Session Notes: Museums, Archives, Scholars, and Digital

Session question: As museum and archives staff with collections digitization and access responsibilities, how can we best help scholars in their work?


Two threads to this question:

  • Digitized museum/archives material—how do museums and archives make that relevant?
  • How do museums and archives find out what scholars want?


What point are researchers at when they reach us in the Reading Room—e.g. early in their research, later on, too late for us to help?

  • We’re not always sure.
  • At The Henry Ford, we get a lot of walk-in traffic from Greenfield Village.
    • But isn’t the walk-in traffic a good thing? Creates interest/excitement among the public about archival research.


Right now, scholars find museums/archives (specifically The Henry Ford) in a couple of ways:

  • Via word of mouth—our archival collections, subjects covered, etc., traced from one academic book or paper to the next. (Possibility here of cultivating user contact networks—see below.)
  • Cataloging (library catalog, online collections, etc.)


Other ways museums and archives might engage with scholars and share ideas:

  • The Tech Museum in Stockholm has a board of scholars located throughout Sweden—mostly mid-career folks who provide advice, user contacts, etc.
  • Since some museums/archives (like The Henry Ford) take in many new collections, we could we could think about cultivating new/influential/important users or specialists for certain collections? Maybe write blog posts, document their findings.
    • A Lemelson fellow notes that Lemelson requested a “pop” blog post early on from him—not required, but requested. Another way to reach out to a potentially broader audience, span academic and public history, cultivate relationships with potential users.


Look into use of usability and personas.

  • The Henry Ford is working on this in its current digital efforts, but existing personas are more “general public” focused rather than scholarly, given THF’s public history focus.


Think about crowdsourcing.

  • One cool example: New York Public Library “What’s on the Menu” crowdsourcing project
  • The Henry Ford has tens of thousands of auto racing photos on Flickr, digitized by the donor, and users have provided feedback via comments, and have found errors (wrong race, etc.)
  • Consider multiple layers or sets of metadata authority: official tags, machine generated tags, crowdsourced tags. What if searchers could turn each set on/off?


How can we share more?

  • One professor likes The Henry Ford’s videos on YouTube of the Model T—but how can we share more? For example, have to go to another YouTube user to find a video showing how to drive a Model T. This could be a teaching tool (but also general public friendly).


How centralized does content have to be (e.g. on collections website vs. YouTube, Flickr, aggregator sites)?

  • “Your destination is your content, not your domain.” — Piotr Adamczyk, Program Manager, Google Cultural Institute


What library/archive/museum sites work/don’t work for scholars?

  • “Google works.”
  • WorldCat
  • Southern folklore collection – not well digitized (hundreds of images in one big file)—but you can tell what was digitized and what wasn’t
  • Digital New Zealand—aggregated national collections with really user friendly APIs, used in schools, nice social media integration
  • National Library New Zealand – nice job digitally; monetization on some content (high res) to offset costs.


Suggestion: Find ways to bring people “behind the scenes” digitally, expose this work. Examples:

  • National Railway of Scotland—brought people behind the scenes with locomotives
  • Seaport Museum in Philadelphia—has a live shot cam
  • Academy of Nat’l Sciences Philadelphia (Drexel)—live lab cam
  • Nat’l Inst. of Health/PubMed – scrolling live feed shows what people are searching for
  • At The Henry Ford, why not add glass to see into archival stacks from hall? Real, live archivists, registrars, etc. doing their day-to-day work.


What is the cost-benefit analysis for digitization?

  • Appropriate for The Henry Ford: Think about automotive metaphors for balance between digitization access and volume (the Lincoln versus the Fiesta)
  • What level of effort do we have to make before putting out a dataset—e.g., how much work do we have to do vs. how much work do the scholars have to do?
    • One example: business ledgers. We could image, we could OCR—but what else do we need to do? Excel or other formatting? Probably better not to go that far—scholars would rather do the analytic work themselves to be sure it’s right. Make data available for download—but use share-alike license. Perhaps create one model data set as a seed.
  • It doesn’t need to be polished but needs to be findable/accessible, in order to start the “trip down the rabbit hole.” Need agile layers of specificity.
  • Copyright and permissions are also factors here.


One conclusion: Get stuff out there, doesn’t always have to be perfect! Just be open about how “not perfect” it is—being open about process, not always only about the output.

SESSION PROPOSAL: This is not the Ken Burns effect! Enacting the Archive (TEACH)

Media artist sam smiley will be screening recent works that use archival images to tell alternative stories through video art. She will talk about tools and techniques, will show portions of her work, and will facilitate an open discussion to follow.

Open discussion: How can video artists and historians enact historical documents in a way that is accessible and meaningful without being literal?

The Films:

The Queen of Kudzu; 10 minutes

Produced by AstroDime Transit Authority and sam smiley

This video uses primary source documents, historical artifacts, interviews, and experimental video and audio to tell the story of C.E. and Lillie Pleas, who introduced Kudzu to the continental Americas in the early 1900’s. This video sheds some light on Kudzu’s amazing growth and use in the United States, prior to its being considered an “Invasive Species”. It is narrated by C.E. Pleas’ great great grandniece, Betty Pleas Taylor, and her husband John Taylor and produced by sam smiley with assistance from Lisa Gordon and AstroDime Transit Authority.

Also loop screening: Imagining John: The Vision of a Tailor-Philanthropist
Produced by Denise Doherty Pappas; Direction, Editing and Sound Design by sam smiley
Based on the book John Simmons: The Measure of a Man by Denise Doherty Pappas. Portions shot on location at the LIttle Compton Historical Society and Brickbottom Artists’ Association Gallery.

Session Proposal: How Can Digital Content Staff at Museums and Archives Best Help Scholars?

What are scholars looking for from archives and museum collections?  How can digital content staff at these institutions help?


The Henry Ford has been digitizing its collections for several years, and recently started a project to rethink its entire digital presence, including the presentation of its collections online.  Brian Wilson (Digital Access and Preservation Archivist) and Ellice Engdahl (Digital Collections & Content Manager) would love to facilitate a TALK session to pick the brains of willing graduate students, professors, and other scholars at THATCamp to find out what you’d like to see from online archives and museum collections in general, and in particular, from our collection.  Do you want data downloadable en masse?  If so, what types of data would you want, and what formats?  What existing museum and archive digital experiences do you like most—or least?  What features do you use most?  What features do you use least, or not at all?  What do you want from archival material (e.g., OCR) versus from museum objects (e.g., 3D printable files)?  Are there things you’re interested in that could be specific to scholars of technology history, or do you think they would be universal across disciplines?


This is not an official requirements gathering session for our digital presence, but we’d like to start a general conversation so we know how we, as museum and archives staff with content digitization and access responsibilities, can best support scholars in their work.

THATCamp SHOT is almost here!

THATCamp SHOT is nearly upon us, so here are some final instructions for you all. At present we are about 30 registered participants, which we believe will be a nice group.

The THATCamp will take place in the Village Pavillion in Greenfield Village. For directions, start by downloading this map:

You should follow the written directions in the second column: “Enter via Eagle Lane Entrance on Village Road and continue to parking lot. Follow dotted lines indicated on map.” It is important to note that you should use these directions — if you try and Google Map yourself to the Pavilion, you will merely arrive at the front gates of the village—which is closed. Eagle Lane is the only way to access the Pavilion.

We should also point out at this time that the Village is closed for regular visitors, so wandering away from the Pavilion area is not an option. The Security staff will *not* be happy.

Like with all things Dearborn, walking is not recommended. Feel free to use the comment field on the directions web page to organize shared taxis from the conference hotels in the morning. If you bring your own car, it is possible to park at the Pavillion, but after the end of the THATCamp you will need to move your car over to the Anderson Theater where the opening conference plenary will take place. Since there’s a 2-hour gap between the end of the THATCamp and the plenary, we recommend that you take the opportunity to head back to the hotel at this time. The museum itself closes at 5pm, so there’s not much of an opportunity to visit right then.

We will begin at 9am with a brief opening plenary followed by a session where we set the schedule for the day – please make sure to arrive in time, as the beginning of an unconference is quite critical to its success. We have a few proposed sessions already, and we welcome last-second proposals on the website. Even if you don’t write something here, do try to think of some themes you’d like to discuss, teach, or learn more about during the THATCamp.

Since The Henry Ford generously sponsors the THATCamp with our venue, coffee, tea, and lunch, we will only ask that participants contribute $5 upon arrival to pay for materials and other small expenses. Any surplus will be set aside for future THATCamp SHOT events.

Finally, bring your own computer, iPad, or similar – there will be wifi at the Pavillion, and we hope to have people tweeting, blogging, taking notes, and working throughout the entire THATCamp. As for Twitter, please use #SHOT2014 as the hashtag – I don’t think we need to have a separate hashtag for this event other than the main conference one.

Session Proposal: Social Objects and Technological Collections

How does the perception of technological collections as social objects affect the way in which we approach our work? Assign value? Determine significance? How does this differ when the social object is related to the arts instead of industry? Using the Henry Ford’s current IMLS funded project to locate, conserve, research, and digitize the communications collections as a backdrop, let’s <strong>talk</strong> about some of the larger issues surrounding technological museum collections.

Session Proposal: Hacking Computing History / HOT

I’m interested in discussing tools and methods that could be used for research, teaching, and publishing in the history of computing. This would presumably include general web development, but also primary sources that might be amenable to distant reading, open data sources related to economics / tech components of GDP etc, likely sources for web scraping, approaches to online exhibits and timelines like the ones at There’s also the question of how to (or whether we should) archive and make publicly accessible technical documentation including specifications, requirements, and code. Software preservation might also be of interest.  My immediate interest is to enhance the visibility of national computing histories and enable transnational comparisons and collaboration, but the global picture is important too. I’d be more than happy for the conversation to take in the broader history of technology.

Session proposal: SHOT online presence hackathon

This is a proposal for a Make session to give SHOT’s online presence a small but helpful boost. Over the session, we would improve SHOT’s Wikipedia page (which used to be very sad but has recently been updated to be a little bit better), SHOT’s Facebook presence (the conference-centric page is quite useful, but the automatically generated organization page is terrible – just look at that picture!), and so on. I have thought about starting a slightly larger project on collecting and making available programs from *all* the SHOT conferences, back to the very beginning – perhaps combined with a map interface (an early draft can be found here).

I can add that SHOT is evaluating how it can use social media more actively, and that I’m chairing an ad hoc committee that will present a report on SHOT and social media to the Executive Council at this meeting. One of the proposals there is for SHOT to recruit a social media editor, and the outcome of this session might be helpful for that person (and thus also for the organization as a whole).

Session proposal: Teaching with WordPress

I’d be happy to offer to lead a session on how to teach history of technology (or other topics) using WordPress as a learning platform. I have gotten increasingly frustrated with my university’s LMS Cambro (based on Sakai), and decided to build my own WordPress setup for both teaching online classes and – most importantly – for providing an arena for students to write and discuss. I know many other people do the same, and I would love to both share what I have learnt and also to learn from others. I could start the session by simply demonstrating my current WordPress course setup and providing some information about how others could build something similar. The goal is to not be overly technical, but to instead focus on the pedagogical possibilities and limitations.

Propose sessions for THATCamp SHOT

It’s now less than a month left before THATCamp SHOT starts, so it’s about time to start proposing sessions. As you may now (and as you can read more about in the THATCamp guide to proposals) we set the schedule for the THATCamp together, at the opening of the event, but we do this based on session proposals that the participants come up with. This website is a good place to do that, and it allows for discussion, comments, and feedback. The key thing is that we do not propose individual talks in these sessions – instead, the session is an opportunity for people to get together to discuss or work on a topic they share an interest in. Each session has a session leader (which is often the person who proposes the session).

There are roughly four things people do in THATCamp sessions: Talk, Make, Teach and Play. Sometimes one session contains elements of all these, but it’s also a fair taxonomy for THATCamp sessions. In a Talk session proposal, you offer to lead a group discussion on a topic or question of interest to you. In a Make session proposal, you offer to lead a small group of hands-on collaborative working session with the aim of producing a draft document or piece of software. In a Teach session, you offer to teach a skill, either a “hard” skill or a “soft” skill. In a Play session, anything goes – you suggest literally playing a game, or you suggest some quality group playtime with one or more technologies.

The THATCamp proposal guide has several examples of such sessions. If you look at these proposals, you can also see how other participants actively comment and signal their interest in such sessions. Please do the same with the THATCamp SHOT proposals – this will ensure that we can have an efficient and productive unconference! The only set thing at the THATCamp is opening, lunch, and ending – the rest is up to us!


Registration for THATCamp SHOT is now open!

THATCamp SHOT 2014 is just over two months away and we are now ready for registration.

THATCamp, The Humanities And Technology Camp, is a free, open, interdisciplinary “unconference” where humanists and technologists meet to work together for the common good. As historians of technology, we study the making and transformation over time, but the SHOT conferences have rarely functioned as an arena for discussing how we can make better use of technology in our own teaching and research. In this first THATCamp SHOT, we aim to change this by bringing together historians of technology, museum professionals, students, teachers, librarians, technologists, and others to explore new approaches to history of technology in an open, welcoming, and non-hierarchical manner.

If this sounds interesting, but you don’t know exactly what a THATCamp is and how it works, do not despair! You can find a full guide here and here.  We welcome all people regardless of technology skills, as long as you are interested in sharing, creating, and learning together.

This THATCamp is held in conjunction with the Society for the History of Technology annual meeting, but is not limited to conference participants. The THATCamp will take place at the Greenfield Village Pavillion, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Thursday November 6. Note that several of the conference excursions are on the same day.

We have room for 60 participants, so make sure you sign up early to get a spot – we expect to fill all of them! We’ll charge a low participation fee of $10 (collected at the door) to cover some of the expenses of arranging the THATCamp.  To register, go to this page and fill in an application.

The Henry Ford is generously sponsoring the THATCamp with our venue, AV equipment, coffee/tea, and a free lunch.

For more information, follow @THATCampSHOT on Twitter.