October 2006

I started writing a lovely little map on showmewhere.net for my upcoming talk at HSS, mapping the locations of advertising medical institutes in Chicago 1880-1950, which shows very conclusively how ubiquitous these places where, even if they are pretty obscure now. However, showmewhere has been down these last few weeks and I’m not sure how to map my data. I downloaded the googlemaps API, but I don’t have the skills to work with it easily. Any ideas? Other useful web applications for creating interactive maps?


I work at a small museum that interprets the history of a hospital. We are located in the hospital, but we are administered by the hospital’s nonprofit auxiliary, which manages volunteers and provides clothing for folks in need, among their other projects. So, we are at the bottom of the hierarchy, literally, since our space is in the basement.

Currently we’re using PastPerfect 3.0 to manage our collections. PP3 is okay, but PP4 has much more useful functionalities, and we actually own PP4. I even went to a training on PP4. So, why are we still using PP3? Because all of the IT folks are working on the Electronic Health Records projects. We have had a work order in for more than a year. My colleagues have said, and I’ve agreed, that our data is too important to risk losing by switching over to PP4 inappropriately. Is this something I could do myself? Any ideas? Maybe I’ll call up PastPerfect and ask them.

Besides cataloguing our object collections, I’ve been scanning and describing our photo collection, which is terrific, photos of nurses and doctors and patients and procedures from 1900 to the present. Pending our board’s approval, I’m putting in a proposal for us to work with the Minnesota Digital Library. They will digitize up to 500 images for us, including slides and lantern slides, or up to 1250 pages of documents, and share them on Minnesota Reflections, which “brings you over 10,000 images and documents shared by over sixty cultural heritage organizations across the state. This site offers a broad view of Minnesota’s history for researchers, educators, students, and the public.”

It’s a fabulous resource, and an amazing opportunity for a small historical society. Among the benefits: they scan the photos for us so I can spend my staff time on other projects; our photos are accessible for the first time to folks outside the hospital; we get a higher profile, with links to our website and collection; and everyone can learn more about the history of medicine in Minneapolis. The only downside is that we need to provide the metadata for the scanned items, which we would be doing anyway when we catalogued them on PP (and by ‘we’ I mean me.) This seems like a fabulous project in other ways, especially in connecting the collections of cultural resource organizations of all types–museums, archives, historical societies, universities, libraries. One thing I think museums and historical societies can take from libraries is the enormous benefits of consortiums and networking. In a small museum with no promotional budget, digital networking projects can not only make collections accessible to the public, but also make your small museum part of a larger project that might attract new visitors. I’m excited to hook our museum into the network.

Watch this space for a historical analysis of the new record by the Decemberists, who have been doing public history in their own peculiar way through four LPs now.

The U of M has instituted a huge new $2 million branding campaign that covers 83% of the state, with TV, radio and other media (here‘s a press release). The campaign is called “Driven to Discover” and the tagline is “We are all search engines.”

Here is a timeline of how the ‘search’ campaign works. The U ran TV spots asking regular Minnesotans to ask questions, then found U professors to answer them, and designed it all to look like a websearch. The take-home message is that U researchers are addressing questions that are important to Minnesotans.

The reason for the rebranding is the U’s new strategic plan, which wants to catapult this land-grant school into one of the top three research universities in the world. So far, the plan has reorganized some of the colleges–most notably restructing the fabulous General College, which provided academic support to underprepared students, out of existence–cut programs (my program merged with History of Medicine), and is now trying to get the word out about our great researchers.

Certainly some great research is done at the U, but this weird campaign doesn’t do it justice. The questions are things like “Can dance change the world?” and “What’s with the new writing initiative?” Walking around on campus you find a little search box with a question in it, with a little notation: “Answer in 15 paces.” I like that. Clever. But the answer is only about 100 words long and pretty glib.

I think it confuses search/research in very particular ways. The campaign gives the impression that doing research is as easy as doing a google search on your new boyfriend (and search requires definite non-obvious skills as well), and that all you need to do is click to address problems like race relations, cancer, and war. And the kinds of questions folks asked are not the kinds of questions that most people I know are trying to answer. One of the great things about scholarship is that it gives you space to challenge and question things and ideas that are ‘common knowledge’ elsewhere. It’s important to be accountable to the folks who pay our (laughable) salaries, but this campaign trivializes research.

And I’m not sure what to think about the analogy of people as search engines. Is everybody a search engine, or just the UM researchers who know the answers to these questions? Am I a search engine because I know how to look stuff up in the archives, or know who to ask to find possible answers? I don’t feel like a search engine.

Anyway, enough with the analysis, here‘s a crude parody of the campaign.

This comic also seems relevant (thanks to Hanging Together for the link).

Well, I’ve been excited to get Zotero, the new web citation manager, but it requires Firefox 2.0, which is unavailable for download at the moment. Obviously, the world is telling me to get back to writing and worry about new toys tools later.