My Struggle with Storymaps and more

I’ve been hard at work with my independent project for Digital Public History exploring the complicated and frustrating realm of Storymaps. It’s been super hair-pullingly frustrating because I can’t seem to figure out how to get it to do what I want it to do! Originally, I didn’t think I’d run into this many problems. For one thing, the Storymaps policy for videos are quite limiting. What I’m trying to map deals a lot with videos of oral history interviews with Holocaust survivors. These interviews are all found on the USHMM (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) website, and have their own restrictions. For one thing, you are able to download some of them, but not all. However, this is not what’s frustrating. What’s frustrating is that I’m not able to insert those videos on my Storymap. The Storymap video policy/guidelines/restrictions are that the videos have to either come from Youtube, or Vimeo, neither of which mine come from. There is also an option to embed the video in your story map, but after (what seemed like) hours of researching, watching videos and asking my data scientist boyfriend, I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t figure out how to embed the video, or even get the video code in right. I kept running into errors and I eventually, just gave up.

That’s when I sent an email to Liz Sutherland.

Unfortunately, Liz wasn’t really able to help me in this situation. She offered quite a few really good alternatives to the problem I was facing. One solution was to link the video in the info box itself. However, I’m still debating on whether or not I want to do this because I don’t want viewers to constantly be clicking out of the storymap! Another option was to find similar videos on Youtube. But, again, most of these oral history interviews were conducted by USHMM, and 99% of them didn’t make it onto Youtube. Currently I’m at a standstill.

Without the videos, the storymap itself is not as impactful as I would’ve liked it to be. It’s one thing to read about the struggles of the Hidden Children, but another thing to be able to hear the testimonies of the survivors. It seems that I might just have to link the USHMM link in the map itself. This might be the only solution.

This is one of the things that I really don’t like about Storymaps. Storymaps allows the user to do so much and to educate on so many levels. However, the video part of Storymaps is lacking. Hopefully, in the future, something like this can be fixed. Perhaps, the option to upload downloaded videos, or videos on a website other than Vimeo or Youtube. I think with this improvement, the projects on Storymaps can benefit more and make it more interactive. This way, sights and sounds are combined with interactivity to create an educational and meaningful learning map.

Stay tuned next week to read about how far I’ve done with this project. Other than that, the future is still bright.

Story Mapping!

As part of my independent project for Digital Public History this year, I’m going to be creating a Story Map. Story Maps allow you create a visual story using maps, locations, pictures, videos, text, all onto one platform. It combines the technology of GIS with history. Historical GIS! What I want to do with Story Maps is create a visual map of oral histories recorded from Hidden Children during the Holocaust.

To recap from my last blog post, Hidden Children is a term for children that hid during the Holocaust in a variety of ways. This includes physically in secret attics, cupboards, basements, rooms, you name it. It also includes changing one’s identity to hide with “Aryan” families or in Catholic institutions. Many Hidden Children survived the Holocaust because of this concealment. In recent years, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) has interviewed many of these survivors to get their stories. In the past, many Hidden Children stayed silent about their trauma because they felt as though there was a “hierarchy of suffering.” Many Hidden Children never experienced a concentration camp, and so they felt as though their suffering was less of those people who did have to go through such horrors.

Today, much of the silence is broken.

I want to highlight these oral histories (that can be found on the USHMM website), and to give them a sense of place on the map. I plan to use Story Maps to map the oral histories so that a user is able to click on each individual story. These stories span all across Europe.

To start, I thought about many different “map options” for my Story Map. Initially, I wanted to use the Map Journal option (a continuous scroll), but was later informed that a Map Tour might be a better option for what I wanted to achieve. However, this is when I hit my first roadblock. I kept encountering this picture:

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 5.45.01 PM.png

The Map Tour option has the ability to present videos on the map via a URL. However, this popup was blocking me from even starting my map! I’ve emailed Liz Sutherland (Western’s GIS guru) asking for help. I am currently at a wall with this project. Hopefully this issue will resolve itself soon. If not, I might have to resort to using the Map Journal option. This will result in a different vision than what I initially intended. More to report soon though.

“The Epitome of Dark History”

Like many people, I have a fascination with dark history. I’ll admit, dark history pulls you in without even trying to. But what is it exactly?

There are many definitions of the term ‘dark history.’ However, it can be defined as ‘the presentation and consumption (by visitors) of real and commodified death and disaster sites.

Dark History is broad and complex. It ranges from ‘playful houses of horror,’ to grave sites, sites of disaster, to sites of genocide and mass death and beyond. Enough of that though. What I’m interested is Dark History in regards to the Holocaust, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

Image result for auschwitz

Auschwitz is probably one of the best known symbols of terror, genocide and the Holocaust. Established in 1940 in Poland by Germans, Auschwitz soon become the largest network of concentration camps and death camps built. Over 1 million victims lost their lives in Auschwitz. Today, more than 1.5 million visitors visit the camp (now a museum and memorial site). The ruins bear witness to the atrocities that happened there less than 100 years prior.

In Derek Dalton’s book, Dark Tourism and Crime, he states that Auschwitz is the epitome of dark tourism. In one chapter, he describes his experience of visiting Auschwitz. One particular section really struck me. He wrote about his experience in Block Four, where they displayed an enormous pile of hair. He singled out one plait that caught his attention in the mass. This plait was what allowed him to engage with the material, not as ‘evidence of genocide,’ but rather, as a conduit through which he could imagine the victim. This plait of hair was a tangible part of the whole experience. It forced him to ask questions. Questions that might never be answered. But that’s okay.

Because such sites facilitate countless acts of post memory. It creates a connection to the event, and to the individual through contemplation.

This was my experience a couple years a go when I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It’s a very solemn experience. The hushed voices, dark rooms and heavy nature speaks to tragedy that happened to Anne Frank, and millions of other people as well. Going through the rooms allowed me to feel a deeper connection to her story. In one room you can watch a short video of her story, and you can hear ‘her voice’ reading parts of her diary entries. Her voice can be heard quietly in the other rooms as well. This was the one part that really struck me. It wasn’t something tangible, like the plait that Derek Dalton wrote about, but it still had the same effect on me. Although I know it wasn’t her real voice, it was quite haunting listening to the laughter, the reading of diary throughout the house where she hid. It made me think about her experience, and through that I felt a deeper connection to her story.

Dark History will always be an interest to me. I’ve never really been interested in the ‘playful horror houses,’ or anything like that, but more so the sites of memorialization. I am interested in the history of the sites and being physically there makes me feel more connected to it. With that said, I’d like to visit Auschwitz one day. I think it’ll be an eye-opening experience.

Times Flies

Times flies when you’re having fun! Time also flies when you’re super busy with a million things to do. These past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of assignments due, assignments to start, work to work on, readings to read and things to do.

Phew!

Now that I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, I thought I’d catch you guys up on what I’ve been up to.

These past couple of weeks at Museum London have been filled with hair, hair and more hair. Researching hair, thinking about hair, writing about hair, and examining artifacts related to hair. One of the coolest things that I got to do recently was pick out different artifacts that are going to be in the Hair Exhibition (name to be revealed). This included picking out 1 brush from a collection of 10+ brushes, or 1 bonnet from 5 beautiful bonnets to exhibit.

This also meant putting away artifacts that we used, but no longer needed. Now I’ve been in museum vaults before, and when I worked at the Woodstock Art Gallery (WAG) over the summer, we had a super organized art vault. But this was something entirely different. WAG’s art vault was around double the size of my current room in London. Museum London’s artifact vault is … triple the size of my house! (I mean how else could they house over 45,000 different artifacts?) Just learning the different areas of the vault, and how everything is organized was really cool. It seems that more than once I’ve lost Amber in there. This is my first time working in a Museum vault, and I’ve learned a lot on artifact handling, collections management and about their collection in general. Every time I see something that piques my interest, I ask Amber about it. By just asking questions on a day to day basis, I’ve learned more about social history than I ever did before.

 

Another thing that came up recently in Digital Public History was Historical GIS. If you don’t already know what GIS is, don’t worry, I don’t either. All I currently* know is that it stands for Geographic Information System and is a system designed to analyze, manipulate, capture and present spatial or geographic data. It can be used in a Public History setting to visualize and present historical information with the help of different geographical maps and tools. One of the examples that showed how GIS can be used in Public History was through Esri Story Maps. I’ve never heard about Esri, or Story Maps before today! When I opened and explored the example of a story map I was given, I was sucked in right away. I thought this was the coolest thing that I’ve ever seen. It got me thinking. Maybe I should this for my Digital Public History project!

To be quite honest, I haven’t given it much thought. I originally planned to do something with 3D printing, but after looking at what can be done with ArcGIS/Esri Story Maps, I think I’ve found my calling. I’m excited to continue to dive deeper into this because I’m starting from zero.

One of my major research papers during Undergrad was on Hidden Children of the Holocaust. Hidden Children were Jewish children that hid during the Holocaust in various ways. This included physically (like Anne Frank) in attics, cupboards, hidden rooms, or in plain sight with fake identities. In my paper, I analyzed how they survived and the different ingenious ways they hid to survive. As such, many Hidden Children survived the Holocaust. The academic literature for Hidden Children is scarce. For years after, many survivors didn’t speak up about their trauma because they felt that their suffering was less than those who survived through concentration camps.  However, in recent years, there has been a push to get the oral testimonies of survivors on record. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) now has many oral history interviews from Hidden Children who survived the Holocaust by hiding.

I think I want to combine both of these topics for my Digital History Project. I’m thinking of creating a Story Map of Europe and re-telling the stories of these Hidden Children. I want to map out where they hid, how they hid and how they survived. I think it would be really interesting to discover this side of survival and memorialization. Perhaps it would be interesting to link such oral history interviews within the Story Map itself. That way, you could see the location of where the survivor hid on a map, but also hear their stories as well. Im not sure how many exact locations I will be able to find. I think what might result is that the closest area I will be able to figure out will be the city. I want to try to dive deeper though, and try to map the exact address. It will take some research, but I’m excited to start this journey. It’ll be a hard one, but a valuable one.

You Have Died of Dysentery

This week for Digital Public History, we focused on digital history games. Most of the games that were featured in the readings were first person shooters/point of view games.  In these games, history is usually used as a “masculine” backdrop, with scenes often depicting fighting, war, and the lack of dominant female characters. In these games, you always play as the “good guy,” who helps to fight the “bad guys.”

We also read up on ARGS, which are alternate/augmented reality games. The example that Tim provided us was his own game, Tecumseh Lies Here. ARGs are really cool. They go into public places, and utilize websites, forums, text, and even physical objects as clues to proceed through the game. It is meant to be collaborative, and turns the whole game into a learning experience.

Reading up on all the different types of history games that are out there, it got me thinking. Have I ever played any of those games? I’ll admit, I’ve played Call of Duty a couple times, but I never paid any attention to the backdrop, or the “history” behind it (I was too busy trying to figure out the controls).

Then, I remembered a game I played as a kid: The Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail was a series of educational computer games that was really popular in the 1980s to mid-2000s. It was designed to teach children in school about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The aim of the game is to try to get your family (you + your wife + your three kids) safely from Independence, Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Throughout the journey, you have to keep into account your supplies, the amount of food you have, the distance you have to travel, and much more. You are able to hunt within the game, with the only restriction being the number of bullets you have, as well as that you can only take back 100lbs of meat back to the wagon. Some of the challenges of the game included the weather, rivers that you had to cross, disease, injuries, money, and death.

I’ve played the game several times throughout my life. Each time, it ends like this:

the-oregon-trail.jpg

and I’ve never gotten to Oregon once.

This week’s readings got me thinking about what I actually learned as a kid about the Oregon Trail through the game, and if it was educational at all. Did I learn anything about the history of the Oregon Trail? I’m not quite sure, maybe a little bit. Through my research, I found out that the creator of the game did a lot of historical research during the game’s development. Events were based on actual historical probabilities for what happened to travellers at each stage/town of the game. Each option/choice that the player had was based on historical narratives of people on the trail as well. The stops and towns along the way were real life Oregon Trail towns, and distances.

All in all, I think it did teach me a little about The Oregon Trail. It taught me about the various hardships that the travellers had to go through in the 19th century. I was able to make choices that determined the future of my players, and wrong moves had horrible consequences. For a game that was developed in the mid-70s, I think it was an educational win. The usage of historical probability and narratives gave a realistic quality to the game.

Maybe one day I’ll the game out again and this time, get to Oregon.

The Pickles of Podcasting Pt. 2

I did it! I finished creating my first ever podcast. A couple weeks ago this seemed like a daunting, impossible task, and yet here we are. I have attached the link here. Make sure to listen to the other podcasts too from the Shared Authority family.

Leaving off of last week’s post, The Pickles of Podcasting, I encountered a couple problems.

1.  My audio doesn’t sound the same because I recorded different parts on different days

2. The interview that I did still sounds like it’s coming from my phone’s speaker (Note: It is coming from the speaker)

3. I conducted an interview and it was 15 minutes long (the whole podcast is supposed to be ~15 minutes)

4. I had an abundance of “ums,” “mhms,” and “oh wows” to erase

And safe to say, I think I tried my best in solving each and every one. One video that really helped me get started with the editing program, Audacity was this one.  I really didn’t know how to approach editing a podcast, and there were so many different “effects” that could’ve enhanced, changed or ruined my podcast. After watching this video, I felt a little bit better in tackling this huge project. One suggestion from the many forums that I read on how to make audio clips sound the same was through the “compressor” option in effects. This forum that I found was my saving grace. Basically, I found that by using the built in compressor and changing the levels to 10:1 radio, 0.1 sec attack time and unchecking “Make-up gain for 0dB after compressing,” it helped to make my audio clips sound the same. I also found that by highlighting individual clips and parts, I could “normalize” it and then play around with the dB levels to change volume. After playing around for (what seemed like) hours with the audio, I think I successfully managed to make my audio clips sound the same for the most part. I don’t think that I could’ve done it perfectly, and now next time I know to record the clips all at once. However, it was a good learning experience and I learned a whole lot through a little digging around.

Unfortunately for problem 2, I was unable to fix that my interview sounded like it was coming from the speaker. I really had hoped to conduct an in-person interview, but things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. However, I think that the content of the telephone interview is important enough that the pros outweigh the cons.

Problem 3 was successfully solved! I managed to cut the interview down by more than half. My full podcast ended up to be around 16 minutes. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

And finally, the editing. I think I managed to successfully erase most of the extra words in my podcast. I was fortunate that most of the extra audio happened during speaking pauses, so it didn’t really affect the quality of the content. When certain “um’s” or “mhm’s” popped up in the interview, I tried to erase it as well as I could. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to edit out all of the extra words. There are still some sneaky ones that I couldn’t erase without jeopardizing the interview content, so they were left in. However, I think that this is still an accomplishment nonetheless. If only you could’ve listened to the podcast pre-editing, you would be amazed at how much it changed!

I’m glad we did this project. It was really fun (and frustrating at the same time) and I think the whole learning process was necessary. It helped me step out of the comfort zone and I really challenged myself with this project. I went from knowing almost nothing about podcasting, to someone who is entirely capable of recording another one. I don’t think I will be continuing with podcasting, but if I ever go down this road again in the future, I know what NOT to do. It was a valuable lesson to be learned. I’m proud of what I’ve made and I hope you give it a listen!

My First Week at Museum London

Last week was my first week at Museum London. Safe to say, I was extremely (major emphasis on extremely) excited to be working there as a Research Assistant for this semester.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Museum yet, you’re missing out! Museum London is in the heart of downtown London and is the result of the amalgamation of the London Regional Art Gallery and the London Historical Museum. Since then, it’s mandate has been to “promote the knowledge and enjoyment of regional art, culture, and history.” It’s collection boasts over 5000 regional and Canadian works, and over 45,000 artifacts that reflect the history of London.

My first time at Museum London was last year when I was in Mike Dove’s Public History course as an undergraduate. It was one of many of our different site visits. I was amazed by the quality of the different exhibitions and the amount of research required to bring one to fruition.

This semester I will be working with Amber Lloydlangston, Curator of Regional History on many projects. Mainly, I will be focusing on helping Amber with the research and development of an exhibition all about hair. Thats right! HAIR. This exhibition is set to open in December and until then, I have a lot of work cut out for me. I’m excited to be sharing all the bumps and hurdles along the way! Come December, I hope to be (weirdly) an expert all about the history of hair.

My first week at Museum London was really fun. I got the full tour of the whole building, which was pretty overwhelming. I was shocked at the space that they have for their collection! I’ve only worked in small museums in the past, and Museum London is by far the biggest one I’ve ever worked in. They have 3 vaults for art, and one GIANT one for their artifacts! On my first day at Museum London, I got lost looking for my cubicle, and then got lost again looking for the door our of the administration offices. So far, I’ve hit the ground running at a full spring. Everyone is always so busy and bustling, and I love it.

This photo is courtesy of the London Free Press and showcases the new Centre at the Forks space that recently opened on Sunday September 30, 2018.

 

Hair Fact! 

The antimacassar was invented because the back of chairs kept getting ruined from the Macassar oil that men frequently used in their hair during the 1800s.