What’s a Catablog and What Can It Do For You?

New Tools

I’ve just added a new page to the Other Tools section about catablogs. Catablog, as the name suggests, combine catalogues with blogging software. Here’s a short but comprehensive description from ArchivesNext:

A catablog is a site created with blogging software that provides short descriptions of collections via blog posts. These posts can be easily tagged, categorized and updated, and can contain image and media files.

Learn all about catablogs, as well as where to find a plug-in for WordPress, on the Catablogs page.  There we describe how catablogs work, where you can find examples, and suggest possible approaches for small organizations. We also suggest how this tool would be especially useful for organizations that serve–or want to serve–an active community of genealogists.

We plan to talk about catablogs in our upcoming workshop in Providence on October 1. We are very curious to hear about your experiments with catablogs and eager to help you plan and set up a catablog. Please contact us to let us know if you would like further help or to tell us about your successes!

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What to Look Forward to on October 1

Al and I will be presenting a workshop on the Public Humanities Toolbox on Friday, October 1 from 9 am to 12 pm. The workshop will be at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities at Brown University; you can register here.

Al and I are planning a few updates to the presentation and to the Toolbox in anticipation of our next workshop. October’s presentation will definitely include new sections on mobile apps and how to use RSS feeds. We’ll also update both the presentation and the Handbook to reflect changes in how organizations sign up for and can use Facebook. We also hope to address Catablogs, a method for using blogging software to build and maintain public catalogues of collections.

New Tools

As we develop new parts of the Toolbox, we will add them to the website. Look for the New Tools icon at right in future posts and pages in this site to see where we have added new or updated information on digital tools.

As always, after the workshop, we will also post the session’s Power Point presentation. Be sure to check back often to keep up-to-date on great new tools, examples and ideas for creating a dynamic website or other digital project for your small cultural heritage organization!

We’re really excited to refresh the Toolbox with many of the new methods and tools in the digital humanities field. We are also looking forward to meeting new people and advising folks on how to build websites and plan other digital projects using the Toolbox method and tools. This fall’s workshop will include time to outline a digital project, choose the appropriate tools and create an action plan for your organization. Come with ideas!

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The Toolbox in Action!

The Pioneer Valley History Network's new home page

I wanted to share this update from Sheila D., who attended a presentation about the Public Humanities Toolbox in June 2009 at the Pioneer Valley (Massachusetts) History Network.

I was recently able to use wordpress.com to bail the Pioneer Valley History Network out of a jam – I’m on the steering committee and the drupal site we’d hired done for $1,000 a few years ago had turned into a huge problem…the tech guy we’d worked with sort of disappeared, we couldn’t make changes, things weren’t working, etc….finally I offered to create a wordpress site for us, and everybody is very happy now! Check it out: http://pvhn.wordpress.com/

And that led to another “save the day” opportunity for the Veterans Education Project, where they were in similar crisis with their website – and for this one I actually got paid a little bit! Theirs just went live yesterday: http://vetsed.org – and I included enough training for them to take over and do the rest themselves (they will add articles, etc.)

The new home page of the Veterans Education Project

These are both really good examples of how small humanities organizations can (and have) use the Toolbox framework to build a site that works for them.  For instance, for the Veterans Education Project site, you’ll notice that static pages have been built and there is not a “post comments” area.  This makes sense since the site is purely informational–it needs to explain the different aspects of the organization, rather than cultivate an online community or seek feedback from the public.  I am also impressed that Sheila thought to train the members of the VEP to update the site themselves.  This is another reason we put together the Toolbox: small organizations need to be able to manage the tools without relying on the trouble and expense of outside contractors (as the example from PVHN makes abundantly clear).

Both of Sheila’s sites will be added to the Examples section of this site.

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Learn about the Toolbox in Providence!

Al and I will be presenting about the Public Humanities Toolbox in Providence on Friday, October 1.  The workshop will take place at the John Nicholas Brown Center on Brown University’s campus.

The three-hour workshop will focus on the basic model of the toolbox, what tools it incorporates, and how small humanities organizations and students can use it to create engaging, interactive websites.   We will share examples of the model and its various tools in use and be on hand to help participants plan their own websites and projects using the principles of the Public Humanities Toolbox.

Registration materials will be posted about three weeks prior to the workshop (we’ll alert you here on the blog when they become available).  We look forward to seeing new faces!

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UMASS Boston Presentation Now Available

Recently Al and I were generously invited to be guests in Jane Becker’s public history seminar at UMASS Boston.  The students were great: funny, thoughtful, and receptive.  Since it’s been almost a year since I finished graduate school, it was great to be back in a formal academic environment to talk about big picture ideas about what digital tools can do for history organizations and projects.

Sorry for the delay in adding the presentation.  Below I’ve embedded the presentation Al and I went through.  It’s a slight variation on the short version of introducing the Toolbox, with a few extra slides to provoke discussion at the end.  Al and I decided to present the Toolbox as a way to spark a broader discussion of why institutions (large and small) should embark on digital projects, and what types of interesting projects we’ve come across.  Al and I also got to talk a little about the digital projects we’ve worked on since we developed the Toolbox: an Omeka-based database for me at the American Social History Project and Al’s interest in mobile technology and historic sites.

I heartily invite students in the class to follow up with us if they want to know more or if they need help planning how to use the methods we outline in the Public Humanities Toolbox in their future projects, internships, or careers.

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Follow a Museum (on Twitter) Day

Have you been wondering what museums are on Twitter?  Looking for inspiration about how your institution might use social media?

Here’s a list for you to peruse!

Today is “Follow a Museum” Day, an unofficial–but pretty popular–attempt to publicize museums’ Twitter feeds.

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What would your average Civil War soldier have tweeted about the Battle of Gettysburg?  Would he described the generals’ plans or the battle’s strategic importance?  Would he have described his reasons for fighting, his fears, his sense of camaraderie with other fighters?  Maybe he would have just reported about the beans he had for breakfast.

The creators of TwHistory have taken short tidbits from soldiers’ letters, diaries, and other written records and parsed them into 140 character tweets describing their perspectives on the major historical events unfolding around them.  The first TwHistory project follows the events at Gettysburg and the second project has followed the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Future projects will tweet the Mormon Overland Trail and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  These choices all make a lot of sense because participants left behind numerous journals, letters, and other eyewitness accounts of complex historical events.

By creating Twitter accounts for lots of different soldiers, TwHistory found a way to deliver multiple perspectives on the same event.  If one follows multiple soldiers’ Twitter feeds, one gets a “real time” narrative of Gettysburg from ordinary soldiers.  TwHistory is currently developing a package or application that would allow scholars, students, or cultural heritage institutions to create similar projects to document other historical events.  Such a tool would allow individuals or organizations to Tweet the Boston Massacre, the Uprising of the 20,000, or the Kent State shootings.  Can you think of a project for your organization or students to create a TwHistory?  What local event might come alive by mining the archives and delivering content via Tweets?  How would your students engage with primary sources differently if they were figuring out how to synthesize a diary entry into one or a series of 140 character microblog posts?

By the way, note that TwHistory uses WordPress and other free tools to build its website; it is also being developed cooperatively, as many innovative digital humanities projects are.

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