Tag Archives: history

The Burning of Columbia uses digital media to commemorate history

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

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

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

Endnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[INTERVIEW] #00:01:45.1#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related Links:

Building Green Bridges and Fostering Pride

Carla on Twitter

 

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Meet the Blogger: Mike Anderson of “Ancient History”

Mike Anderson’s blog “Ancient History” is framed by a statement and a question: “History can teach us about the present. Are we progressing or regressing?” In this Meet the Blogger interview, we ask him that question, as well as his tips for conveying the importance of ancient history through the web.

How did your interest in ancient history begin?

I have always been interested in history because it teaches us so much about where mankind has been and how the lives of men have made us what we are today. The stories of Greece and Rome are particularly important because of their impact on the development of Western Civilization. I find it compelling that Greece and Rome took us so far only to see that momentum lost when Rome fell and the Dark Ages began.

How do you think history can help us or teach us about today’s history-in-the-making?

mike5
Mike Anderson

One of the things I leaned early on was that people are the same now as they were two thousand years ago. There are nuances that are different in our attitudes but the world is about people looking for happiness. Some get it through power and wealth. Others by having freedom to live their lives the way they choose.  When you read history, you see life stories repeated over and over again.

Have we progressed as a species?

We have certainly progressed morally and we seem to care more for each other. Today, man is consciously trying to deny his “animalness” in favor or a logical caring existence, but the pathway to this noble goal remains elusive.

How did you decide that blogging was the way to tell your audience about ancient and world history?

It’s immediate and lends itself to short articles. I can communicate directly to my readers and they can tell me what they think.

For modern history, do you get more information from the economic side or the social side of life?

I try to stay balanced between the two because both are important in any society. Social attitudes affect the way people see themselves in a society.  Economics is a measurement system which is use to evaluate government performance.

Recently, one of your posts (Sparta) has been recognized as one of the five best history articles. How did you feel about that, and what was your inspiration?

I was very excited to be recognized. A writer writes first what he feels he has to say, but when others recognize your work you have validation that the message is getting through. Sparta is one of the most interesting cultures of antiquity because their political model was carried to an extreme. In order to protect herself from a larger subservient class of Helots, the Spartans formed a military society which was prepared for war at all times. This unique government form lasted 400 years.

In blogging to your audience, what viewpoint of message are you trying to convey?

I am a trained academic, but I want to write for a wider audience. There are many non-academics who are interested and passionate about ancient history, but not interested in the granularity of the standard academic approach.

For the future of your blog, do you plan to expand to new audiences?

I get requests all the time to add advertising to my site or commercialize it, but I reject these as putting self interest above content. The best way for me to expand my audience is to talk about what I’m doing to organizations like yours AND write good articles. People stay with you when the trust what you say and that makes them excited to hear the next installment.

What is your advice for people that are looking into the field of history as well as blogging?

History is fascinating. I mean the real history, not what we learn in school. Pick a time, whether it be antiquity, the American Revolution, or the Middle Ages – all are full of great stories. If you like one era, you’ll like them all if you are willing to discover them.

Blogging is an enjoyable vocation because it allows you to publish without the hassle of agents and publishers. Since the internet is an open forum, you have to be responsible for the quality of your writing. As I said before, your readers will judge you by what you write.

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

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


olaughlin teaser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank: How’d you go about refining them?

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

Frank: You mentioned recording in the Cafe.

O’Laughlin: Yes.

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

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

Frank: What exactly is old style Irish song?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank: Where can folks find that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank: Thank you so much for chatting with me.

O’Laughlin: And thank you.

Marion Jensen on putting history into context with Twitter

Marion Jensen is something of a social scientist because he experiments with social services like Twitter to help put history into context. He is the founder of TwHistory, a collaborative Twitter project in which participants retweet historical events using original source documents in real time as they happened in history.

He also has an all-time classic blog tagline: “those who forget history are doomed to retweet it.” Marion is also an educator and author of several books. In this interview, you can hear  just how passionate he is about inspiring connections to the past.

Marion Jensen: Like a lot of folks, I found Twitter and had no idea what to do with it. The first time you see Twitter, you just don’t get it and on the second time, you still don’t get it. When they got the search feature, I realized I could follow conferences and all the different people–strangers who I have never met before–I could follow them through these tags. I found that it was almost like being there. You could see this running stream of tweets and you got a sense that you were actually there.

And I thought, from the author side in this, that you could tell a story from that. Just come up with your different characters and tweet out a fictional story. And then I thought, you know “That’s too much work.” And then of course, the idea hit that you could take history and take different journals of people who are at the same event and you could give that sense of presence even though it was an event that happened a hundred years ago.

I started out with the Battle of Gettysburg and kind of that as a proof of concept and it turned out really well. It went from there.

Jeff Guin: Obviously you have a very strong interest in history. Where did that start?

Marion Jensen: I did my undergrad in Political Science and there is a lot of political history and I’ve always kind of have a love for history. I ended up going to education route with the focus on technology but I’ve never lost that interest in history. And for me, the real interesting part is when you dive in to the people’s stories. You know its fun sometimes to read a history book that it kind of covers a wide expenses but when you find out that one character and how they lived their life, to me that’s interesting.

And that’s what TwHistory, “Twitter History” allows you to do is get that feeling of not just, you know these things happen generally but this is what happened on Thursday morning. You know: “I woke up and I had beans.” To me, that makes it all the more real.

Jeff Guin: This question maybe a little obvious but I am going to ask it anyway. How did you settle on the name, TwHistory?

Marion Jensen: You know it’s hard to find a URL. All the good ones have been taken but with where it was kind of a Twitter History, I just shortened that up. We pronounced it TwHistory but you could also just pronounce it Twitter History and that URL was available so we grabbed it and ran with it.

Jeff Guin: I know you began the project began in 2009 but can you give us a little bit more history about how it got started?

Marion Jensen: In spring of 2009, I located the journals of 15 Civil War soldiers and we ended up doing the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg. So that was the first official kind of kick off with the site at the end of April 2009.

Jeff Guin: And there were other people involved with this as well, correct?

Marion Jensen: What I would do is wake up and I would have read through the journals for that day and you know most of these people wrote you know during their lunch time or at dinner and would write in past tense. So, “we woke up at 6:00 o’clock and we had breakfast.” So I would take those daily events and then create tweets and tweet them as if they were happening right now. So instead of saying, “I had beans for breakfast.” I would say, “I’m eating beans for breakfast” and I would tweet that at the appropriate time and on the appropriate day. Then as you can imagine for 15 soldiers that became pretty overwhelming.

Jeff Guin: How did you coordinate it?

Marion Jensen: I’m a doctoral student at Utah State and have some great friends who are interested in the project so several, we just found several volunteers that would take one or two journals and they were in charge of that person and they would tweet out the events.

Jeff Guin: Now story telling on the web is nothing new. In fact it’s been around since the early days of listserves. I wonder if you had been involved with anything like that before?

Marion Jensen: Yeah in fact that was one of my–I have had many dissertation topics–that was one of my early ones. It was a collaborative composition. You know we have seen with Wikipedia that a group of people, in fact a group of strangers can come together and write a good article about a certain topic and my question was you know could you do that fiction and I actually with my second book I posted the entire thing online and invited people to combine helping write it. I didn’t have that many people come by but we did have some. So you know I have kind of dabbled in it here and there, I am a big fan of fan fiction. I think sometimes we give our students (this is the educator in me) we give our students a blank paper and tell them to write a story and that’s difficult to do. But if we can give them a world, if we can say well write in the Simpson’s world or write in JRR Tolkien’s world, they have the worlds already done, a lot of the character are done and they can focus on some of the smaller aspects of bringing the story versus have to worry about the entire thing. So I am a big fan of collaborative composition and think it’s a good way to learn how to write.

Jeff Guin: In what ways is TwHistory different that collaborative story telling? Because you are taking the original source documents from history and you are tweeting them but not verbatim. I am wondering how much room there is for creativity in this process?

Marion Jensen: I have thought a lot about that question, I have a brother who is a historian and so I understand what historians For us to say, “well we didn’t mention what they have for breakfast so I am just going to make it up.” There is value in that but to me that’s more moving into the realm of historical fiction and quite frankly I think that’s an exciting realm to move into. There is a lot of events that we just don’t have detailed enough records but we can kind of guess as to what happened and we don’t use a verbatim out of the journal simply because they didn’t write in 140 characters. But if they didn’t say what they had for breakfast we don’t make it up. We try to stick as closely to what they said. One of the things we do have to make up unfortunately is the time because they have already said we had breakfast at 6:47 in the morning. But as closely as possible we try to convey the events as they happen so we people follow these events, they are getting a sense of what really did happen.

Jeff Guin: So what’s the ultimate benefit for this project?

Marion Jensen: I think there are two benefits to a historical on Twitter. One benefit comes to those who have followed the event. And what happens is they really get a sense of the event as if that were happening. So for example, when we did Gettysburg was a two and half month event. Usually when you study history you sit down maybe you are watching a film and you understand the battle, a three-day battle you get in three hours. Or you read a book and you get it in bits and pieces here and there. What TwHistory does for the followers is they get a sense of how long it took and what happened on each day. I will forever remember Chancellorsville took place in the spring because when I followed the feed it was spring in my world, I mean it was raining. It really gave a feel for how the events transpired and what the people went through, so that’s one benefit.

The second benefit, and this is the exciting part for me again as an educator, is after we did Gettysburg we had a high school teacher said hey, this is great, I am going to have my students do and they tweeted the Cuban Missile Crisis. So these high school students went out poring through White House documents, original sources and then extracting the tweets. So just a fantastic educational opportunity instead of just reading about any event they created it, they reenacted it and the teacher was very pleased that how it turned out, how involved the students got and how to engage them.

Jeff Guin: Now this must require quite a bit of focus not just from you but from the other people who are tweeting because all of these tweets are kind of interdependent. I wonder how you attract the people with the dedication and reliability for lack of a better term to carry out a project like this over you said three months right?

Marion Jensen: Yeah, what I did was a you know was a volunteer project and I was doing the entire thing at first. As it became overwhelming I kind of just cast the net out and said hey I am doing this project anybody like to hope out and I had a quite few volunteers and then a couple of them fell out and stopped doing it. But I found that the ones that did stick with it  helped me out quite a bit and so I you know I made my life easier. That is one of the challenges, that these events are pretty hard to coordinate, these smaller events not as much so.

The TwHistory group is working on a set of web tool to try to make this easier because the way it sets, the way the project works now is it, it does take quite a bit work and it was, there was a big effort by this high school teacher. We would like to simplify that, we would like to make these original documents available so that a teacher could come and just pick up say the Continental Congress package. We would have all the documents there they needed, the characters and they could just kind of do the fun stuff but it is a difficult thing to do.

Jeff Guin: Now you mentioned earlier that you collected all the journals and the research for this project initially I am wondering if that’s going to change in as this project becomes little more collaborative?

Marion Jensen: You know that’s an excellent question because I am not a trained historian and historians everywhere will you know roll their eyes in how I did my research because basically I went over to the university library and found Civil War section and pulled off book after book after book. And if it was a journal and that soldiers at their at Gettysburg and I took it. I am sure that I missed a lot of good sources and I would love a Civil War historian to pick up what I did and to see what I have because like I said we only followed fifteen sources and I know there is more than that. I would love to see the battle of Gettysburg become a more complete story. But you know I am a big fan of Wikipedia. I should mention that’s one of the hallmarks of the tools we are creating, these feeds that we are creating are open and free for anybody to use. We license  material and we have under a Creative Commons license and encourage others to do the same.

Jeff Guin: Now you eluded to earlier your first experiences with Twitter and that you and actually I think it was, it’s been a common perception of people in the heritage field in general that Twitter is kind of inane almost and that there are not a lot of redeeming qualities to it. What actually lead you to the process of seeing the possibilities of where this could go and how it could be used as an educational tool.

Marion Jensen: When I first signed up for Twitter I followed a few of my friends and I got updates like, “Hiding My Cat” or “This Yogurt Tastes Good,” and I just did not see the value of Twitter at all and there has been a lot of that criticism. But then as I mentioned the thing that changed it for me was when Twitter included their search capability. The best way I explained it is that Facebook is really good for having random conversations with specific people. Twitter is really good for having specific conversations with random people. So for example if my sister breaks her leg I want to know about that. It’s a random event in her life that because I know her and I care about her, I want to know that.

If somebody breaks their leg and I don’t know them, I don’t much care about it and that just don’t mean but that’s with our goals. So with Facebook I talk about any topics with people who I have known to care about. But Twitter allows me to, can talk about specific things with random people that I have never met. So I can go on and talk about Civil War just by typing that the search term “Civil War” and I can be introduced to experts and to various different people. So for me that’s when my life went off and said okay if I want to talk about a specific topic then Twitter is a good way to go.

Jeff Guin: I have never heard that explained better. Seriously, I think in those terms about Facebook versus Twitter, but I have never heard it articulated so well. Now you mentioned earlier that you were in academia, can you give us a little more of your background there?

Marion Jensen: My undergraduate was political science. In my senior year I went to back to D.C. and did an internship and promptly came back and changed my major. Actually I graduated but immediately went on to something else. I love and still to this day I love politics but I did not want to be involved with that level of bureaucracy and what not.

So I came back and went on to get my master’s in Instructional Technology, went out and made my way in the world but I missed my school days. Ended up coming back to the Weber State University and started teaching and really enjoyed that and thought I wanted to get my PhD so that I could teach for a living. I started working for the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning, I became the director of their Open Courseware Project and that led me to a lot of social media learning environments and eventually learned TwHistory.

Jeff Guin: So what social media tools did you use either professionally or personally?

Marion Jensen: I have dabbled in just about, all right I shouldn’t say all of them, I dabbled in many of them. I used Twitter regularly, Facebook, LinkedIn… I am a big geocacher, which is a kind of a kind of a mix of a virtual and the real world. I love all of the Google tools; I’ve used Media Wiki. There are just so many ways in that to hook up with people in just about any topic.  I have got an Android phone and now I have an application where I can leave messages at certain places and other people that come along from can read those messages. The golden age of social learning and social interactions.

Jeff Guin: Okay, as you looked toward the future of where you are going to take TwHistory do you foresee using any of those tools to maybe augment the experience and specifically I am talking about things like using historical photos from Flickr to use along with the tweets?

Marion Jensen: Absolutely and that’s an excellent question. We’re doing the Mormon Pioneer Trek. So several of the Mormon Pioneers who crossed America. We are also doing the Louis and Clark Trail which is a very big project, its about three years. We have every intention to use Google maps, Flickr or some iteration of that to show where these people not just what they tweeted but where they were when they tweeted it. I think that will offer an edge with the Louis and Clark as they describe some of these places, we can upload pictures of what it looks like today. For somebody following that the Louis and Clark feed, if they can pull up on a map and see where they are, when they are tweeting it, we hope they will better be able to remember and kind of comprehend that information.

Jeff Guin: Interesting, well I am just thinking out loud here, I wonder if there is any potential for this to serve as kind of a travel guide of sorts. You mentioned Google maps earlier would it possible for folks who were following the tweets to actually follow along the journey–kind of serve as a heritage tourism experience?

Marion Jensen: Yeah you know one of my other dissertation topics was geo-tagging and that’s the idea of taking content that’s relevant to a specific location and somehow making it available for people. So we had Wikipedia and that’s great, I love Wikipedia and I can go learn about anything on Wikipedia. But as soon as I close my laptop and I step outside, all of that information is lost, its back in my house. How cool to be hiking in amount and then come across the a strange rock formation to be able to pull out your cell phone and listen to a video from a local geology professor who explains how that outcrop was formed.

The project that I was working on just before TwHistory was a virtual game that takes place in a living museum close to Salt Lake. The problem they had was they had a lot of volunteers who were helping to interpret the site but if this volunteers weren’t here the visitor who had come to the site here had missed out on a lot of information. So we created a game that sat on a GPS and they would actually interact with the GPS and as they came to certain location that a message would pop and say if you see a bear what are you going to do? If they have the gun you could maybe try to shoot the bear. If you didn’t, you had to run away and find something that had a gun. So by doing this it became interactive; it wasn’t just an interactive game on a computer but it was an interactive game with a location and the content that we presented was relevant because of the location that we are at. So I think TwHistory eventually–you know it would be great to go to the Gettysburg National Park and to be able to follow what happened those three days with the GPS device maybe, maybe we tie in our tweets in a condensed version but you can go through and see where people were at different times.

Jeff Guin: Yeah and that actually ties into what we hear so much about with augmented reality these days and it being the next evolution of social media, which I am sure if you have an Android phone then you see that Google is taking things in that direction. Reading your blog one of the things that really interested me was your participation in an UNESCO event. Tell me a little bit about that experience?

Marion Jensen: That was a fortuitous meet-up. Tom Caswell was at a conference and Tom, I used to sit right next Tom and we were doctoral students together. And he was at a conference and it happened to start raining. So he kind of took the shelter under this one even somebody else came and joined him and it someone that was attending the conference and they started talking and he brought up TwHistory and as it turns out she was, she was in charge of this international seminar of UNESCO in Barcelona. And she thought the idea was great and invited both of us to come out and speak and that’s just been fantastic.

We were able to go there and present our idea. A couple of the keynotes speakers were there and they actually tweeted what we were doing and that went out to three or four thousand followers and that lead to a brief article in the Chronicle of Higher Education so this kind of made more people aware of what we are doing. And so far all the response we got back has just been very positive. People are excited about the idea and we would like to help build further.

Jeff Guin: And so do you actually have people volunteering to help you do that to take this concept to the next level?

Marion Jensen: Yeah we do, one of the biggest challenges we see right now for is a website that provides all of these tools and makes the process easier. Because if I am a high school teacher I can’t take four or five hours getting to know all of these various different tools in your various different locations to put this together. I happen to work with two great developers that have done some really unique things and their specialty is social learning, social environments and they have, their list of projects that they have worked on is very impressive. If there is one plug that I would put in, we are currently, we have started our fund raising campaign on kick starter and we are asking for donations, we might take those donations and build out this site the way it should be done. But that’s the next step and those are kind of the volunteers I guess on the developers side.

For our upcoming events I have kind of just, I run a personnel blog with several friends and a lot of them are setup and have volunteered their time. Its kind of like Wikipedia but you know Wikipedia is not a full time job it can be done in little bits here and there and these volunteers can sit down for 30 minutes on a Saturday afternoon and do a couple of week to work through a content. So that’s kind of the extended volunteer that we are looking at right now. One, on one side it’s the folks doing the content, on the other side of the developers that can make this site what it needs to be.

Jeff Guin: Okay well what kind of help do you need, if there is someone out there listening to this that has some type of specialized skill and would like to contribute, how do they volunteer?

Marion Jensen: I don’t know if our site conveys this very well but we consider ourselves along the same lines of wikipedia. So we are creating content, we are generating this TwHistory events but we don’t want to be the only ones that are doing it. We would love for high school groups, for college groups, for heritage center organizations to say, “Hey look we have got this event. We have got some great documentation on it, lets create our own TwHistory feed.” We would be more than happy to show you how to do it and then we can push those out from our site. We get quite a few visitors to our sites so it’s a good way to advertise maybe your heritage center or you know just for the educational experience. But we would love more volunteers coming to us and saying look lets redo the Cuban Missile Crisis lets do the Continental Congress, lets do just about anything and we would love to see more content.

Jeff Guin: Well you mentioned heritage centers, I mean one of the ones that’s mentioned prominently on your side as the American West Heritage Center. Tell me a little bit about your involvement there?

Marion Jensen: I have always enjoyed technology so I have a desk job and always in front of the computer, I always have my phone and sometimes I just need to go away from it all. So about two years ago my wife signed this and volunteered the American West Heritage Center which is a fantastic place. And I grumbled the entire way, we got out there and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s a living museum, so we would dress in 1917 farm clothes. We would go out and interpret as if we were a 1917 farm family. We would milk the cow, we would plow and harvest and run the garden with 1917 tools. It was just a wonderful,  wonderful experience for me and my family. So I have got different ways in technology for a little bit.

Jeff Guin: Well another one of your interesting projects is something called “Where I Go” and these are actually games that you are developing. They are not related to TwHistory though right?

Marion Jensen: No they are not related. I mentioned earlier the interactive game we have created for the American West. We used the platform Where I Go to create those and those that runs on a Garmin GPS. So we were able to secure some funding for the American West Heritage Center to buy six of these GPS devices and then we have created this interactive game that we went up and the visitors on this site can check up these GPS devices and go and play the game.

We thought it was a great way for visitors who come to the site to interact with the site itself. So you know they can go to the various sites, they can see the farmhouse, they can see the Native American Center. But if there aren’t any volunteers who are there to help them interpret the site this GPS kind of gives them additional information. And we found that children especially enjoy it because they you know instead of just going to the Native American section and see the teepees, now they have got this virtual character on the GPS. A Native American who they talk to and that they actually help. So it’s kind of a fun way you know we played interactive games on the computer before. It’s kind of the same thing except you are actually out of the site so instead of just clicking with your mouse and never moving, you are walking all over the site gathering berries to one place and dropping them off at another place and visitors found it very enjoyable.

Jeff Guin: There is a question I ask almost everyone I interview. It’s about how you find balance in your online of life. Social media offers so many new ways to connect and to do important things but it can easily end up distracting you from your mission. How do you find that balance?

Marion Jensen: I am distracted all the time by technology and if I see a thing, I run off and play with it, which is why I have had multiple dissertation topics. It can be distracting. One of my colleagues compared Twitter to the Borg. The Star Trek Borg have all these voices going in their heads, and when one gets cut off, it says its “just silent.” You know sitting on my computer I have these little pings from my Twitter but it says you got another you know another message so it can be distracting. My wife asks me all the time how I find time to do all of this and the fortunately I find something new and I can’t let it go so right now I am working on  TwHistory. I have also got another book that I’m marketing. I do some curriculum development for an online high school. But for me, especially with TwHistory, it’s so intriguing to me to be able to follow an historical event as if it was happening to follow this in real time that I can’t let go this one. so we are trying to push it as far as we can. The downside is that I don’t see any business model to it, so it’s not like if I make this work I can quit my day job. But we are hoping that if we can get the volunteers, I won’t have to quit my day job to generate all these content that we can get a lot of good high-quality feeds getting out there without it costing one person a lot of time and energy. It can be done collaboratively.

Jeff Guin: All right well in your blog post “Gatekeepers and Holes” you mentioned the importance of losing the middleman in publication and how that promotes the expression of ideas in literature. How do you think that same concept could be applied toward heritage preservation?

Marion Jensen: Yeah so I am an author and one of the things that authors have a privilege of doing is trying to get their work published. And in order to do that you have to find an agent, you have to find a publisher and it can be very difficult to do. One of the beauties of the internet is that it has taken out some of those I called them “Gatekeepers” and then a lot of times you could say that that’s not a good thing. But I think it is a good thing. I was in college when the Napster Revolution kind of took place and I saw all of these songs just given away for free and I thought you know that’s horrible all these musicians, how are they going to make money? And you know of course the record industry starts suing people and we have seen that battle go on for years but a lot of the savvy musicians have said “you know what I am just going to give my music away and then people come to my concerts and I can sell them tickets or I can sell them T-shirts or surprise people still want to buy CD’s because they want to support me.” So there is this whole wave of musicians that bypassed their record industry and went direct to their fans and as an author I have always wanted that same ability but its kind of a different meeting, that’s hard to sit down and reading the entire novel on the screen.

But I do think this idea of hooking up artists with consumers and in our case say heritage museums or people with a historical content, directly with people who have an interest, it is very powerful. So I might say hey look I have got the journals of my grandfather who was in World War II, he wasn’t in anything famous battle so you know a lot of people might say we don’t have interest there but there are some people out there who would find that very interesting and I can share that directly you know I don’t have to find a gatekeeper or a publisher. Twenty-five years ago if you wanted to get your message out you had to on the television station or a newspaper or magazine and now all you have to do is set up a blog. So I think it’s a powerful way for consumers to hook out with the people with the content and we are just, I think we are just starting to see a lot of the benefits that are coming out.

Jeff Guin: Now you mentioned that you are an author tell us about some of the things that you have written?

Marion Jensen: I have written three books. Two of them have been published. They are for young adults and they are kind of based loosely on my childhood, I would call them humorous fiction. And then my latest book is kind of speculative fiction for young adults, it’s about super heroes.

Jeff Guin: Okay well I am going to put you on the spot for a little bit, because I want you to define what an author is these days. You have got the traditional books the publications that you write and you also blog and you tweet. So what, in your mind, is the difference now?

Marion Jensen: Yeah you know kind of in the author circles people say “well if you write you are a writer, if you have been published you are an author.” And that was it, you know that was an easy limpness test twenty years ago when being published and that you had a book. But now you know if you have a blog what does that mean, you know how many followers so you have to have before you are considered an author. So I kind of just lump it together and said you know what if you are creating contents and people are consuming or enjoying that content then hats off to you, that’s what we need: more good stuff out there.

Jeff Guin: What would be your advice to people or organizations who want to get on the web and have conversations about heritage topics. How do they get started?

Marion Jensen: Well first one we just say that we are more than happy to help anybody through the process whether they want to do a TwHistory event or just some other way they can come to our site: TwHistory, TwHistory.org and just there was a “contact us” form, just drop us e-mail we would be more than happy to help you out. The one thing I would like to tell people you know there is that movie, the famous line “if you build it they will come”: Field of Dreams, that does not apply here.

If you send up a website and put great stuff on there, people are not necessarily going to come. So that’s the real challenge as finding you know where do people already come and then how can I get my message out through those means. Yet now it is possible to start a blog with the generally a lot of followers, it’s a lot of work to get people to come to your site, a lot of work to build followers but it is possible. If you can find sites that already provide this service and use those channels especially if those services are you know free and open and in groups there. That’s why Twitter is good. When we first started TwHistory we could have started our own you know broadcast mechanism–that wouldn’t be hard to do. But people already use Twitter, and it’s very easy for them to just sign up and follow us. So that would be my key piece of advice: to find out how people are already using technology and then use that technology in an effective and efficient way to help getting message across.

Jeff Guin: Is there anything else that you would like to add about either your current projects or what you are planning for the future?

Marion Jensen: I guess the only thing other thing I would say is that if anybody would like help using some of these new social tools with their heritage projects we are more than going to help out. We enjoy technology, we enjoy heritage and we think that the marriage of the two is a good thing.

Jeff Guin: Marion thanks for being on Voices of the Past.

Marion Jensen: Thank you.