Update: Cleveland Historical to Curatescape

Sorry for the long update, but over the summer, we’ve had numerous questions about Cleveland Historical, its features, how it developed, and where we’re going with our mobile projects. Earlier in the summer, we outlined some of those ideas in the Urban History Association Newsletter, linked here, but I thought I’d take another stab at where we’re at, in an effort to more easily share the project’s various facets.

Cleveland Historical is a software tool developed by the Cleveland State University‘s Center for Public History + Digital Humanities for interpreting history, culture, and environment on mobile devices.  We like to tell people that it’s a tool through which we curate the city. It uses Omeka (from the Center for History and New Media) as its archivally-based content-management system. This ties Cleveland Historical to what we believe to be one of the best tools available in the digital humanities world. It enhances the usability and extensibility of Cleveland Historical, and it benefits the expanding Omeka user community by giving it a new way of engaging audiences.

Cleveland Historical was born from the kernels of several projects that Center co-founders Mark Tebeau and Mark Souther developed in their urban history, public history, social studies, and local history seminars.  The central intellectual tenet behind our work is the notion that cities, landscapes, and history itself can be curated by diverse communities collaboratively and in multiple media forms. The Center is also committed to engaged university teaching & learning in which students build meaningful history projects that contribute to the body of scholarly knowledge and are publicly sharable, whether in an urban tour, a public forum, or through digital means. The Center also has sought to integrate best history teaching practices into K-12 classrooms through teacher professional development and training, which the Center has built and expanded through multiple Teaching American History initiatives. Fourth, the Center has emphasized the importance of capturing human voices as the centerpieces of its projects, collecting over 700 oral histories in collaboration with students and the community in ongoing initiatives over several years. Fifth, the Center has sought innovative ways to connect digital humanities to public history scholarship. These have included experimentation with Omeka and other digital history tools and projects. Most notably, this approach emerged in the award-winning Euclid Corridor History Project that resulted in 19 history kiosks located along Euclid Avenue at rapid bus stations.

The Euclid Project confirmed that scholars could do interpretive public history in collaboration with students, teachers, and community members. As the project was implemented between 2008-2010, Tebeau and Souther wished they could carry the kiosks off the bus stations and into the city. Realizing that mobile phones could become the vehicle for innovative historical interpretation, the Center began to explore how to do just that. We are exploring how to use the emerging paradigm of mobile communication to enrich teaching and learning of history and at the same time build a durable and incisive interpretive tool for heritage tourism and curating place. The vision and architecture of Cleveland Historical was born, with a vision toward building a tool that could be extended beyond the city.

To date, Cleveland Historical has been developed by a broad swath of the regional community. Cleveland Historical has over 200 geo-located stories, most possessing a combination of text, images, audio, or videos. Altogether there are some 1500 images, 500 audio clips, and 100 videos (about 60 are visible on our YouTube Channel.)  We are particularly pleased with the multimedia content because it represents our collaborative story-telling process. Our friends at Cleveland Memory (thanks Bill and team!) have provided great support in working with photographs. Student- and teacher-collected oral histories, coupled with a rich intellectual partnership with Randforce Associates at the University of Buffalo, provide a rich aural texture, bringing to life the region’s history. Video created by students following a technique and style that was developed through a rich collaboration with brilliant local filmmaker Kate O’Neil of Authentic Films. Later, Center technical director Erin Bell developed the look and feel for early videos and then helped students and teachers to achieve similar results.  Finally, we’ve even added archival film footage from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, to lend a rather remarkable historical sensibility to a number of the stories, including the air races and municipal stadium. Even so, much of the content remains imperfect, reflecting both our learning process and that of our partners. But, also the ways we use and interact with mobile are only now taking shape and evolving, which is why we explore and study how users–from tourists to 5th graders–react to the mobile applications.

Cleveland Historical also is becoming deeply embedded in the broader regional community through collaborative story development, regional classrooms, and its increasing use in interpretive tours and signage.  In terms of collaboration, undergraduates have contributed to almost all the sites, with graduate students and historians editing, evaluating, and re-working content. Community members, from cultural organizations, community development groups, and various interest groups have contributed materials or stories for about one third of the sites. During the last six months, teachers have developed over 40 sites, in some cases in collaboration with their students. Many teachers are also using Cleveland Historical to engage students in learning American history through the landscapes of the region. Much of this work is highly original, exciting, and very much on the leading edge of where K-12 teaching is heading.

Communities have embraced the process of developing tours and connecting themselves to their own history through clever use of signage with QR (quick response) codes.  Two neighborhoods have used Cleveland Historical as a tool for mobile tours of their community, including one tour that coupled the mobile application with guided tours. In collaboration with Downtown Cleveland Alliance, visitors to downtown Cleveland can find businesses with QR codes that lead to Cleveland Historical and historical views of the neighborhood. Additionally, over the next three months, four other communities will be involved in developing and extending tours, including collaborations with local schools and the use of Cleveland Historical as an interactive tool through which K-12 students can learn history.

Cleveland Historical is the first instance of a larger initiative called Curatescape through which we will extend Cleveland Historical into a mobile publishing platform available to the broader “GLAM” (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) community, as well as to a broad swath of K-20 educators in middle schools, high schools, and universities. Curatescape will give partners the ability to deploy uniquely-branded mobile applications through which they can curate the historical and cultural landscapes of their communities; more information on Curatescape is available on the project website. Partners’ applications–available on both iOS and Android platforms–will have all the functionality of Cleveland Historical, including:

  • availability on both iOS and Android;
  • clean user interface with simple, elegant functionality;
  • presents multi-layered interpretive geo-located stories on a map interface;
  • allows use of multiple types of media, including text, images, audio, and video;
  • tour functionality provides interpretive paths through the geo-located stories, according to geography, theme, or chronology;
  • basic but attractive (being refined at the moment) mobile stylesheets;
  • accompanying website similar to Cleveland Historical (www.clevelandhistorical.org);
  • social media (Facebook, Twitter, email and other sharing tools);
  • integration with QR (quick response) codes, which allows interactive and more deeply immersive experiences in landscapes and building users through posters, signage, and other promotional materials;
  • Model for practice with K-16 school curriculums for teaching & learning history;
  • Built using standards-based open-source Omeka archival software as our content management system;
  • uses must install their own hosted Omeka installation (or they can obtain a hosted version through Omeka.net).

The second instance of Curatescape will be Spokane Historical, through a partnership with Larry Cebula and his colleagues at Eastern Washington University, which we hope will open in fall 2011 or perhaps as late as winter 2012.

We are in discussions with several other organizations and universities to extend Curatescape and are seeking partners to be beta testers for the hosted version of Curatescape, helping us to refine its functionality as we begin distributing it more broadly.

Coupled with the scaling of the Curatescape project into other communities through partner organizations, the Center has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities through an Office of Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to explore the process of scaling this initiative beyond Cleveland. We have begun the process of adding new features, more robust functionality, and richer user interfaces. We are even building a user interface designed specifically to serve for use indoors, inside museums. Other new features will include enhanced tour functionality and the possibilities of user-created playlists.  Also, we’re considering the process of adding additional map layers using historic maps, as well as the possibility of stories and sites augmented by three-dimensional historical views of the built landscape, using the architecture of Google Earth.

We’re excited about the future directions of Cleveland Historical and the Curatescape initiative. We look forward to continued feedback and comments from users, digital humanists, and the broader GLAM community of scholars, archivists, and curators.

UPDATE: This post was modified to reflect the current name of the Mobile Historical project, now called Curatescape.