Final Project Progress Report

The purpose of this post is to report the progress of my History 6133, Museums and History in the Digital Age course final project, which includes developing a website with an online exhibit for Exodus Galleries. The status of the 3 major phases of this project is as follows:

  1. Website Development
    1. I have completed my research on what Web development tool to use.
    2. The website development using “WIX” is about 80% complete and is going well.
    3. I have completed my research on what social media strategy. Considering the limited time and resources, when it comes to determining if and how social media should be incorporated and choosing the right platform for the day to day business at Exodus Gallery, I felt that it was crucial that I understood the opportunities and practicalities of implementation, as well as the impacts it might have. Thinking more strategically about social media options was the first step towards accomplishing my goals and ensuring the sustainable use of social media.
    4. I am currently trying to determine the advantages and disadvantages of getting a “WIX” domain name or a “Go Daddy” Domain name.
  2. Online Exhibit Development
    1. The Online Exhibit development is about 80% complete and is going well
    2. Chose the exhibit option in “WIX for my exhibit. This eliminated the need to create a new exhibit format.
  3. Historical Research
    1. I am having fun researching the information that will support the online exhibit. I am finding much more good information than I choose to put online. I am in the final stages of determining what information I will put online and the best way to present it.

Growing Pains of Digital Archivists

The phrase “No Pain, No Gain” can apply to many endeavors, but in this case I will focus on the pains caused by the growing digitization of archives as well as the growing digital knowledge requirements of the archivist.

In 1979 French sociologist Jean-François Lyotard predicted “that anything in the constituted body of knowledge that is not translatable” into computer-readable packages of information “will be abandoned and that the direction of new research will be dictated by the possibility of its eventual results being translatable into computer language.”1   With the increasing efforts by many institutions to digitize as many collections, archives and records as resources will allow, it appears that Lyotard’s prediction could become reality. And it appears that the key driving forces behind digitizing museum and library archives is the potential for digital archives to reach much larger audiences, and to be accessed in more independent and interactive ways. As these goals are achieved in the increasingly digital world, the traditional archives may become increasingly irrelevant. Some archivists have expressed discomfort with this growing trend. And caution that in the quest to digitize archives with the goal of achieving easier accessibility and reach larger audiences, we must not overlook how and why archives were developed in the first place. Adeline Koh writes, “Many have noted that the archive is not a static repository but a form where knowledge is made legible by modes of power. Scholars have argued that archives are not sites of knowledge retrieval but of knowledge production; not recorded moments of history but monuments of states, colonies and empires. The archive is thus an integral site of power in its ability to shape and create knowledge.”2 Traditionally, archivists have played an integral role in the production of this knowledge through the ways in which they organize information and offer them to their users. As this knowledge becomes increasingly digitized and digital records are turned to as the standard, the structure of digital archives in turn will determine the shape and form this knowledge takes. For example, Koh writes, “The march towards digitization of the entire human record appears to be an almost inevitable circumstance. Yet this effort at digitization has been uneven. Many open access, publicly funded projects on the literature of the nineteenth century concentrate primarily on people of European descent, and obscure the impact of imperial endeavors in the nineteenth century. This is in stark contrast to historical and commercial databases, many of which do have extensive collections on people of color and the role of the Empire.”3 With this in mind, “the existing open-access literary nineteenth-century digital archive has several problems in terms of the broader issues of race and ethnicity. One of these is the lack of easily accessible online digital projects on or by people of color.” 4

Furthermore, despite the language adopted by the digital preservation community, it may be somewhat misleading to think about archives in terms of computer-readable information packages. “Archives are about relationships and for their evidence and informational value to be fully explored and exploited they must reveal relationships between contexts and records and among sources. There must remain the possibility to expose what is missing.” 5 And there are issues like copyrights and social prominence that are compounded by the digitization or archives. In this sense, archival digitization remains a largely un-automated endeavor relying on the ‘trained mind’ of the archivist, or collaborations between archivist and researchers. This bring us to the another source of discomfort for some Archivist which is the shifting education and preparation required to be an archivist in the digital age. Traditionally, Archivists are specially trained in preserving the original material and helping people obtain it. Archivists may work at museums, libraries, government agencies, foundations or corporations, where they collect and organize materials such as paper documents, photographs, maps, films, computer records and seek out new items for archiving. Many begin their careers as historians and then attend classes to learn from experienced archivists. Archivists possess broad, deep knowledge about records and are involved in many, if not all, phases of the records life cycle. Their extensive research and analysis skills help in serving records to the public. Archivists appraise, process, catalog, and preserve permanent records and historically valuable documents. Now the education and preparation needed to become archivist is growing in and in some case shifting towards digital content. According to the U.S. Bureau of labor Statistics, Most Archivist employers require a master’s degree in archival science, library science, or a related field, but because of the growing use of digital technology, archivists with knowledge of digital storage are far more likely to be hired. Many employers even specify “Digital” Archivist in their job posting. In addition to the job duties of a traditional archivist, Digital archivist collect and organize materials such as photographs, electronic data, film clips, paper documents, recordings and basically anything that can be converted into digital format. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for archivists in general were expected to increase by 17% from 2012-2022. The BLS also noted that demand for archivists well-versed in electronic media will be greater than the need for those with experience only in traditional formats.

So, despite the pains that archivists are facing as a result of the digital age, they are also realizing that it is creating more job opportunities as well as new job opportunities. Obviously these digital trends would not be occurring and almost every institution and affecting almost every discipline in those institutions in ways that we are still discovering, if it wasn’t for potential advantages that the digital archives can provide. So ready or not the digital age is here, and for the archivist that is willing to endure the pain of growing their digital knowledge, the opportunities seemingly endless.

 

Notes:

  1. Katrina Dean, “Digitising the Modern Archives,” Archives and Manuscripts 42 (2014), 171-74.
  2. Adeline Koh, “Inspecting the Nineteenth-Century Literary Digital Archive: Omissions of Empire,” Journal of Victorian Culture 19 (2014), 385-95.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Katrina Dean, “Digitising the Modern Archives,” Archives and Manuscripts 42 (2014), 171-74.

Independent Project Proposal: Website with Online Exhibit

According to Pew Research, in recent years, the overall number of visitors to physical museums has been falling, and the museum-going population that visits physical museums is aging. Yet, at the same time, the number of online visits to these institutions is rising especially with mobile devices. This trend is not only true for museums—social media, magazines, blogs, online shopping, entertainment, sports, and encyclopedias are also blossoming online. Likewise, the experience of museums and gallery exhibits can be made available so that, anywhere and at any time, you can access the exhibits. This trend is the primary reason that I am proposing to develop a website and online exhibit for Exodus Galleries. Computers, mobile devices and their user interfaces are still evolving, but I propose to adapt our exhibits for the future, so that anyone can carry Exodus Gallery’s messages and exhibits in their pocket.

Websites and online exhibits can reach many visitors, with a good chance of having a substantial impact. Time, geography, accessibility and cost constraints prevent many potential visitors from attending physical exhibitions; with online exhibits these limitations disappear. Anyone with Internet access can tap into an online exhibit, whenever and wherever it’s convenient. An online exhibit enables the visitor to have a personal experience, taking their time to browse the content and use interactive features. They aren’t harried by other visitors or docents, and don’t feel the need to “see it all” in one visit. Unlike a physical museum—which may charge admission or parking fees, has set hours of operation, and requires a special effort to visit—an online exhibit is free of charge and open 24/7, every day of the year. Since online exhibits are accessible from home or school, visitors have convenient, immediate, and repeated access.

Online exhibits engage visitors from various walks of life and with multiple viewing objectives and styles. They can be highly engaging, with a mix of thought-provoking writing and multimedia. Like a physical museum, online exhibits present a perspective that’s a step back from headline-driven news and fast-paced television shows. Exodus’ online exhibits will be incorporated into the website, but the exhibits will stand apart in how the specific historical content is framed. Just as in a physical museum, the context provided by an exhibit’s curator is central to visitors’ online experiences. Without this context, the presentation is nothing more than a catalog of images and documents. In other words, it’s an archive, not an exhibit. It’s the process of curating and interpreting—in choosing which objects to show, in what order they’re presented, and by which other objects they’re surrounded—that will help the viewer learn something new, put the information in context, makes sense of it, based on what the viewer already knows and promote discovery. So, my role as the curator is crucial in achieving the exhibits narrative, since objects alone rarely tell the whole story.

How The Ever-Evolving Cell Phone Is Changing History

In recent years, the purpose of the cell phone has shifted from a verbal communication tool to a multimedia tool, often adopting the name “mobile device” rather than being called a phone at all. We now use our cell phones for more than just placing calls. We use it for surfing the web, checking email, snapping photos, updating our social media status, playing music, recording and playing audio and video and the list goes on. Now almost everyone has a cell phone. And the rapidly expanding software, better screen and camera resolution, expanding memory capacity that can hold as much as a computer would just a few years ago and constantly improving interfaces making cell phones easier to navigate, are revolutionizing the uses of cell phones. Add that to the phones ability to capture events as they happen as well as record oral histories, and you can see why it has attracted the attention of many oral historians. The increasing capabilities and accessibility of the cell phone have practically eliminated the need to keep other gadgets, such as audio recorders, cameras and video cameras on hand. Historian Mark Tebeau writes,

“The mobile computing revolution offers tantalizing possibilities to archivists, historians, and curators interested in reaching broader public audiences.”1

To understand oral historian’s rising interest in the development of the cell phone technology let’s first explain oral history. Oral history is a field of study and a method of collecting, preserving and interpreting the voices, memories and personal commentaries of people, communities, and participants in past events. Predating the written word, primitive societies have long relied on oral tradition to preserve a record of the past in the absence of written histories. Oral history is both the oldest type of historical inquiry, and one of the most modern. Modern oral history was initiated in the 20th century with tape recorders and now using 21st-century digital technologies like the cell phone. Modern oral history generally consists of a well-prepared interviewer questioning an interviewee and recording their exchange in audio or video format.  Recordings of the interview are transcribed, summarized, or indexed and then placed in a library or archives. These interviews may be used for research or excerpted in a publication, radio or video documentary, museum exhibition, dramatization or other form of public presentation. Recordings, transcripts, catalogs, photographs and related documentary materials can also be posted on the Internet.  Oral history does not include random taping, nor does it refer to recorded speeches, personal diaries on tape, or other sound recordings that lack the dialogue between interviewer and interviewee. So, the key aspect of oral history is “the dialogue between interviewer and interviewee.” In most cases the interview is planned, but in occasionally, an unplanned interview opportunity occurs when the historian least expects it. And with the cell phone usually on hand, that is when its accessibility advantage becomes apparent.

For a greater understanding and appreciation of how the cell phone is contributing to the field of oral history, we will first explore the benefits of oral history itself. Oral history has benefits that no other historical source provides. Oral history allows historians to learn about a history event from the people who lived it. Oral history enriches historical knowledge; enhances research, writing, thinking, and interpersonal skills; gives oral historian a connection to the interviewee; and gives a sense of inclusion.

Oral history allows you to learn about the perspectives of individuals who might not otherwise appear in the historical record. While historians can use traditional documents to reconstruct the past, everyday people fall through the cracks in the written record. Notable figures like politicians, activists, and business leaders may show up regularly in official documents and the media, but the rest of us very seldom do. Chances are, if someone had to reconstruct your life story from the written record alone, they would have very little to go on — and the information they would be able to gather would reveal very little about the heart and soul of your daily life, or the things that matter most to you.

Oral history allows you to compensate for the digital age. Historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can rely on extensive correspondence and regular diary entries for information about life in the past. But in today’s world, telephone, email, and web-based communication have largely replaced those valuable written records. Without oral history, much of the personal histories of the late-20th and 21st centuries would unavailable to future historians.

Oral history allows you to learn different kinds of information. Even when we do have extensive written sources about someone such as a politician, we may not have the kind of information we want. Newspaper articles, speeches, and government documents may reveal significant useful information, but those kinds of sources often neglect more personal and private experiences. Through oral history, you can learn about the hopes, feelings, aspirations, disappointments, family histories, and personal experiences of the people you interview.

Oral history allows you to ask the questions you’re interested in. If you are a historian studying Frederick Douglass and you have a burning question about his life, the best that you can do is to hope that, through a creative reading of the existing sources, you’ll find the answer somewhere in his papers and other contemporary documents. But by talking to people in your community about the past, you can ask what you want to ask and create the source materials that will help you answer your questions.

Oral history provides historical actors with an opportunity to tell their own stories in their own words in the place where it the stories happened. Through oral history, interviewees have a chance to participate in the creation of the historical retelling of their lives. Unlike Frederick Douglass who is long dead and cannot complicate, extend, or argue with our understanding of his life, living historical actors can enrich our understanding of history by telling their version of events and their interpretations in their own words and provide a understanding of “Place.” This is especially true with mobile devices. Tebeau writes,

“ Listening and the human voice, in particular, evokes place in visceral and profound ways.”2

“ Listening to to the human voice on a mobile device allows users to experience memory within the Landscape where the stories were lived.”3

History, after all, is all about the human experience. Through oral history, researchers and interviewees come together in conversation about a commonly shared interest, as with all human interactions, this has the potential to be tremendously rewarding for both parties. And these benefits of oral history are increasingly enabled and enhanced by the increasing capabilities and accessibility of the cell phone. Cell phones also have the potential to provide opportunities and aid in the challenges facing oral historians in the areas of organizing, preparing, and managing interview collections. “Oral history recordings are by definition complex and resource-intensive to manage and extremely time-intensive for user research and review.”4 With the ever-expanding capabilities of the cell phone, I am confident that new software can be developed that that will specifically address these challenges. And the cell phone will increasingly become an integral part of oral history.

 

Notes:

  1. Mark Tebeau, “Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era,” Oral History Review 40 (January 2013), 25-35.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Frisch, Michael, Douglas Lambert, Mark Tebeau, and Erin Bell. “Oral History Curation in the Digital Age: A Framework for Choices and Planning,” in Oral History in the Digital Age, edited by Doug Boyd, Steve Cohen, Brad Rakerd, and Dean Rehberger. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2012, http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2012/06/oral-history-curation-in-the-digital-age/

 

Explore The Historian’s Digital Toolbox

The digital age has introduced many new tools to aid historian’s research effort. And like the use of the tools of any profession (i.e., carpentry, mechanics, plumbing, etc.), there are risk to using tools improperly. Using the proper tools and using the proper tools properly helps the user accomplish his task more affectively, efficiently and without mishaps. For every job there is the right tool. Similarly, for every research project, the proper use of the right tools can enhance the research results and lead to more confident arguments. However, the researcher must also be familiar with the limitations of each tool to avoid the risks of getting misleading or erroneous results. The purpose of this post is to provide a few examples of tools that should be in every historian toolbox and warnings about their limitations.

 

Network Analysis

Networks Analysis is used for studying data (stuff) and more specifically the interdependent relationships (nodes) that connect the stuff.

 

Network Analysis Warnings

Networks cannot be applied to all data. Some data does not fit well into any one category and there complex situations that should not be reduced. There are also theoretical and philosophical considerations that get lost when network methodology gets translated. This leads to methods beings used for different purposes then they were intended. Humanistic data is often uncertain and biased to begin with, every arbitrary act of data-cutting to make the network manageable has the potential to add further uncertainty and bias to a point where the network no longer provides meaningful results. And the context (tone) or perspective of the data may change the structure and nature of the network which may skew your results.

 

Topic Modeling

Topic Modeling is a form of text mining, a way of identifying patterns in a corpus. You take your corpus and run it through a tool which groups words across the corpus into ‘topics

This is an excellent tool for discovery. The results of the topic modeling help to uncover evidence already in the text.

 

Topic Modeling Warnings

Topic Modeling is not necessarily useful as evidence. Topic modeling is complicated and potentially messy. Topic modeling output is not entirely human readable. One way to understand what the program is telling you is through visualization, but you must be sure that you know how to understand what the visualization is telling you. Topic modeling tools are fallible, and if the algorithm isn’t right, they can return some strange results.

 

Big Data

The term Big Data refers simply to the use of predictive analysis or certain other advanced methods to extract value from data. Historians identify terms and then use algorithms to search for and analyze those particular terms so the relationships can be studied. Close reading and data-driven analysis can enhance each other and expands what historians can do.

 

Big Data Warnings

Human beings recognize tone. Algorithms are better suited to sifting through data in search of keyword. But when we see a word or something being highlighted with an algorithm, we don’t know exactly what it means. To produce useful results, this kind of investigation depends on customized algorithms. But coming up with a good algorithm involves both code and context, a mingling of the complementary strengths of computer scientists and humanists. Human recognize tone (context) code recognize keywords. Code databases are expensive, and sometimes don’t accurately read scans. So “Data mining has limitations. And working with historical documents like newspapers can be costly, messy, nuanced and defy easy computational analysis because of the different writing styles used in newspapers over time.

 

Conclusion

Understanding the benefits and the limitation of a tool is the first step to determining what tool is right for your project. Regardless of the limitations, tools can be useful in achieving the goals of many research projects. Don’t be afraid to fail or to get bad results, because those will help you find the settings which give you good results. You may even discover that for some projects you get the same results without any tool, which is also discovery. So, go ahead and explore the digital toolbox, plug in some data and see what happens. See if digital tools can help you “build” an argument.

 

Notes

Brett, Megan, “Topic Modeling: A Basic Introduction,” Journal of DigitalHumanities 2 (Winter 2012), http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/2-1/topic-modeling-a-basic-introduction-by-megan-r-brett/

Howard, Jennifer, “Big-Data Project on 1918 Flu Reflects Key Role of Humanists,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 27, 2015, http://chronicle.com/article/Big-Data-Project-on-1918-Flu/190457/

Weingart, Scott, “Demystifying Networks,” scottbot irregular, December 14, 2011, http://www.scottbot.net/HIAL/?p=6279

 

 

 

The Dangers of Microwave History: Myth or Reality?

The rapid success of Wikipedia has demanded the attention of both writers and users of history. There is still much debate over whether Wikipedia has had a negative effect on the Historian’s Craft. To understand why many writers and users of history are divided on this topic, we must first understand the different objectives and concerns that shape their perspectives. Understanding these differences will also reveal why in the face of all its criticisms, Wikipedia, “In a few short years, has become perhaps the largest work of online historical writing, the most widely read work of digital history, and the most important free historical resource available on the World Wide Web.”1

Despite its success, some writers of history have voiced their criticism of Wikipedia. Much of the criticism stems from the belief that works authored by single authors is the standard and good professional practice requires attributing ideas and words to specific historians. Wikipedia on the other hand, is a historical work without owners and with multiple, anonymous authors, which is not in line with the culture of history professionals, and is characterized by protected individualism. Many professionals are not willing to abandon individual credit and individual ownership of intellectual property rights as do Wikipedia authors because of potential credit issues and interpretive disputes. This is especially true for collaborative works. Some history professional regard Wikipedia as more informal and more casual than one would expect in a professional setting. Entries are often choppy, resulting from combining sentences, paragraphs and complete works written by different people, which means that Wikipedia sometimes gets things wrong in one place and right in another. Users of Wikipedia have also found that it has a considerable amount ill-informed and amateurish work, (anyone can use it). And what happens when one person’s interpretation clashed with the collective narrative? These cases increase the potential for unverified, incorrect and even vandalized work to be propagated to millions of potential readers.

In defiance of all these criticisms, Wikipedia has been described as “one of the most fascinating developments of the Digital Age; an incredible example of open source Intellectual collaboration.”2 Amazingly it’s widely read and cited information has grown to “3 million articles (1 million of them in English). History is probably the category encompassing the largest number of articles.”3 And, “More than a million people a day visit the Wikipedia site.”4 According to the Alexa traffic ranking, Wikipedia ranks well above The New York Times, the Library of Congress, and the Encyclopedia Britannica.   So to what does Wikipedia owe this success? Wikipedians seem to agree that three key advantages are the instruments of its success. First of all it’s free to be used by anyone who has internet access. And this capability on the common cell phone contributes to Wikipedia being considered the most accessible sources of historical data. Its vast collections of historical information are readily available at the tip of your finger for free, which is in contrast to most academic scholarship which lies on library shelves or behind electronic subscription paywalls. Another key advantage of Wikipedia is the freedom and ease of its use. As the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) states: “You may copy and distribute the Document in any medium, either commercially or non-commercially, provided … you add no other conditions whatsoever to those of this License.”5 One further implication of Wikipedia’s implementation of free and open-source software principles, Roy Rosenzweig argues, is that “its content is available to be downloaded, manipulated, and “data mined”–something not possible even with many resources (newspapers, for example) that can be read free online.”6 Showing up at the top of Google rankings reinforces students’ tendency to use the most recognizable source they encounter first, rather than searching multiple unfamiliar sources of information. Wikipedia’s ease of revision is also considered by history writers to be an advantage because they have the ability update or revise their work instantly and easily. This enables them to quickly remedy defects or provide alternative perspectives to critiques of their work , which is considered to be an advantage, because its contents tend to be more current than a traditional encyclopedias. Some historians also believe that Wikipedia’s ease of use and accessibility to the common man has the capability to enhance history by linking historians with anyone who may have some memory of an historical event. Rosenzweig writes “If the essence of history is the memory of things said and done, then it is obvious that every normal person, Mr. Everyman, knows some history.”7

So, it appears that the key to Wikipedia’s success is not necessarily that it is a better source of historical material, but because its free and it satisfies the preferences of our “Microwave Society,” The mindset of wanting everything “Quick and Simple”. Even the name Wikimedia is derived from the Hawaiian word wikiwiki, meaning “quick” or “informal.” Technology has made gathering and providing information extremely quick and relatively simple, and we’ve begun to think that everything in life should be available instantly and on demand to the point that “Quick and Simple” is becoming a core value of our society, outweighing some traditional and institutional values. Quick meals…microwave, quick information…Internet, quick mail… Email, quick music ITunes, quick friends…Facebook,     quick relationships…Online dating, quick history…Wikipedia, and the list goes on. As Daniel J. Cohen has argued, “resources such as Wikipedia that are free to use in any way, even if they are imperfect, are more valuable than those that are gated or use-restricted, even if those resources are qualitatively better.”8 Access to these “Quick and Simple” services are not is bad things at all, but for many it has created a false sense of what it takes to be successful in different areas of our lives. The quest for “Quick and Simple” everything is making us more dependent on providers of “Quick and Simple” services. This is OK as long as we don’t stop there and forget where and how to get what we need on our own. So, what are the dangers (if any) of relying too heavily on the service of quick history that Wikipedia provides? Does this service “strip history of the truly fun parts: curiosity, detective work, and discovery?”9

 

 Notes

    1. Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History Be Open Source: Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” Journal of American History 93 (June 2006), 119.
    2. Ibid.
    3. Ibid.,117.
    4. Ibid.,118.
    5. Ibid.,123.
    6. Ibid.
    7. Shawn Graham, Guy Massie, and Nadine Feuerherm, “The HeritageCrowd Project: A Case Study in Crowdsourcing Public History,” in Dougherty and Nawrotzki, http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/.
    8. Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History Be Open Source: Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” Journal of American History 93 (June 2006), 112.
    9. Rebecca Onion, Snapshots of History, Slate, February 5, 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/life/history/2014/02/_historyinpics_historicalpics_history_pics_why_the_wildly_popular_twitter.html.

Dark Matter in a New Light

The blog “Dark Matter” by Michael Peter Edson, compares the 90% of the Internet’s capability that are not being utilized by museums and other cultural institutions to the dark matter which comprises 90% of the mass of the universe. You may ask “what is dark matter?”   Well, according Edson, evidence of dark matter in the universe was discovered in 1967 by Vera Rubin, a junior astronomer fresh out of graduate school. And, the existence of dark matter has been proven in every measurement of over a thousand galaxies that Rubin or any other astronomer has taken since. Rubin said:

“We became astronomers thinking we were studying the universe, and now we learn that we are just studying the 5 or 10 percent that is luminous.”

In comparison, Edson believes that like the dark matter in the universe, 90% of the Internet’s capabilities to accomplish the missions of museums and other cultural institutions has not been explored. Edson states:

“Dark matter—whatever it is—seems to comprise 90% the mass of the universe—hard to see, but so forceful that it seems to move every star, planet, and galaxy in the cosmos. And 90% of the Internet is made up of dark matter too—hard for institutions to see, but so forceful that it seems to move humanity itself.”

“Despite the best efforts of some of our most visionary and talented colleagues, we’ve been building, investing, and focusing on only a small part of what the Internet can do to help us accomplish our missions.”

Edson also uses the success of the John and Hank Green’s Brotherhood 2.0 videos as an example of the types of Internet dark matter that appears to have been overlooked or perhaps rejected by museums and other cultural institutions. Edson writes:

“Hank and John Green are working in, and they’re part of, a kind of Internet production—a kind of interaction—that is difficult for institutions to think of as legitimate, sufficiently respectable, educational, scholarly, or erudite.“

“If you announced to your museum director or boss that you intended to hire Hank and John Green to make a series of charming and nerdy videos about literature, art, global warming, politics, travel, music, or any of the other things that Hank and John make videos about you would be thrown out of whatever office you were sitting in and probably be asked to find another job.”

However, it appears that the public agrees with John and Hank’s unconventional use of the Internet’s capabilities, because according to Edson:

“In seven years, the two lovable nerds used YouTube and their own creativity to build what amounts to a vast educational content community that any museum or cultural institution on the planet would be proud to call their own. They’ve got millions of avid followers, they’ve helped give millions of dollars to charity, they’ve elevated and sustained a discourse about culture, science, thought, suffering, and existence—and they’re having a blast and making people happy.”

Another common theme between the discovery of dark matter in the universe and John and Hank Green’s discovery of new creative uses for the Internet is that these discoveries were made in ways you would not expect, and by people whom you would not expect. The Dark matter in the universe was discovered by Vera Rubin a junior astronomer fresh out of graduate school on her first night of her first job, rather than by a credentialed astronomy scholar. And the dark matter of the Internet was discovered by the Greens, two nerds utilizing YouTube videos, rather than by credentialed institution professionals.

Both Rubin and the Greens gained credibility by their discoveries and accomplishments and not as a result of scholarly or professional credentials, which supports my position on the subject of credibility and how it is gained, which was discussed during the 28 January 2016 UMSL Museums and History in the Digital Age class. In fact, there are many examples of people who lived extraordinary lives and made incredible accomplishments and discoveries, yet few people had ever heard of them prior to their accomplishments.

This is especially true for many African Americans like George Washington Carver.   According the article by Dave Meyer “Honoring A Godly Hero,” Dr. Carver developed over 418 inventions through his experiments with peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans, including cosmetics face powder, lotion, cold cream, shaving cream, salad oil, flour, rubbing alcohol, instant coffee, printers ink, leather stains, paints and nontoxic colors from which crayons were eventually created, to name a few. He also made a number of medical contributions such as Phenol and a cure for infantile paralysis. Interestingly, Dr. Carver named his laboratory Gods Little Workshop. He never took any scientific text books into it. He simply went in, locked the door behind him and asked God how to perform his experiments. During one of his lectures, he told an assembly, God is going to reveal to us things He never revealed before if we put our hands in His. The things I am to do and the ways of doing it are revealed to me. I never have to grope for methods. The method is revealed to me the moment I am inspired to create something new. Without God to draw aside the curtain I would be helpless.”

Dr. Carver’s practical yet profound insights not only enlightened minds but also touched the hearts of people from all walks of life. Dr. Carver was visited by Vice President Calvin Coolidge and by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He became a close friend and adviser to leaders and scientist from around the world, ranging from Thomas Edison to Mahatma Ghandi. Henry Ford also became a personal friend of Dr. Carver. Ford was fascinated with Dr. Carver’s method of making rubber from milkweed. He tried many times to get Dr. Carver to join him in business, but Carver never accepted. He remained steadfast and committed to helping his people in the south. In 1921 he accepted an invitation to address the United States Senate Ways and Means Committee in Washington D. C., regarding the potential use of peanuts and other new crops to improve the economy of the South. Carver was given 10 minutes to speak, but once the committee became captivated by his words and delivery, the chairman granted carver unlimited time. At the end of his address, which lasted for an hour and 45 minutes, the committee chairman asked Dr. Carver how he had learned all the things he had spoken about. Dr. Carver answered: “from and old book.” “What book?” asked the Senator. Carver replied, “The Bible.” The senator inquired, “Does the Bible tell about peanuts?” “No, Sir” Dr. Carver replied, “But it tells about the God who made the peanut. I asked him to show me what to do with the peanut, and he did.”1 The most interesting part of this example is that Dr. Carver, an accomplished scholar himself, attributes his discoveries to his faith in God rather than scholarly endeavors. And like power of dark matter and the Internet, Carver discovered that the power of his faith, was waiting to be fully explored.

In conclusion, accepting the following paradigms will help us to “see the light” in dark matter:

  • The decision making processes of museums and other cultural institutions may need to place a higher priority on “social acceptance” and serving communities to accomplish their missions, which are becoming less about the exclusivity, academic scholarship, institutional professionalism or accreditations, and more about relevancy and giving people what they want or need to succeed.
  • Although academic scholarship and professional credentials have merit, we must be careful that in the quest for credible sources, that we don’t overlook, discourage or exclude the 90% of dark matter that is not considered scholarly or professional, because it may contain the missing ingredients that are needed to accomplish our goals.

 

Notes and Links

Michael Peter Edson, “Dark Matter: The Dark Matter of the Internet is Open, Social, Peer-to-Peer and Read/Write—And It’s the Future of Museums, May 19,2014.  https://medium.com/tedx-experience/dark-matter-a6c7430d84d1#.n7rbitvn9

Dave Meyer, “Honoring a Godly Hero,” Enjoying Everyday Life January 2006

Wiliam J. Federer, America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations (St. Louis: Ameriseach, Inc. 2000) See note 2, p. 96.