me


This post is part of a blog celebration of two-year anniversary of the #twitterstorians community, organized by the indefatigable Katrina Gulliver.

I’ve spent most of the past two years working on a very large automotive history exhibit. 80,000 sq ft, to be exact–bigger than most museums and probably the biggest exhibit I will ever have the opportunity to help develop. Besides vehicles, the exhibit includes 65 exhibit cases, which are thematic and put automotive history into a broader cultural context. I curated 21 of them.

To avoid museum fatigue and to try to ensure that visitors would read some of the text, we had very severe word limits. I found myself explaining the importance of the Erie Canal in 20 words in a caption to a commorative medal, the entire career of Andrew Riker in 40, the immense importance of kerosene in the 19th century in 20-some, and how a Stirling engine works in a frequently-rewritten 25. And while I was writing, I turned to my experiences—and community—on Twitter.

I’m often asked (and often asked on Twitter) if Twitter has changed my exhibit writing. It has. I live on Twitter and have become very comfortable talking about my own experiences—work, food, bike rides, friendships, religion—140 characters at a time. When I was stumped in label-writing–for instance on that kerosene paragraph, in an exhibit case about American experiences with petroleum–I started breaking my labels up into tweets. When I fatalistically believed I could never fit the content I thought vital for visitors into 45 words, I had to reframe my thinking: this label is three tweets long. I know instinctually how much content can fit in three tweets. These are constraints I understand, constraints that work. And it worked. The words and concepts fell into place in my newly-conceptualized mental space.

Besides reframing my writing into tweets, I benefited from my community on twitter. This includes stalwart historians who tend to use the #twitterstorians hashtag, as well as museum professional colleagues, but it also includes the scientists, writers, journalists and miscellaneous friends who found my process interesting and worth cheering on. Whenever I needed encouragement, syntactical help, or just to complain a little, someone from my extended Twitter community was available. This ambient support and critique helped make my writing possible. Thank you, Twitter, and thank you, #twitterstorians.

Remember this conference?

This great event about the Public History of Science and Technology will be happening September 11-14 at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC.  The program is up and registration will soon follow. I’ll be talking about cabinets of curiosity and contemporary museum practice on the 13th, and the program is filled with great colleagues.  Hope to see you there.

Last week the open access book project Alt-Academy:  Alternative Academic Careers for Humanities Scholars was officially unveiled by our fearless facilitator and editor Bethany Nowviskie.  In it are lots of thoughtful, challenging essays about careers, identities, labor and respect in fields allied to humanities scholarship from colleagues across the world.  There’s a strong showing from digital humanities folks and academic and special library librarians.  I contributed a piece on public history (natch), and a number of other history colleagues also wrote essays.  Do go read and comment on our lovely book.

As many of you know, I recently returned from two weeks in Mongolia.  I’m still thinking over what I saw, but in the meantime, here are some photographs to tide you over.  (No dinosaurs, though–sorry!  No dinosaur photography was allowed in the natural history museum.)

Today Eric Johnson and I have a guest post at Museum 2.0 about Oldenberg’s The Great Good Place, part of this month’s discussion on the book.  Do go read it: we shoutout to John Cotton Dana.

I somehow agreed to do two lightning talks in two weeks, so if you’re in the Detroit area you have two chances to hear me speak fast for 5 minutes.  Brevity is the soul of wit, and since I love twitter so much, this is a neat way to twitterize my academic talks.

This Thursday, 2/25, at the Anderson Theater in front of the Dymaxion House at the Henry Ford Museum, I’ll be speaking at Pecha Kucha Night Detroit, which we’re hosting in conjunction with our new design exhibit.  I’m talking about my job, basically, and different ways of thinking about “connecting to people through technology,” including our ham radio collections.

Then, next Thursday, 3/4, at the Blau Auditorium at the U of Mich business school, I’m participating in Ignite Ann Arbor.  I’ll be talking about mechanical television and our guy C. Francis Jenkins.

Just over a month to go before this year’s National Council on Public History conference!  We’ll be meeting March 10-14 in Portland in conjunction with the American Society for Environmental History.  If you’ve never been before, NCPH is a great conference for meeting public historians and learning about amazing projects.  One of the NCPH conference’s greatest strengths is giving us public historians, who are often caught up in the minutiae of our programs, exhibits and other projects, a time to reflect on important theoretical and ethical issues in the profession.

On that note, I’ll be speaking at a panel about the future of public history on Thursday at 1:30:

Panel 3-C: Historians Look to the Future: Embarking on a
New Chapter in NCPH’s History
Cosponsored by the NCPH 30th Anniversary Committee
Chair: Allison Marsh, University of South Carolina
Suzanne Fischer, The Henry Ford Museum
Peter Kraemer, U.S. Department of State

Also on Thursday, Allison Marsh and I are planning to host a dine-around (an informal dinner) to talk about the material culture of technology coordinating group we’re been working on.

Please join us in Portland!

Currents of Change, March 10-14

Hilton Portland Hotel

The conference Program is digital this year, available as a PDF at http://ncph.org/cms/?page_id=117 Printed programs will be available only onsite in Portland.

This is a joint meeting of National Council on Public History and American Society for Environmental History, with 150 sessions and workshops, 15 working groups, 10 fieldtrips, Speed Networking, book exhibits, Consultants Reception, and much more. Come and experience the best in public and environmental history.  (Discounted registration is open to members and non-members before February 12.  Regular pre-registration is open through February 24.  Onsite registration continues at the conference.)

Keynote speaker, Adam Hochschild, is an award winning author and journalist who uses history to reveal the lingering inequities of the past. His most recent book, Bury the Chains, was a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award.  His address, “Adventures in Public History,” will be free and open to the public as well as conference registrants.

Make your Hotel Reservation at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower today.  Discounted room rates for the conference may be secured before February 9.  http://www.hilton.com/en/hi/groups/personalized/PDXPHHH-NCP-20100307/index.jhtml

Want to see how engaging history, especially environmental history, has become in Portland and its environs? Sign up for the tours. This year there is a floating seminar boat excursion on the Willamette River.  Want specialized professional development? There are top-notch workshops and how-to sessions on digital history.

Tours & Fieldtrips: http://in-lart-web99.indysla.iupui.edu/ncph/cms/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/2010-Field-Trips.pdf

Workshops: http://in-lart-web99.indysla.iupui.edu/ncph/cms/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/2010-Workshops.pdf

Read more about the conference in the current issue of Public History News at http://ncph.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/2009-Dec-Newsletter.pdf

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