Check-in table at the Monterey Conference Center in Monterey, CA.
Hello from Max Baumgarten and Kerri Young, Project Officers at Historypin, here to tell you about our experience at the 2014 National Council on Public History conference in Monterey, California last week:
This year’s National Council on Public History conference was held in Monterey, California, which lucky for us, is only a two-hour drive from the Historypin office in San Francisco. Taking a day-long road trip from San Francisco to Monterey gave us the opportunity to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, snack on salt water taffy, and, of course, learn about some new and exciting developments and projects in the field of public history.
Touristy shops near the activities at the Monterey Conference Center.
With projects like Sourdough & Rye, Year of the Bay, Europeana 1989, Historypin is constantly trying to engage with history in an effort to cultivate communities and create local connections. This year’s NCPH conference—with its theme of Sustainable Public History—was the ideal place to learn about other projects with similar goals. That is, the desire to preserve historical resources while still aiming to meet the needs of the present and future.
Cover of this year's NCPH program.
Some fun activities we engaged in included some speed networking, a panel exploring the teaching of sustainability through digital Los Angeles, talking with local history vendors in the exhibit hall, and attending a panel on an oral history endeavor here in the Bay Area from the National Park Service and UC Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office (ROHO).
The panel Crowdsourcing and Public History: Reports from the Field was particularly insightful. Anthea Hartig of the California Historical Society talked about their collaboration with Historypin for their exhibit Curating the Bay: Crowdsourcing a New Environmental History. As many may have read about from us, this exhibit incorporated our Year of the Bay project in the form of a touch screen and pinning station, the latter for visitors to bring in their Bay Area memories to scan into the project. The exhibit itself asked visitors to help solve some Bay history mysteries, and in conjunction with this Historypin rolled out our mystery-solving interface for the first time. From the perspective of the California Historical Society, the power of Historypin lies in our layered sense of place, and its ability to let users travel back in time. Visitors had fun exploring contributed memories within the exhibit on the touch screen, though they were also more comfortable contributing their own memories at home rather than bring in photos to a pinning station. Other thoughts from Anthea included the success in utilizing the SF Chronicle to post history mysteries (with the photos also pinned to Year of the Bay), the relative ease in tracking Historypin site activity through Google Analytics, and the fact that most interaction with CHS photos occurred over social media (including mysteries). Overall (and we agree), it was a hard sell asking people to bring in photos physically to scan onto our website, even with a Project Officer stationed there; the project’s success relies on building trust from both individuals and institutions before they can contribute, and this takes many months after the project launch to gain traction (and more than the couple of months the exhibit was open).
Anthea Hartig of the California Historical Society introducing findings from working with Historypin's Year of the Bay project.
Kerri at the Curating the Bay pinning station in the California Historical Society this past summer.
Rebecca Federman from the New York Public Library’s talked about the menu transcribing project, What’s on the Menu?; so far, volunteers have helped to transcribe over 17,000 historic menus, helping to track food trends over time. Crowdsourcing the history of lunch certainly brought out food enthusiasts to help, as well as community groups and individuals. Hiring interns to do outreach over social media, designing a simple interface, creating simple how-to’s, and getting rid of registration were and are all crucial to the project’s success, though a lack of the latter makes it harder to track the user base. Creating more targeted events to do this, as well as thinking about how the project can be transferred over for researchers in the future were some thoughts for moving forward.
Lorraine McConaghy from the Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry spoke about her ambitious efforts to crowdsource Civil War history in the state of Washington, so local residents could participate in the ongoing national discussion about the war in the Pacific Northwest and its meaning. Some lessons learned was that the project needed a more streamlined process for dealing with the tech involved, that it needed more volunteers or interns to answer daily inquiries, more training days for the public, and that the facilitators underestimated how much editing they would need to maintain consistency. However, the project gained about 150 solid readers to analyze Civil War texts; the appeal lay in the fact that what they were exploring was not known before about the Civil War in the Pacific Northwest, and that participants found out lots of new information only obtained through deep reading.
Rebecca Federman talking about the New York Public Library's "What's on the Menu?" crowdsourcing project.
While each of these wonderful crowdsourcing projects have adopted distinct approaches to crowdsourcing history, they collectively see public engagement as a key strategy for creating and making accessible new kinds of history. Engagement in these projects are what makes them successful; a comment, suggestion, or annotation can make all the difference in measuring a project’s success. For us at Historypin, there is always much to learn on the crowdsourcing front, and being able to connect and learn from others who are using similar or different approaches is invaluable.
Overall, this was a very insightful trip and a great national gathering, and we met many public historians doing great work. We hope to see you at the next one!
-Max Baumgarten and Kerri Young
Browse the full program of this year’s NCPH conference, and don’t forget that you can still contribute your memories and solve some history mysteries in our Year of the Bay project.