Category Archives: Digital Public History

Project Proposal

My proposal is to create a website using Omeka in order to present the history of video games. The main question I intend to ask is how this industry came to be, and how the people who consider themselves part of the Gaming culture interact with fellow Gamers. I intend to include the rise of arcade games to the transition to home gaming via consoles and computers. Video games have become a billion dollar industry, and while there has been some research into its past, there is little that provides an over-arching research into the industry. I plan to create a forum companion to the exhibit for people to share their experiences as Gamers. This will provide insight into how this history was lived by those who experienced it. I personally consider myself a Gamer, and this project will also allow me to satisfy my own curiosity into the industry’s past.

The main technology that I will use is the Omeka Content Management System. This will allow me to organize the various types of games, systems, and so on that have made an impact in the video game industry. I will also include the contribution plugin for people visiting the site to propose their own ideas for items that made an impact. As for the forum aspect, I am currently looking into which technology will support the project best. It is possible to use the contribute feature, but I have yet to test how it functions as a means of conversation. There are a number of forum software websites that may work better than something built into Omeka itself.

The target audience for my project is anyone who plays, or has played, video games. I do not differentiate between people who currently play, or haven’t played in decades. I also consider all levels of play, from people who play every day to those who play once a month. Since I am part of this culture, I am aware of how fellow Gamers enjoy talking about their favorite games, and to find others who play them in order to share any multiplayer components. This is the main reason I intend to include a forum. Being an academic project, it will allow fellow Gamers to have this discussion in an area free of any trash talk that is prevalent in other forums. Any researcher will be able to view the research into video game history, as well as view the topics that current Gamers are having related to the topic.


Personas Revised


Brittney- Persona 1
Persona 1: Brittney
Name: Brittney
Demographic: Sporadic Gamer, 30 y.o., works full time, female
Descriptive Title: Sporadic Player
End Goals:

She wants to share her experiences playing games in a setting that does not have any trash talk or trolling. She wants to see if there are any other people who play the same games she does, and whether they want to play with her online.
Quote: Games are great, especially when I find one that I like and can afford it.
A Day in a Life Narrative:

Brittney works full time at a hospital, and has played video games off and on since childhood when her mother bought a Nintendo. She does not have a console or dedicated gaming computer, but is able to play games that are not too taxing on her computer. Brittney has a friend or two that have a console and will play with them once or twice a month. One of her main issues is the cost of entry, with most of her income going towards essentials. She would play more if she could. When she finds a game she likes and can afford, she plays consistently until it is completed. Brittney does not consider herself a gamer because she does not have a dedicated gaming machine, and does not play on a regular basis.
End Goals:

Brittney wants to find a community of players similar to her, in that she plays sporadically and doesn’t have a gaming system of her own. She wants to find ways of finding ways to play games that are affordable, and to find games similar to the ones she enjoys.


Persona 2: Steve
Persona 2: Steve
Name: Steve
Demographic: Gamer, PC and Console User, 22 y.o., Undergraduate Student, Minority
Descriptive Title: Gamer
Quote: I play games not because I don’t have a life, but because I choose to have many.
A Day in a Life Narrative:

Steve plays games for several hours a week, and usually plays something every other day. He schedules his play time around classes, homework, and a 10 hour/week job on campus. He enjoys gaming because it is much more entertaining than watch movies, and it gives him a sense of pride and accomplishment when he finishes a game. Since Steve plays online both on a console and PC, he is familiar with technology and the communities for gaming, especially those his friends frequent. He splits his time playing online with friends and single-player only games. He enjoys the sense of camaraderie that develops when having a shared experience in a game.
End Goals:

He wants to share his experiences playing games in a setting that does not have any trash talk or trolling. He wants to see if there are any other people who play the same games he does, and whether they want to play with him online.

Thoughts on my collection

After looking through a few major projects, I have come to realize that the strength of my own project is in the experiences of the Gamers themselves. The genre descriptions of archives by Trevor Owens showed that my idea regarding personal experiences falls under the digital archive set that is centered around people’s experiences regarding a particular event. As such, the items I have started to collect in Omeka I see as providing some historical context for their experiences. I also plan to use them as a way to jog their memories.

If I can show some of the more popular games and consoles, some visitors may remember that they played one of them. One thing I have to keep in mind is making all the experiences searchable by others, since I intend to make the site more of a community than some others. I have yet to decide if Omeka will be able to do this to my satisfaction, or if another program will work better.


Thoughts on Audience

The first priority with this type of project is the audience: the people who will view and interact with the project once it is completed. Since my project deals with people who play video games, I must tailor aspects of my project to them, such as providing them with materials related to what they are interested in. If they do not see something they want to look into, they will leave the project without contributing.

One of the things that I know from personal experience is that Gamers like to talk about the games they enjoy playing, which is why I plan to include a forum aspect to my project. This provides a couple benefits that I believe will help the success of the project. The first is that it will allow visitors to feel engaged with the material, and that they are contributing their story for others to read and interact with. There are a number of forums that already exist, but there are none that I am aware of in an academic setting. These forums are also fraught with problems from ‘trolls,’ and the academic setting of this project may help to keep this at bay.


User Research Findings for Gaming

I have talked with two people that are in the audience demographic for my course project, which will cover people’s experience with playing video games. The project, in a nutshell, will be part historical research and part forum by visitors, where they can relate their experiences. The interviews I conducted were a means to frame the types of information I need to include in my project.

One of the most surprising elements I found was the sense of accomplishment that both people felt when they not only finished a game, but solved puzzles or figured out key information that moved the story along. They also felt they were playing an active role in the story, and not passively staring at the screen like watching a movie.

These types of findings provided new aspects of gaming to delve into. The main one being monetary. One said they had enough disposable income to buy games sporadically or during sales. The other said the initial purchase of a console was a major detriment, and would play more if they could afford the start-up cost.

The Price of Freedom: Americans at War

This post compares a physical and online exhibit created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which was sponsored by Kenneth E. Behring, with additional support by The History Channel. The online exhibit can be visited here. Sponsors, credits, and related information can be found here.

Physical Exhibit

This weekend I visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and they had an ongoing exhibit chronicling America’s past in warfare. Titled The Price of Freedom: Americans at War, this particular exhibit chronicled each war the United States participated in, starting with the Revolutionary War up through the War in Afghanistan immediately following the attack on September 11, 2001. One of the key arguments in this exhibit is that America was founded by an act of warfare, by liberating itself from British control, and this freedom was continually ensured by future engagements. American freedom was won by people sacrificing their health and lives for it.

The exhibit starts with a recreation of a town during the Revolutionary War period, with buildings and mannequins in period uniforms. The remainder of the walk-through shows a wide range of artifacts from each war, from weaponry, furniture, and photographs, to videos that document the personal statements of the people that took part in the war. One of the largest artifact was a fully restored Huey helicopter from the Vietnam War, and it included a video with people who had direct experiences either flying on them, such as soldiers transporting patients to medical personnel.

Most of the information was provided by showing actual artifacts with placards describing it, and there were a number of documentaries playing at several spots. There were no interactive elements that I noticed, visitors were expected to read or watch in order to gain any information.

The layout was designed that visitors walked through the exhibit chronologically, and each war had its own room or hallway. Visitors are expected to trace each war in order, with little freedom of movement. Some of the individual rooms were large enough to have two rows of exhibit spaces, but the flow of exhibit is chronological regardless.

Most of the people I noticed in the exhibit were families with young children, or groups of friends that appeared to be high school aged or in early college years. There were no curators or volunteers within the exhibit itself, but there were a few at an information desk that covered the entire museum, not the one exhibit.

One of the things that was lacking throughout the entire exhibit was the perspective of the other side of the conflict. The entire exhibit was focused on America and the actions of its citizens. Considering the exhibit is held within the national museum for American history, I can understand why this outside experience was left out, but their story is crucial to understanding the conflicts. There was a reason why America felt it needed to enter these wars, and it is hard to understand these motivations without this outside perspective.

Online Exhibit

There is also an extensive online exhibit on the Smithsonian’s website for The Price of Freedom: Americans at War, which provide much of the same information found within the physical exhibit. The main argument for both this online exhibit and the physical one was to show how war influenced American history and society. The online exhibit deals with more of the factual elements of war: the people involved, where it took place, and some of the objects used during the campaign. The site itself was built using Flash, but there is a companion exhibit that presents the same information in a standard HTML website.

The Price of Freedom’s online exhibit is geared towards an academic setting, as there is a section that has several resources for use in a classroom. The website is structured so that visitor to the site can go directly to one particular war without needing to go through the material for previous sections. One key assumptions in this exhibit is that, just like the physical exhibit, the information only presents information from the American perspective. There is little to no information about the ideology of the opponents during each conflict. The Revolutionary War and World War Two are the only sections that delve into the opponent’s reasoning for entering into combat.

Both the Flash and HTML versions of the exhibit are separated into sections containing all the information for one war. Users who choose to view the exhibit have access to an introductory video to each as well as slideshows containing portraits and maps, which do not appear in the simplified HTML version. Both versions present pieces of information followed by several related artifacts. All of the artifacts have information about its specific history, as well as the physical dimensions and description of it. Visitors are able to view all of the information within each section of an exhibit at any time, but there are several subsections within each war that the visitor must view one at a time.

The main difference between the online exhibit and its physical counterpart is the scope of the overall exhibit. The online exhibit presents only a fraction of the artifacts found in the physical exhibit, and hardly any of the video presentations. It appears that the creators of the online exhibit were limited by technology and could not present everything in the physical exhibit, and therefore had to choose the artifacts they felt best represented the whole. The online site also differs in that visitors are able to choose to view wars and topics within those wars in any order they choose, rather than starting at the first war and going chronologically from there.

The online exhibit for The Price of Freedom could use an update. Flash based websites are becoming dated, and does not allow much accessibility. The ‘Printable Version,’ as they call it, provides more accessibility, but does not include everything in the Flash version. There is also no way to contact curators or the creators of the site. The only interaction is if a visitor has technical questions about viewing the site or obtaining permission to use images.

Digital Humanities: Past and Present


Digital Humanities has existed in some form since the early days of the World Wide Web. Most projects have focused on creating and presenting information that can be read and digested by anyone with an Internet connection. The earliest websites were limited by the structure of the Web protocols at the time, and could only provide information via text and very basic imagery. See Progress of a People at the Library of Congress for an example. This was the first phase of DH work that used the Web as its way of disseminating information.

The second phase began as it became possible to provide richer imagery, as well as design websites that could be more fluid in its navigation. The aim for this phase is similar to the first, in that the sites were designed to present information. Here, people began to see direct translations of physical exhibits from museums in a digital form. Projects during this time were able to include more graphical information such as timelines (see Raid on Deerfield). Since the Web was able to utilize more imagery, more DH websites used imagery as the main thrust if their argument. One prime example of this was A More Perfect Union, which provided a wealth of imagery related to the Japanese Internment during World War Two.

The latest phase of DH work has seen a change in the aims for the projects. The current projects are aiming to get viewers directly involved with the material. Some sites, like the Bracero History Archive,  encourage people who have a personal experience with the material to type and submit their story to the team creating the site. A new type of project has also emerged: sites that ask the viewer to help the researcher transcribe documents. One example of this is Operation Field Diary, which asks visitors to help decode diaries, letters, and other documents found during World War One.

With each phase of work in Digital Humanities, new methods of interacting with the material has emerged. Whether its being able to provide visual examples of artifacts, or providing personal experiences, the current trend in DH is to get both researcher and visitor involved with the material. The best projects allow for the visitor to gain some new knowledge about the subject, but also provide an avenue for those visitors to become involved with the material.



What is Public History?

In 1981, Ron Grele wrote an article for the National Council on Public History asking what Public History is, and what goals may exist for people within the field. Grele described wrote that there was no clear definition for the practice and aims of professionals within Public History, stemming from prior historians believing that there were no jobs for historians outside of academia. [1] Grele continued by discussing the origins for Public History in the real of local history and archives, and that the discipline has largely been described as any position not held in an academic setting.

The trend of believing history only being a part of an academic institution has been noted by numerous professionals, and originally had a basis of truth. Denise Meringolo described the role of several historians at universities who would work with outside institutions, such as a state court, to act as an expert in a particular field. [2] She went on to describe that the creation of the National Park System provided an avenue for historians to work outside of a university, which provided an opportunity for the public to realize that history existed outside of the classroom.

As Public History gained prominence as a discipline, the question of what Public History is, and what duties professionals performed, became widespread. The answer to this question continues to this day. A survey conducted in 2008 by John Dichtl and Robert Townsend showed that there is no one set definition for Public History. Their survey concluded that some professionals were unsure if the label applied to them, despise others in a similar position who did identify as a Public Historian. [3] Of those that Dichtl and Townsend surveyed, a vast majority were working at museums or government agencies.

The question now becomes, without a specific example of a Public Historian, what constitutes Public History? Some might say that stating Public History is any historian that works outside of a classroom. I feel that this is misleading, as many professors publish their research outside of their university and would not consider themselves Public Historians. Rather, I believe that Public History involves presenting historical research in such a manner that no formal training as a historian is required to understand the material. This can be anything from a formal exhibit in a museum, to placards at a historical site, to an online space providing information on a particular topic. The key is that the information is accessible to a wide range of people and backgrounds.


[1] Grele, Ronald J. “Whose Public? Whose History? What Is the Goal of a Public Historian?” The Public Historian 3, no. 1 (Winter 1981): 41.

[2] Meringolo, Denise. “Prologue and Conclusion.” In Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. xvii.

[3] Dichtl, John, and Robert Townsend. “A Picture of Public History: Preliminary Results from the 2008 Survey of Public History Professionals.” Perspectives on History, September 2008.

Introduction to Digital Public History

Hello All,

I am currently enrolled as a first year Master’s student in History at George Mason alongside the Digital Humanities Certificate. This is my second masters degree, the first being Educational Multimedia, and my undergraduate degree is also in History. My experience with digital humanities has been sporadic at best, as my degree in Education covered how to create learning material regardless of discipline. As an undergrad, it was limited to PowerPoint presentations.

I currently work as the Digital Humanities Graduate Research Assistant at Fenwick Library at George Mason’s Fairfax Campus, and my duties are to help the research librarians within the humanities research tools that they feel might be of use. The one tool that they have the most inclination towards using is Omeka. As such, I created an exhibit for them that I used to both learn the system, and to give tutorials to fellow graduate students. The introductory course for the Digital Humanities certificate provided a wide range of projects that have been created within DH, and a few of the tools that are available for future use.

My experience in history so far has been in regards to research and writing essays and theses, and I have little experience in creating projects for the public. The only project I have done in public history was the exhibit of Gunston Hall that I completed using Omeka. Given my background in History, I am excited to learn more about the process of creating historical projects for the public. I have experience writing history and visiting libraries and museums, but I am curious about the process of creating the exhibits that I have visited.

Michael Roth