So. Welcome to the end. You’ve been with me along this whole exploration, dear reader. I want you to know I appreciate your being there for me, reading my thoughts (ramblings? let’s go with ramblings) on public history and augmented reality and Detroit, looking at my pictures (borrowed and created), and watching my gifs. I mean, we’ve really navigated a lot together these past few months.
This last post is meant to be reflective, an opportunity to look back at what I’ve done and how I did it. So to start, what have I learned from this class? I always despise this question. It makes me think of museum exhibitions and the ways in which we can evaluate them and their level of success. Well, we can measure how many people visit the exhibit, but did they actually read any of the information? Did they even look at any of the objects? These hard numbers look great on grant applications for reporting purposes, but they don’t necessarily tell us the real impact that an exhibition has had on those people. How do we begin to get at that then? Perhaps we could survey people as they leave the exhibition and ask what they thought? Sure, but this has its drawbacks too. Most of these reflections are simply surface level: “I liked it” “It was enjoyable” “It was interesting.” Well great. Plus, many people won’t even begin to appreciate the extent to which the exhibition influenced them, made them more knowledgable, or introduced them to a new perspective until much later in time. A truly effective and successful exhibition stays with a person and has a lasting and meaningful impact on their thoughts or opinions.
SO WHAT? Yes, I know. A long explanation before even answering this “What did I learn?” question. Ok, let’s make a list.
1) Practical Skills
Things that fall under the “Practical Skills” camp are the actual methods and practice that we engaged in throughout the year that I can now confidently add to my resume. I know how to operate Photoshop in a very basic, but still effective way. Plus, there’s nothing that a good YouTube video or Google search can’t teach. I learned how to write/construct a social media proposal, especially how to create personas that serve as a sample audience for your evaluator. I learned much more than I already knew about Wordpress and Twitter, plus I learned about TweetDeck and how that helps you track and follow various hashtags or trends. I learned how to use Omeka to create online exhibitions and collections, which was really really really exciting (minus that whole metadata part)!!! Oh yeah, I learned how to enter metadata for digital collection items. And finally, I learned how to bring photos, text, music, and narration together in iMovie to create a video. All of these practical skills only make me more marketable as a public historian and make my ultimate goal of engaging with the public in meaningful and social justice-y in multiple ways much easier.
2) Intellectual Skills
Outside of the practical methods I gained from the class, I also learned a variety of new theories about digital platforms and new media. We explored the differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, like the emphasis on collaboration, mobility, and multitasking. We learned what characteristics defined New Media as digital, including numerical representation (coding), modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. We discussed how we must always look at new technology within the context of past technologies. We talked a great deal about copyright, Creative Commons, citations, attributions, and the responsibility we have as public historians to maintain a level of accuracy, openness, and professionalism on social/digital media. We examined some of the shortcomings of digital media, especially regarding the lack of access among large portions of the public we want to reach as historians. We learned about what defines a participatory culture and how that translates to the museum in order to make our work more social, more mobile, and more participatory. Finally, we discussed what makes a good story and how to use different narrative structures to tell effective stories about the past. What makes these new ideas and theories so valuable though, is that they have a place outside of digital new media. Engaging and effective storytelling should be something that all historians aspire too in most aspects of their professional work. Our discussions about participatory and social learning are just as helpful in the museum as on the Web. And of course, having a sound understanding of copyright and citation is a key responsibility of a historian.
3) Personal Growth
Public historians have a responsibility to always be reflective both during and after a project. This inevitably allows them to learn something about themselves as professionals, but also as people. What did I learn about myself? I learned that I do love collaborative work and that the digital often makes collaborative work easier to coordinate. Yet I also understand my shortcomings as a collaborator. I know that I don’t always follow up with people after a meeting to make sure we all are on the same page/have tasks to complete, leading to disarray. I also try to take too much control over aspects of the project I think I would be effective at, like writing or editing, rather than letting go and trusting my competent group members. I also understand now how important it is to maintain an active professional presence on social media. I don’t always keep so up-to-date and I’ve learned that I need to actually carve out that time everyday, schedule it in my planner. Otherwise, I’ll put it off. Finally, I’ve learned that I really like blogging. I honestly enjoy having a place where I can engage with important thoughts about public history in a more relaxed setting that allows me to incorporate appropriate and helpful media. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to include a gif from When in Academia or cite Lol My Thesis as a legit secondary source. (ok I’ve never wanted to do that, really). But here on a blog, I can do that with hypertext. And hopefully what I say makes you laugh (because that’s usually what I’m going for here), but also makes you think about the nature of history and the digital.
So why does this class make me feel like this guy?
For those of you unfortunate souls who don’t remember who this is, this crazy-eyed dude is Tim Allen as his character Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor, the host of a popular tool/home improvement show called Tool Time, which is a show-within-a-show on the real 1990s sitcom Home Improvement.
Side note: Tim Allen narrates all of the wildly successful “Pure Michigan” ads that enumerate all of the great things about my home state – namely beaches, lakes, baseball, and cherries – and make me cry every time I hear one. Really.
So going back to the Tool Man. At the end of my first semester as a public history graduate student, a professor made us write an essay on “Reflective Practice.” I framed nearly the entire essay within a toolbox metaphor that framed every new method and theory learned, whether its oral history transcription or the idea of shared authority, as another tool in the public historian’s toolbox that they can then use to build programs and exhibits to connect with the public in a meaningful way. The more tools we have at our disposal, the more effective we’ll be at connecting with the public in multiple ways. This just makes sense. I mean, have you ever tried to build shelf with just a level and a hammer? Not effective. More tools = success.
This class has literally FILLED my metaphorical public history toolbox with so many new skills and ideas that I could very well host my own Tool Time (minus that hideous tie). I am a much more effective and informed public historian after taking this class and learning about digital new media in a structured and practical way. Overall, I’d say that’s a successful semester.
To wrap up the class this week, my group and I will present our video & Omeka exhibition about our Art Deco lamp, as well as our social media proposal targeting undergraduates for the Crossing & Dwellings exhibition at LUMA. Generally, it should go well. Let’s just hope it’s more like this:
And less like this:
Small victories y’all, small victories.