Twenty sixteen was a productive year for the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. As we begin the new year, we wanted to post an update for our supporters to give a quick look at what we’ve been working on lately and what lies ahead in 2017.
In early 2016, the Center assumed full control of the Curatescape project, designing and developing a new mobile app (from scratch!) that is better and more useful than ever before. The new design includes a number of features that enhance our partners’ ability to customize content and user experience for their own audiences around the globe. The Curatescape Omeka theme was also improved this past year with the addition of enhanced mapping tools and a number of other new features. There are now over three dozen official Curatescape mobile app projects, with more in the works as we speak. Curatescape also saw the growth of users in the open source community, with web-based projects utilizing our free tools to “curate the landscape” throughout the US and abroad. With our new Curatescape community forum, we hope to build on this momentum going forward as the project continues to evolve in 2017.
In December 2016, we launched clevelandvoices.org to highlight our Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. The permanent archive remains in the capable hands of the CSU Michael Schwartz Library, as part of the Engaged Scholarship institutional repository. With the help of library staff, we developed a process whereby the data from Engaged Scholarship can be transferred to the new site using OAI-PMH. Cleveland Voices, which uses the open source and extensible Omeka CMS, brings enhanced branding and user interactions, and opens up a whole range of new possibilities for presenting the collection to the public. To date, nearly 90% of the 1,000 interviews recorded over the past 15 years are publicly available on Cleveland Voices.
The Cleveland Historical project continues to be a great success, attracting a strong audience from the community here in Northeast Ohio, as well as from visitors around the world. The project, which highlights the research efforts of more than 200 students, staff, faculty, and community partners, has grown to include nearly 600 in-depth explorations of topics in urban and environmental history dating back to the city’s origins, including stories of immigration and ethnicity, visual and performing arts traditions, architecture and planning, the long civil rights movement, LGBTQ activism, and recent efforts to reframe the city’s place in national culture. As always, a special thanks to our friends at CSU Special Collections, the Cleveland Public Library, and the Western Reserve Historical Society, who continue to support the project via the sharing of their photographic archives.
Ohio Outdoor Sculpture Inventory
Working with The Sculpture Center, we overhauled the popular Ohio Outdoor Sculpture Inventory (OOSI) with a brand-new responsive design and improved data management, and fixed a number of longstanding technical issues that limited the project’s excellent potential as a tool for preserving, teaching, and learning about public art in Ohio. We will continue to work with The Sculpture Center throughout 2017 to add new and improved content to this important resource.
NEH Collaboration with Ohio History Connection
Working with Ohio History Connection, we closed out a successful NEH Office of Digital Humanities-funded project, TourSites for WordPress, which built upon earlier collaborations with OHC to create a series of new tools focused on public history and tourism in Ohio. Two new WordPress plugins were developed during the course of the grant. The History Tours plugin allows site administrators to create historical tours of both indoor and outdoor properties, and the CONTENTdm Search plugin makes it easier to search and import from photographic archives without leaving the WordPress interface.
Following the close of their NEH ODH-funded startup “Curating Kisumu” in 2015, Mark Souther, Meshack Owino, and Erin Bell continued to develop the project, which is a collaboration with Gordon Obote Magaga and Benard Busaka of Maseno University in western Kenya. The team utilized a CSU Faculty Research Development grant to expand and extend their planning and content creation in 2016. During this time, the number of location-based stories nearly doubled the number completed during the startup phase, and the team identified the development of an all-in-one, single-plugin/theme Curatescape for WordPress as a sustainable vehicle not only for the Kisumu project but also for wider adoption in developing countries. The team also worked with new partners in Kenya and Tanzania to prepare the project to scale. For further reading, please visit macleki.org and see our NEH white paper “Adapting Mobile Humanities in East Africa [PDF].”
Undergraduate Student Research Award, 2016
Working with CSU History faculty colleague Shelley Rose and two CSU undergraduate researchers, the Center supported a new collection of oral histories focusing on anti-Vietnam War protests and Catholic activism surrounding US involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s during a CSU Office of Research-funded summer project. The resulting Protest Voices collection is available on Cleveland Voices and History Speaks. The latter features audio clips and standards-based lesson plans for Ohio Social Studies teachers.
CPHDH Advisory Committee
This year we welcomed four new advisory committee members: Nelson Beckford, Sarah Rutherford, Robert Shelton, and Jennifer Vasarhelyi. Nelson Beckford is Senior Program Officer for A Stronger Neighborhood at Saint Luke’s Foundation. Our relationship with Beckford predates the Center’s formal inception, dating to an oral history partnership that launched in 2005 when he was a neighborhood coordinator at Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. Sarah Rutherford is Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at CSU and brings experience in information design and visualization. Rob Shelton is Associate Professor of History at CSU. Professor Shelton is a founding convener of the Digital CSU working group and was project director for Ohio Civil War 150, a partnership with Ohio History Connection and the Center in 2011. Jennie Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education & Visitor Services at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. She worked with the Center over a period of years on Teaching American History grant projects. Continuing committee members include James Edmonson, Chief Curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center at Case Western Reserve University; Nadine Grimm, Coordinator of 21st Century Learning for the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County; and Shelley Rose, Assistant Professor of History at CSU. With deep sadness we lost one of our original and continuing committee members, Judge Raymond Pianka, who passed away unexpectedly on January 21, 2017. Judge Pianka was a tireless advocate for the power of history to bolster or revive urban neighborhoods, and he gave much of himself to the Center as a mentor, supporter, and friend.
Looking to the future
In 2017, we will see the launch of several new Curatescape apps across the U.S. and in the United Kingdom. The Smithsonian Institution’s Community of Gardens project is expected to launch its Curatescape app in April. In addition, the State of Library of Ohio Bicentennial will launch an Omeka-based website developed by the Center to showcase the library’s 200-year history. We will also await pending grant funding to support a new phase in our CSU-Maseno collaboration, the development and evaluation of a working beta of Curatescape for WordPress to be launched first in Kenya. We will also see a scaling up of “Arab Americans in Cleveland,” an oral history series co-led by Professors Abed Tayyara of CSU and Rania Assily of Cuyahoga Community College-Westshore that will be included in the Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Finally, Cleveland Historical will see the continuing development of stories, including in CSU courses and external partnerships such as one with Philadelphia artist Imani Roach, who is developing a series of app stories on selected local sites featured in the Negro Travelers’ Green Book, a guide published from the 1930s to 1960s to help African American auto tourists find safe, welcoming accommodations during the Jim Crow era. The stories will provide a lasting companion to Roach’s Havens exhibition, on view through March 27 at SPACES Gallery.