Monday, January 18, 2010

Dance Dance Education

I feel like I have been pretty quiet about the whole Exhibit Design project I began writing about in early January, so I figured I would give an update. The title of this entry relates to my first class in Exhibit Design, where Bill Turkel asked us to think about some history appliances that we might construct to help people engage with history in their everyday life. The premise of a history appliance is an interesting one, which I recommend you read more about in the blogs Digital History Hacks and Old is the New New.

Anyways, the idea that Dana Johnson and I came up with is the Dance Dance Education machine (brought to you by the good folks at Dance Dance Revolution). The basic idea is a LCD dance floor that teaches users different dances. The floor would be paired with a wall-mounted LCD screen to show both instruction and demonstrations of the dances. Cameras in the room could capture the user's movements for playback, and could possibly even provide feedback on how to improve. The experience would of course be set to authentic music. What Dana and I really liked about this idea was that it would help conserve dance as intangible cultural heritage by maintaining the ability for people to learn the movements regardless of if a living being is available to teach them.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Interactive Exhibit Design class has been creating ideas like the one above; ways in which people can learn history in engaging, non-traditional ways. Some of my ideas have, for one reason or another, been unfeasible, but I think that some show real promise. These later ones I have posted on my Exhibit Design Website, and I welcome you to take a look. As always, feedback is encouraged.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Google SketchUp and Public History

Google SketchUp is a free 3D modeling software that allows the user to model physical objects on their computer. SketchUp works in conjunction with Google Earth through the 3D Buildings layer, and adds a further dimension for fans of Google Earth to explore. SketchUp is fun and relatively easy to use once you get hang of it.

3D modelling of built landscapes seems to be in the early stages of catching on, based on the number that currently appear in Google Earth (Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto are examples of Canadian cities with a good number of 3D building, whereas Montreal and Halifax seemed to have relatively few). In his 2003 article “Following in Rabelais’ Footsteps: Immersive History and the 3D Virtual Buildings Project”, John Bonnett explains that constructing 3D buildings is a promising way in which to engage the public with history. Today this is occurring in a number of ways, including through Google Earth Tours, which include worldwide virtual tours of cathedrals, castles and palaces, universities, rail stations, and buildings included on the United States' National Registry of Historic Places. Some 3D representations of heritage resources include information relating to the history of their construction and associated people and events. However, some of these suffer from the same issues of authority that plague Wikipedia, where writers include a pseudonym and do not have to include sources. Unlike Wikipedia however, if one were to find inaccurate information it is not a simple matter to correct the entry.

A surprising number of buildings in Alberta have been rendered in 3D by various contributors. Notably among them is a user named newfangled who has provided over 200, many in the Edmonton area. If historic buildings included a simple link to an authoritative site regarding the building’s history, the issue of authority might be addressed. Canadian sites that should be considered include (which includes site-specific information on nationally designated resources) or HeRMIS (which includes site-specific information on provincial designated resources in Alberta). An interesting public history project might be to focus on creating 3D models of buildings in areas with high concentrations of historic buildings, such as Calgary`s Stephen Avenue, or Edmonton`s Old Strathcona, and link the models to municipal Statements of Significance, which serve to explain the historical value of a resource.

To see my early ventures into the world of SketchUp, please see my Interactive Exhibit Design website.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Interactive Exhibit Design and New Website

The New Year has come and gone, and I am back at UWO working towards an MA in Public History. This semester I am continuing to explore the digital world in relation to public history through a course in interactive exhibit design, taught by Bill Turkel. Unlike a tradition graduate course in history, this class has no formal written component. Rather, it will be a series of projects that I design, program and fabricate, the process of which will be documented through a dedicated website I have created. Feel free to check the website often and see my progress, and I hope to provide brief updates using this blog and Twitter. As always, I encourage whatever comments and advice readers might have.