Extensible mobile history

Lots of great themes are already emerging from the pre-conference posts; allow me to add a couple thoughts about mobile, which is one of the things that I’ll be interested in discussing and learning more about.

My digital humanities research explores how one can curate a city through mobile devices. Over the past several months, this culminated in the release of Cleveland Historical (clevelandhistorical.org) with a recent news story about the project here . Our work at the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities has taken this challenge of curation into multiple educational, institutional, and digital environments over the years: from simple websites (such as that on the Cleveland Cultural Gardens) to street-level history kiosks to an extensive (700+) collection of oral histories. Our work is all crowdsourced through community-based processes, emphasizing scads of project partners sharing similar goals. Our number of partners exceeds 1000 individuals and organizations, for example.

We built Cleveland Historical using Omeka as a CMS. It includes iOS, Android, basic mobile stylesheets, and a web presence. It includes multiple layers of interpretive materials and stories that are geolocated, tours, and social media integration. We are currently making the tour features richer, integrating QR codes (easy), and building a version for regional museums (that has a different navigation strategy.)  Lots of other cool features could easily be developed, including content added directly from mobile devices and new interfaces.

We designed the project to be extensible and scalable beyond Cleveland.

In fact, Cleveland Historical is the first instance of a broader project we’re calling Mobile Historical, which is essentially a mobile publishing platform that sits atop a lightly customized Omeka installation. We will soon open a second instance of what we are terming Mobile Historical in collaboration with initiative partner Larry Cebula at Eastern Washington University. We are exploring collaborations with several other partners to help us work out the technological kinks associated with extending the platform to multiple cities/institutions. We are seeking to make the cost of each new instance ridiculously cheap (seeking only to recover costs associated with labor, maintenance, and sustainability of the mobile client.) Toward this end, we have begun moving toward connecting with Omeka.net in conjunction with our lovely friends a CHNM, hopefully making it available as part of the Omeka.net ecosystem early next year. Also, as we do this, we’ll also be developing an open-source version, which is further down the line (time-wise.) But, first things first–extending the project to a couple other sites.

Interestingly, the most critical part of our work is not the digital, but the humanities. How do we create interpretive stories for mobile, in conjunction with multiple communities as works of scholarship, teaching, and public engagement? Curating cities and collections happens collaboratively. Our larger work seeks to create a vehicle for scholars, GLAMs, and communities themselves to take charge of cultural interpretation by giving them both tools AND an intellectual community of best practices and approaches. Building this community and these best practices are well underway in different mobile settings. Even so, extending, building, and sustaining dialogues mobile interpretation is as critical to what we’re about as is the technology.


1 comment

  1. Tad Suiter

    This sounds like an awesome project. I’m especially interested as an Ohioan myself– always glad to hear about cool projects going on in Ohio History, even if it is out in the Western Reserve.

    (I’m kind of sad that you edited out the strikethroughs, though, I kind of liked the feeling that you were writing all institutional names under erasure…)

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