to be effective in our work. That was one of the reasons I threw my hat in to present at O’Reilly Media’s Gov 2.0 Expo last spring. The presentation was selected to be included in the last round of “lightening” keynotes, which meant the presenters had about five minutes each. My presentation wasn’t going to be one of the philosophical types that frame the future of governments and the world and wow the audience with its profundity. The audience wasn’t going to be blown away by its delivery either, as I’d have to read it to maintain my timing. But it was MY story: a simple and direct explanation of who I am and what I do. This presentation would be my declaration that cultural heritage defines our humanity as much as climate change, national defense or the value of currencies. It was also a powerful testament to the power of the online community, as friends like Lorelle VanFossen and Lisa Louise Cooke, both natural speakers, spent their valuable time helping me to refine it. And other online friends who I’ve never interacted with, like Todd Henry, Chris Guillebeau, and Liz Strauss, whose blogs and podcasts have, over time, empowered me with transformative habits to make a difference by focusing on the “now.”

Ultimately, the experience was a continuing reminder of the power of family. Watching the experiences of the historical Queen Elizabeth portrayed in The King’s Speech, I chuckled to think of how familiar they might seem to my own wife, ElizaBeth, in bolstering a recalcitrant husband to discover his message and believe himself worthy to deliver it.

When my name was announced on May 27, 2010, deep gratitude for so many supportive people had replaced any lingering fear. Emerging into glaring spotlights and a podium in front of several hundred people (including a livestreamed worldwide audience), I didn’t think about the first words I would say or how I would look on the 30-ft HD screens on either side of the stage. I thought only two words again and again:

“Just. Breathe.”

Is our digital lifestyle leading to a dark age for cultural heritage?

406286812_121ba20709_zIf you want to see the future of heritage, look no further than your computer screen.

I’ll explain what I mean. Right now, when we think about material heritage culture, most folks think about things like old photographs, written documents, buildings and sculpture. These objects that have been handed down since antiquity are perishable but, as physical products of our world, can be preserved with vigilance and a little luck.

Now think about it: what will your descendants have to remember you by? Your Facebook page? The digital photos on your computer?

This is an information golden age for our civilization, but it could easily be the dark ages historically if we’re not careful. It’s no surprise that things carved on rocks have survived the centuries, but I’ve lost enough data to tell you nothing stored on a hard drive–or even an online network–is necessarily forever. Factor into that the problems inherent in our “patch” culture and keeping files current on our computers, and you see the potential issues.

The term for these objects is “born digital.” In other words, they were created digitally and never printed on paper or existed as a physical object. There have been so many versions of software platforms and file formats in this still fairly young stage of personal computing, that there’s no way to save all of it. I’m not even necessarily saying we should. But it is worth us thinking about what we create on a daily basis and deciding how we could potentially save it to share our legacy after we’re gone.

Create a digital inventory today

Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore how you can preserve different types of digital files that you might want to pass down. But that starts with actually knowing what you have and creating a system for updating it. To start getting a handle on your data, you need to create an inventory of what you have. That will take a little time, but all you need are six sheets of letter-sized paper and a pen.

  • Label each sheet of paper with one of the following titles: Digital Photographs, Digital Audio, Digital Video, Electronic Mail, Personal Digital Records, and Websites.
  • Schedule some time to assemble all the digital storage you own–current and old computers, external hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and floppy disks.
  • Go through the contents of each one and note the disk name and general contents (thematically, not the name of each file) on the appropriate paper.
This decidedly non-digital approach will be important for really thinking about your files and creating a strategy for archiving and updating your data later, so try to do it in one sitting to make sure you catch everything. Next time, we’ll focus on the type of media that gives the most people trouble: digital photographs.I’ve recorded a couple of episodes of NCPTT’s Preservation Technology podcast with experts from the Library of Congress and the SAVE initiative regarding different aspects of digital preservation. Check them out if you can. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your approach for preserving today’s memories for the future.
Graphic image by De’Nick’nise on Flickr

Picturing preservation tech online with Cultural Heritage Imaging

Today we’re talking to Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging. CHI is a small company based in San Francisco–the social media capital of the world–that’s doing some interesting things through photography and photosharing through Flickr. They focus on rock art and technologies related to photography in heritage research. In this podcast, we’ll explore how CHI is implementing its social media policy based on its strengths, priorities and available time. CHI

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Schroer: Cultural Heritage Imaging has a mission to drive both the development and adoption of practical digital imaging and preservation solutions for the cultural heritage community. (Audio timestamp #00:02:02.6#)

Guin: What are some of the heritage resources you’ve worked on that our audience may be familiar with? #00:02:04.3#

Schroer: We’ve done quite a bit of work on rock art, including a workshop focused on rock art. We’re also working with a number of museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the New York MOMA and the Pheobe Hearst Anthropology Museum in Berkley. In all those cases, our primary focus is with the conservation departments in those museums. #00:02:32.4#

Guin: So this is pretty technical. You do a lot of work with laser imaging and scanning of cultural heritage objects. #00:02:43.2#

Schroer: Everything we do is based on digital photography, so one of our core philosophies as an organizations is that we want to develop technology and get it in people’s hands that they can do themselves. We really don’t like the service provider model where you have to hire someone to come do things for you. We’re looking for technologies that people can do on their own. A couple of the primary ones that we’re working with right now are reflectance imaging, where you take a sequence of images with light in different positions around the object. Once you put that together in the computer, you can dynamically relight the object and bring out very very fine surface details of the object. This is one of the reasons we’re working with museum conservation, because getting very fine surface information is of great interest to that community. We also do work with photogrammetry and some other photographic-based imaging techniques. #00:03:37.4#

Guin: With audiences so defined, you wouldn’t ordinarily think of an organization like this needing to adopt social media as part of its communications strategy, but you’ve taken a proactive approach. #00:03:51.8#

Schroer: I sit here in San Francisco, surrounded by all these technology people. We’re not really innovators compared to them. But we always had a web presence and later an electronic newsletter. From there, it became clear that blogging and using Flickr to create sets and have photos people could find online made a lot of sense. We are just starting to foray into video and posting things on YouTube as well. The focus was to make it easier for people to find us through keywords and search. We know from watching our traffic that people are finding us that way. #00:04:46.9#

Guin: You’ve really emphasized photography, and tell stories very powerfully with it. What made you decide to go the “still image” route to connect with your audience? #00:05:08.9#

Schroer: Our work is based on digital photography, which means that we already have good cameras with us when we’re working. So still photography makes a lot of sense. Marlin Lum (http://www.c-h-i.org/about_us/marlin_lum.html), who is our imaging director, also does wedding and event photography, so a lot of the photography on the website is his work. He has a great photo-journalistic style. The rest of us are more studipophotographers–very focused on special needs for getting a reflectance image and photogrammetry sequence, where Marlin is more of a photo-journalist. #00:05:56.7#

Guin: You’re a little different than most folks that I’ve interviewed for Voices of the Past in that you’re not a solo blogger or someone doing this for the fun of it. You’re doing this because it’s rooted in the values of your company. And, though you’re a non-profit, you still have to make payroll. So, how does your social media work? Is it the responsibility of one person, or is you as a group working together? #00:06:23.0#

Schroer: It’s definitely us as a group and we even have volunteers that help. It’s a group blog and we have guest bloggers as well. We are currently updating our website to WordPress to make it easier for all of us to share web management duties as well. We’ve started using CulturalHeritageImaging.org, rather than C-H-I.org, which will allow us to transfer content to the new site while keeping the old site. We’ve had some incredible volunteer help, including a design group that offered to help us pick a theme at get it customized. We’ve also had a writer who’s been doing a lot of work editing existing materials. We made decisions on how to regroup the material, but were missing some “glue” on how to make it flow. #00:08:13.7#

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Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging

Guin: What kind of topics do you blog and what is your audience for your posts? #00:08:20.6#

Schroer: It’s a group blog, so we’ll have equipment tips on there, we’ll talk about conferences we’ve been to or projects that we’re working on. We also invite people who are adopting technology, particularly reflectance imaging, to talk about their experience doing that. We have guest posts from the Smithsonian and the New York MOMA. We also post FAQs when we get questions. #00:09:14.5#

Guin: Beside your blog, what other social tools do you use? #00:09:14.5#

Schroer: Flickr has been big for us. We have started YouTube as well, including a video on our NCPTT grant project, and we have some additional videos on projects sponsored by the Kress Foundation with a museum conservation focus. Hopefully, the YouTube work will be similar to what happens with Flickr in that it will help people from a broader audience find us and be interested in the stuff we’re doing. #00:10:00.8#

Guin: Now that you’re branching out into these other forms of media, if someone wanted to visit your content there, what do you recommend they take a look at? #00:10:15.8#

Schroer: On our Flickr site, we make use of collections, so it’s easy to identify our work both by topic and project. #00:10:45.5#

Guin: You mentioned optimizing your content for search, so that you make connections. How do you optimize your content for the web through titles, tags and descriptions? #00:11:04.1#

Schroer: That’s what we’re working on right now as part of our website redesign. We’re doing some search analytics for what people are searching for. It’s a little tough, because some of the things we’re known for, like reflectance transformation imaging, are not something most people will go type into Google. So we’re working to figure out what people are searching for when they find us. And terms like “photography” and “cultural heritage” are so broad that it’s hard to optimize for those concepts. As we become more known in fields like museum conservation, that’s an area we’ll work to optimize. #00:11:59.6#

Guin: Since you’re transitioning to a new content management system, is there something that’s changing in your social media approach since you first began? #00:12:15.4#

Schroer: We are trying to tie some things together. For example, we have an e-mail list that we started about five years ago. So we use our social media blog posts, photo galleries and videos, as content to drive traffic that way. We also pick themes. So each month, we’ll focus on something like training and education, or rock art, etc., and use all of our platforms to emphasize that theme. It’s a more powerful way to help people learn about an aspect of our business. The biggest thing is that it always takes more time than you want it to. Because we’re small, we’re always thinking about how much time and effort should we put into these platforms and what kind of payback are we getting from them. We’ve stayed away from Facebook and Twitter at this point, not that we wouldn’t go there, but just because of the amount of time that it takes to really use them correctly.

Guin: What advice would you give to another small cultural heritage organization that’s just now getting into social media? #00:13:49.6#

Schroer: Blogging is an obvious first choice, because it’s easy to throw in pictures to help tell your story. To take that on, you have to have a person or two on your staff that are into it and feel that it’s fun. For us, Flickr made sense because we already had piles of photographs. We’re learning to use YouTube to tell our story in a more dynamic way. We had a couple of projects that specifically called for producing video. We’re also exploring the use of Screenflow [screencasting] technology to help explain concepts without people having to download data sets or a special view. They can quickly get a sense of what we’re doing. That will hopefully whet some appetite so that people want to download a data set and seeing what’s possible. #00:15:07.3#

Guin: What are your social media goals for Cultural Heritage Imaging? #00:14:42:00

Schroer: For us, it’s an expansion of why we started our website. We want people to learn about us, our work and the people who are partnering with us. It’s also a way for people to find out if they would like to partner with us, undertake a new technology or take one of our classes. As a non-profit, we also hope it will inspire people to volunteer or become donors. We have multiple audiences for our website, so we have multiple audiences for our social media as well.

Photos courtesy of Cultural Heritage Imaging

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