Mr. Voss Goes to Washington

I went to Washington DC on inauguration day, January 21, 2013. I arrived late in the evening, but had seen some of President Obama’s speech on tv earlier in the day. Of course, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. day as well, and I took to heart the call to national service, and indeed was honored to have the opportunity to spend the next day together with staff at our National Archives and Records Administration, and proud to be of service to my country in some small way. Update: the public talk I gave is available here, and slides here.

Seriously. Maybe it sounds stupid, but there are a lot of ways to serve your country. To me, figuring out ways to make our national cultural heritage relevant and accessible and inspiring and collaborative for the country and for the world is pretty damn patriotic. And the men and women within our nation’s institutions that are fighting to do this are heroes in my mind. They’re fighting against hundreds of years of bureaucratic layers of red tape, and trying to do monumental things with very limited budget, with more cuts on the way.

There are many at NARA, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the National Park Service, NEH, NEA, IMLS and many other agencies, that are so passionate about our cultural memory and heritage that they’re willing to stick it out to help bring these institutions into a new era. One in which the data and assets so long in the stewardship and care of government agencies will begin to see new light, inspire new uses, enable new inventions, and create economic opportunities that we can only just begin to imagine. I’ve had the great privilege to work with and spend time with many of these people, and to learn about the behind-the-scenes work going into these efforts.


The ever-expanding holdings of our federal libraries, archives, and museums are in good hands, being preserved and maintained against the ravages of time by experts. These holdings, or some digital representation of them, and the metadata about them, are beginning to be made available en masse for new uses already. But it needs to continue in order to allow for research and business to grow around it; and to become a more participatory endeavor for social good, as Nick and Nick have discussed in the UK; and how Carl Malamud so eloquently and powerfully put it in his remarks at a memorial for Aaron Swartz last week.

Maybe a part of our service to our country is just to help connect the dots of the global groundswell. To fan the flames and continue to build and share use cases that show what people can do with cultural heritage data, how it can be used to help us understand our past, and understand each other. Maybe it’s part of our service to join with the many others that continue the work of the dreamers that dared to stand up to make us all a little bit better.  To those who are fighting the good fight in DC: we thank you.  Please know that you’re not alone.

Neighborhood Stories: Get your community involved

Want to get your organisation or community involved with Neighborhood Stories, but not sure where to start? Here are some ideas and tips to get you started:

1. Running Community Events: Examples and ideas

2. A Guide to Using Historypin

3. Getting started with Historypin for Libraries, Archives and Museums

If you’re interested in running an event with your local community we want to hear about it! Get in touch with Natalie Milbrodt (Director Queens Memory Project, Queens Library) at who will be able to support with the planning, running and publicity of your event.

A game of bocce, Filipino families and stereographs from Port Arthur

Pin of The Week

Party after a game of bocce, Thulimbah, ca. 1949

Pin of the Week was pinned by the State Library of Queensland. It shows a group of Italian migrants who had moved to the Stanhope District in Australia after World War Two. The description of the photo says they have just been playing bocce which is an Italian game similar to boules. Today, bocce is played in many overseas areas that have received Italian migrants, including Australia, North America and South America. Initially it was played amongst the migrants themselves but slowly has become more popular with the wider communities. For me the photo highlights this beautiful cultural interchange that the moving of communities can bring. The men can also be seen drinking; know doubt they brought a little local wine knowledge over with them as well!

Pinner of the Week

People power revolution, Quezon City, 23 February 1986

Pinner of the Week is Angkang Pilipino (meaning Filipino Family), a site representing The Philippine Genealogocial Society online ‘that offers articles, resources, biographies and photos that may help and inspire enthusiasts to embrace genealogy with scholarly diligence.’

Check out their Channel and explore their contributions which span many decades and topics.

The Chapel of St. Pancratius, Manila, 1900

We just need Google’s Street View cars to run through Manila and the rest of the Phillipines and we’re sure to have some great overlays to create a compelling comparison with today’s cities and landscapes.

Children play in flooded Niconyor Reyes Street, Manila, 1975

Story of the Week

Japanese officer instructing his men how to scale the walls of the deadly forts, Port Arthur, 1904

This week’s story is inspired by some photos pinned by the pierlociop and is the story of the stereograph and stereoscopy.

Stereoscopy is a technique used to create the illusion of depth within a 2D scene. The easiest way to do this is to provide the eyes of the viewer with two different images that differ very slightly; just enough to mimic the perspectives that both eyes naturally have in binocular vision. This is then produced as a stereograph, as seen above, which lays the two photos side by side and ocular apparatus is then used that splits which eye sees which photo. As the brain receives the images they are combined to give the perception of a 3D scene.

A Holmes Stereoscope

You can read on the side of the stereographs pinned by pierlociop that they were produced by Underwood and Underwood Publishers. The company was founded by two brothers, Elmer and Bert Elias Underwood, and ran from 1881 till the 1940s. At one time they were the largest publisher of stereoviews in the world, producing 10 million views a year.

Professor Ricaiton, with Japanese officers of 11th Division, at foot of Takushan, Port Arthur, 1904

These particular stereographs show scenes from Port Arthur, now known as Lüshunkou, in China,1904. Port Arthur was the site of the longest and most violent battle of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

Remembering how we used to … with Llanilltud Primary School

A few weeks ago the Historypin Team headed to Wales for a series of community workshops with schools and retirees as part of our latest project, ‘Remember how we used to’. We were joined by some super volunteers from npower and we visited pupils at Llanilltud Fawr Primary School in Llanwit Major to capture photos and stories about how our home and work lives had changed over the decades.

The Old Swan Inn, Llanwit Major, 1930s

Llanilltud pupils had been given the mission to speak to their parents and grandparents about what technology, devices and toys they had growing up. We started off with one pupil’s observation that of course the past was very different as colour had not been invented and everything was in black and white. Once that was clarified, we got stuck in talking about what the pupils had discovered.

1990s technology figured largely, with discussion about parents who had laptops and Motorola mobiles. As we delved deeper into the past we started to talk about things that were probably familiar to only some of the adults in the room. Declan’s parents had one of the earliest personal desktop computers on the market in the 1970s, the Radio Shack TRS-80 and Iona’s Dad received the handheld game Blip for his birthday in 1977. A far cry from the iPads that many pupils’ families now have.

As we turned to toys, we established that in the old days not only did they not have Playstation 3, they didn’t even have Playstation 2! The kids had lots of fun discussing their parents’ toys – one Dad had a Big Trak as a boy, and another had an electric racing car with a hand held controller.

Many students had also brought in their own photos photographs and you can see the stories shared on Llanilltud Fawr Primary School’s Channel. Lily had delved particularly deep into the past, bringing in photos of herself and her Mum, Nana, Great-Grandmother and Great-Great Grandmother!

As talk turned to Grandparents, Caitland told us an amazing story about her Grandfather who fought in Second World War and whose life was saved by a silver coin in his pocket which deflected a bullet. Her nanny still has the coin. Declan’s great-great grandfather had an electric car, whilst Lily told us how the silk bridesmaid’s dresses seen in her family photos from the 1990s would have been very unusual during World War Two because silk was very rare as it was used for parachutes.

So, from fashion to computers there was plenty of discussion about how things had changed over the years and everybody involved had a great time – whether it was volunteers’ nostalgia about 1970s gadgets or the kids finding out about the toys their parents played with.

Historypin and American Experience on the upcoming Abolitionists Series

For history geeks and historical documentary lovers like us, American Experience is the big leagues. So you can imagine how thrilled we were to be approached by the producers of “tv’s most-watched history series” to discuss working together.  Having logged countless couch hours watching their documentaries, we jumped at the chance of working with their fabled team to kickstart a campaign around “Mapping History.”

We’re excited to be playing a part in their new three-part series, The Abolitionists, airing beginning January 8 on PBS.  As part of the extensive online interactive components of the series, you’ll find The Abolitionist Map of America, and an exclusive iPhone App, which highlights photographs, audio and video from the film, as well as content from the many cultural heritage partners that contributed source material, and even individual users.

Watch Map History With Us! on PBS. See more from American Experience.

It’s the first time the Historypin framework has been utilized to support a film, and offers a new and unique way of highlighting the source materials featured throughout.  The embedded map and gallery browsers give viewers the ability to spatially explore the content and see how the story fits into local history, while at the same time digging deeper into the source collections, and even adding their own comments and stories to each individual piece of content.  From the producers perspective, it adds a participatory element that gives content providers and viewers a voice within the narrative, and a new lens for the filmmakers to highlight the curatorial aspect of their work.  Finally, cultural heritage partners have been enthusiastic about the Historypin integration because it gives them a chance to bring viewers deeper into their collections without leaving the environment of the film.

You can expect to see more exciting projects like this in the coming year, and we’ll be creating greater integration of other documentary content into the main Historypin site.

Read More about the Abolitionists and the Abolitionist Map of America:
Official press release from the PBS Pressroom
–Post about the project from Inside American Experience
–Post about the project from Out of the Box, the Library of Virginia’s blog.
–Post about the project from This Morning Is History, a blog by the Delaware Historical Society
Cincinnati Herald story about the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County involvement in the project.

Snap Shots of Europe from the 1890s

For the past few months St John’s College Library, Cambridge has been busy pinning a great collection of photos taken by the Victorian polymath Samuel Butler. Butler lived in South England but travelled extensively through Europe, especially Italy. His photographs capture many everyday scenes in the 1880s and 1890s as well as the tourist destinations that we still flock to today including Pompeii, the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Take a look at St John’s College Library’s Channel or their site with Historypin embed to follow Butler on his journeys from England through Europe and over the Pyrenees to Italy.

Butler called his photographs ‘snap-shots’, and they really did capture many scenes in that precise moment, informal and unposed. Coffee carts, orange stalls and women washing clothes all figure largely in his work.

People and animals figured largely in his work, from man shaving a poodle in Naples to sheep on a steamboat. Have a look at these fun Collections of People at Work and Animals to see more.

You can find out more about the project to digitise Samuel Butler’s photographs here. And if you want to find our more about Butler, his travels through Italy and hear from someone who followed in his footsteps in 2012, armed with his diary and photos and recording her own, head down to the Butler Day Conference on 12th January at St John’s College, Cambridge.

Happy New Year — The Year of the Bay

Dear friends,

Happy new year! 2013 is going to be an exciting year in the San Francisco Bay Area with the America’s Cup races, the opening of the new span of the Bay Bridge, the 150th anniversary of the Port of San Francisco, and Year of the Bay — our project to open up the celebrations to everyone who has a connection to the bay.

To get the party started, we invite you to explore the Year of the Bay here through our growing collection of photographs and stories contributed by libraries, museums, archives, and individuals like you. And we’d like to ask you to help us by doing two things:

1) Share a link to with your friends and colleagues right now via email, Twitter, Facebook, word of mouth, and other channels.

2) Contribute to the project. How have you or your family or your organization related to the bay we all share? Do you have photographs or stories you can share with us?

Together we hope to gather the materials to tell an epic, rich, diverse new history of the San Francisco Bay this year. And through this project help connect people to the bay around the Bay Area.

Over the course of the Year of the Bay we will continue to add materials to this site — in the weeks to come we’ll add maps and challenges and new ways for you to interact with the history of the bay. We’ll also participate in exhibitions on the bay. And we’ll venture out to communities around the bay for events aboard the Alma, like we did on a sail to Hunters Point in the fall.

We hope you’ll join us! As inspiration for our voyages together in the coming year, here are a few photos from that sail.

Yours truly,

Jon Christensen

 Photos by Sarah Thompson