Thursday, November 29, 2007

How to Get Feedback from your Exhibit Viewers Without Their Realizing it.

One of our class assignments this year was to mount a history of medicine display in the Medical Sciences building here at the University of Western Ontario, which used some of the medical artifacts from our vast collection. We mounted the exhibit, but when I left that afternoon I was skeptical that anyone would bother to look at what we had created. Personally, I never bother to look at the contents of exhibits mounted in hallways, so why should I expect the general public to be any different?

I decided to do a couple tests to see if there were inexpensive ways you could draw people to an exhibit and to get feedback on whether or not your gimmick had worked. Over the past month, I have mounted two unauthorized displays in the hall of the History department using two different interactive techniques. The case in question had been left empty all year but fortunately was unlocked, so I took the initiative to add some history to the history department.

I decided on a theme: “the History of Traditions” and created my first display. The content was unimportant since I was really just testing the interactive component, so I surfed the internet and created a few text panels and images related to the History of Wearing a Poppy as an act of remembrance. Since the Royal Canadian Legion was in the middle of their November Poppy donation drive, I contacted them and got a donation box along with 100 poppies – one for each person I estimated would see the case, given its location deep within the history department. This was to be my interactive component.

I secretly mounted my display, leaving one of the sliding glass doors open to encourage viewers to donate or to take a poppy. For just over a week it sat there on the wall and on Remembrance Day, I took it down and counted the poppies. 34 had been taken by viewers and I had collected about ten dollars which I returned to the grateful Legionnaires. Undoubtedly some people took two and some people who read the display didn’t take one at all. However, I was able to get a rough idea of how many people were looking at what I had created, with a simple interactive component – one that most people probably never even thought of as interactive.

I wondered if it had been the poppy box that had attracted viewers who wanted a poppy that would not otherwise bothered to look at the display. In an attempt to determine if my interactive component was attracting the viewers or merely recording them, I decided to come up with something a little more gimmicky that would attract people: a voting system. Keeping with the theme of the History of Traditions, I created a display on the History of Why We Send Fruitcakes.

This time, rather than ask for money, I placed a brick, a photograph of George Bush and a fruitcake on the bottom shelf of my display and numbered each item. I then posted three small sheets of paper with corresponding numbers and a bunch of stickers for people to use. I asked viewers “Can You Spot the Real Fruitcake? Indicate with a Star.” The interaction was merely a play on words of the various meanings people associate with the word “fruitcake” but what was important wasn’t that people could spot the true cake – most people got that wrong. What was important was that I was able to draw them in with a silly exercise and I provided myself with feedback from the viewer. The fact that people voted at all meant they were interested enough in the exercise, and that they took at least a moment to see what was in the case so they could make their choice.

The first day the exhibit was mounted, a crowd of my classmates gathered around to see what it was. The sheets quickly filled up with stars, and my colleagues asked me unknowingly, “Have you voted for the fruitcake yet?” For less than a dollar and with no gadgets, I was able to create a simple interactive component that drew in viewers and a feedback forum for myself. All while maintaining a traditional style display case that presented a history to the viewer.

The idea was popular enough that one of the other students in my class used my sticker-voting idea in a class assignment we recently completed to design an exhibit of medical history. She borrowed the idea for her own proposal as a way to get viewers involved and to get them to approach the exhibit.

If no one objects, I’ll continue the “History of Traditions” displays in the new year, or if one of my classmates would like to create an interactive display of their own, I would be happy to cede the case. After all, I didn’t ask if I could use it anyway. But in a department with a Public History program, no display case should ever remain empty!

Thanks to the Duchess of Kent Royal Canadian Legion for trusting me with their poppies, to Corey Everrett and Aaron Day for the idea about a display on Fruitcake, and to everyone who participated in my experiment.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Taking Notes on .PDF files Without Printing

I’ve noticed a lot of my classmates still prefer to print off articles and chapters that are available freely online to read them in hard copy rather than on their computer screens. I’m not sure if this is because they inherently hate reading off a computer screen, or if it’s because they like to scribble notes to themselves in the margins.

If it’s the later, I have a few suggestions that can let you take those notes, without having to use all that paper and waste your ink cartridges.

First, let’s assume the reading in question is a .pdf file. For example, one I have found on the internet: S. Smale’s Differentiable Dynamical Systems. Don’t worry I don’t understand what it’s about either.

Instead of clicking on that tempting print button, click on the “Select Tool,” click on any point in the text and type CTRL A, then CTRL C. You can then open up your favourite word processing program and paste the entire document into your word processor where you can manipulate it.

Now, to take all those notes you so love. (The following suggestions are tailored to users of MS Word, since that’s what I use).

If you’re a person who likes to highlight as you read, you can do so with this tool:

If you like to write text in the margins but you don’t want to mess up the formatting of the document, click on the INSERT menu, and then click “Add Comment” (Don't worry it's less invasive in a real Word.doc)

And there’s so much more flexibility with a word processor that you just can’t do after you’ve printed that article out. You can Bold the important words. italicize the article’s thesis statement. Want the article double spaced so you can read it better? Piece of cake. Don’t like the column width? Easy to change.

Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a laptop you can bring with you to the class discussion, you can type CTRL F and search the entire article for that quote you just know is in there somewhere but you can’t remember where and then everyone will think you’re a genius for having the perfect contribution to the discussion.

I know some of you out there love the smell and feel of paper. So to quell that concern as well, Please feel free to print off this article and take it with you everywhere you go. That way, if while reading your articles on your computer you begin to pine for paper, you can pull out my article, give it a big hug and continue your work refreshed.

Because really, are you going to read that article you just printed off ever again? Save a tree, save yourself some money, and experiment a little with what your computer can do. You might even like it.

*Note, this only works if the person who created the document has used the full version of Adobe Acrobat and has let Acrobat use Optical Character Recognition to convert the contents of the document to text. Unfortunately, as many of you have found, the only way to get some .PDF documents into text is to have your own Optical Character Recognition software.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I've Been Translated

I was browsing Technorati this morning, a site on which you can search for blogs and I came across my own. Beside my blog’s title was a little green bubble with a magnifying glass in it labeled, “Authority” and a number beside it. This number refers to the number of other blogs in Technorati’s database that link to your blog. I was curious to see who was on there, so I clicked it.

Most of them were the blogs of my colleagues, but one in particular stood out because it was in German. I clicked on the link titled, Gedanken auf Öffentlicher Geschichte durch Adam Crymble: Themed Tonführer Bereist Museum.

To my surprise, there was my post about Themed Audio-Guide Museum Tours, complete with the photo I had taken this summer on my vacation, however, the text had been completely translated into German on a website titled “Tourism Projects.” (Stehlen ist schlecht. Wenn Sie möchten, dass die Übersetzung meiner Arbeit fragen, und ich werde sagen, ja)

I guess I should put that on my C.V. now: “Work translated into German.”

References (Because theft is morally suspect)

Technorati. “”

“Gedanken auf Öffentlicher Geschichte durch Adam Crymble: Themed Tonführer Bereist Museum,” Tourism Projects. “

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Make Your Grandpa Tell You His Story

Before he died, my Opa (Grandfather) wrote a family history with the help of my mother and her sister. I think he wanted to leave us with a sense of who we were and where we had come from since he and my Oma (Grandmother) had immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1953 and almost all ties to our past had be left behind in a war-torn Germany. I finally read the memoirs this past week, and it was the war-torn part that affected me most. Even though I had known my Opa for over twenty years and had spoken to him countless times, I never once heard a story about the war or his experiences after he was drafted into the German army.

Thanks to his efforts writing it all down, I now have not only a clearer vision of why he was the man he was, but I have a one of a kind primary account of what the war was like in the German army during the Second World War.

I read of the Master Sargent who liked to make sure the men guarding the munitions dump weren’t goofing off, so he’d climb the fence and try to break in. If he was able to get to the guards, they were thrown in the brig for three days. Apparently the man did this on a regular basis to the chagrin of the soldiers until, “this routine ended one night when one of the guards shot [and killed] the Master Sargent in the process of climbing the fence.” According to my Opa, the guard was exonerated of wrongdoing and, “We were all happy with the outcome.”[1]

He also wrote in some detail about the lockjaw he contracted after he had his jaw shattered by a Russian bullet and subsequently wired shut for six weeks. To cure the lockjaw he said, “Over the next two months I ran around with a pair of clothespins in my teeth. The spring inserted between my teeth put enough pressure on the teeth to gradually loosen their grip.”[1]

Finally, I learned that his father, my great-grandfather had spent his last days in a Russian forced labour camp, where he contracted typus after being forced to drink the blood-soaked water of the Oder River, which he and other prisoners were clearing of dead bodies under the stern eyes of their Russian Masters.[1]

Since reading these memoirs, it has occurred to me that it will soon be too late to collect any more. Various projects at organizations such as the Center for History and New Media collect the stories of those who went through more recent events such as Hurricane Katrina or 9/11;[2][3] such a project is commendable, but the veterans of the Second World War are every day diminishing, and with them the invaluable stories vanish forever. Veteran’s Canada has a dozen or so stories of Canadian War Veterans.[4] The Digital Memory Project Digital Archive has many dozens more.[5] But given the thousands of veterans still around, why have so few given us their stories in these online repositories?

Perhaps my Opa’s memoirs provide the answer. I mentioned at the beginning that my mother and her sister helped him write the memoir. What they actually did was type it into a word processor, because he couldn’t use one himself. He never owned a computer. Even until he died his watch was analog, his typewriter produced one copy of whatever he typed, and he never owned an answering machine.

If we want these stories, we have to find a way to get them. Those that have already been written were likely done in pen and ink. And while I’d love to be able to sit down and collect everyone’s story, one by one, I’m just one man. So, until I figure something else out, a little help, if you please. If you still have grandparents, please, go talk to them. Get those stories written down. Because they’re wonderful. They’re who we are.


[1] Herbert Eichler. The Eichler Family History. (2002?)

[2] “Hurricane Digital Memory Bank” The Center for History and New Media.

[3] “The September 11 Digital Archive” The Center for History and New Media.

[4] Veterans Affairs Canada

[5] “The Memory Project Digital Archive” The Dominion Institute.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day: a day of rest?

Remembrance Day should not be a public holiday.

In most of Canada, today is a public holiday and had it not fallen on a Sunday this year, workers would have had the day off work and students would be playing their video games – or whatever it is kids are into these days. Only in Ontario and Quebec do kids go to school on Remembrance Day. And I’d be willing to bet, Ontario has the largest percentage of school-aged children who observe the traditional moment of silence at 11am on November 11.

The reasons for the holiday seem good-intentioned; the Nova Scotia Remembrance Day Act, declares:

“Our heritage of freedom and human dignity has, under Providence, been preserved through the unselfish devotion of those who sacrificed health, limb and life itself in World War One, World War Two and the Korean Conflict;

The eleventh day of November has traditionally been set aside throughout Nova Scotia as a day to be kept and observed in each and every year under the name "Remembrance Day";

It is fitting that on Remembrance Day the people of Nova Scotia should pay grateful tribute to the memory of those who have died, cherish those who have suffered grievous injury, and dedicate themselves anew to the maintenance and furtherance of the great ideals hallowed by those sacrifices.”[1]

That’s a nice theory and all…but I find it hard to believe that your average students (let alone his or her parents) are passionate enough about Remembrance Day to go to a ceremony, or even to tune the television to CBC where they can watch the official Canadian observance. So, if Remembrance Day is worth observing, why not send the children to school where they spend the morning listening to the types of sacrifices soldiers and their families made through stories, skits and poetry, before ultimately listening to the haunting notes of the Last Post, before observing a moment of silence with their teachers and peers?

If, on the other hand, we decide Remembrance Day is not worth observing, why is it worth taking a day off work and school? It seems rather ironic that we would celebrate the tireless efforts and extraordinary sacrifices of young Canadians, by sleeping in.


[1] "Remembrance Day Act" Government of Nova Scotia.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Public History on the Streets

If you live here in London, Ontario, you may have noticed these. They're all over my neighbourhood and as the image suggests, they mark the city boundary as it appeared in 1855.

They are quite large (2.5m/7 feet across), and painted directly on the road. They appeared three or four years ago after the streets were repaved in the area, but I wasn't able to get a response from City Hall as to who put them there or what motivated them to. Most people probably never notice them; thousands of cars drive over them every day. But I have to say, I think they're a great idea.

They do what academic history cannot. They are so tangible. They present history at the exact point that it occurred. Even most museums cannot boast such a feat. We all know that the mummy at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto was not an early Torontonian, he was brought there from Egypt. Yet that's where we go to experience Egyptian history.

Not so with these paintings on the road. To experience a piece of London's history, all you have to do is go stand on one of these paintings and you're at a spot historically significant in 1855. Sure, it's not as cool as the mummy, but it's cheap, noninvasive and it's simple enough that even a young child could begin learning about the history of their city by merely asking, "Mommy, what's that?"