Category Archives: Reviews

Waco History App Review

The Waco History app and website is a product of two departments at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The site/app was created using Omeka and Curatescape, similar to the Cleveland Historical and Spokane Historical websites/apps. The Waco History project currently offers 11 different tours, ranging from as little as 4 stops to 26 stops per tour. 192 individual stories are featured as part of the project, some of which include images, audio, and embedded maps in addition to informational text. The main page on the website and app features an embedded map that spotlights the geographical location of each individual story. Users can interact and can opt to turn on location tracking while using the app. The website also contains a link to the Waco History podcast, a separate (but semi-related) project.

The tours featured on the Waco History project website do not contain much information about the facilitation of the tour — whether it’s a walking or driving tour, the approximate duration of the tour, or the length of the tour in miles. This is different from similar projects like Nashville Sites, which provide exceptionally detailed information about their tours. A quick review of  Waco History’s longest tour — African American History — suggests that the tours were not necessarily created with the aim of being walk-able, since this tour contains 26 stops (some of which are located outside of Waco proper and would not be within walking distance). The Waco History team did facilitate a Scavenger Hunt in August of 2021 that occurred in downtown Waco — an area that can be feasibly explored on foot. This appears to have been a stand-alone event, however, and while WH has been very forthcoming about the resources used to create the scavenger hunt, no permanent scavenger hunt activity lives on either the website or app.

Because of these observations, I believe the Waco History project has created tours from an exhibit or museum collection mindset. Related stories have been grouped together via the tour feature, but more work may be needed to make the tours more user friendly in the field around Waco. In their current state, the tours and individual stories serve as outstanding resources for researchers and individuals seeking to learn more about the history of Waco, but an evergreen scavenger hunt activity (or multiple activities created around different themes) could enhance the user experience.

Physical vs. Digital History: National Museum of the Marine Corps

For my comparative review, I chose to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia, a few minutes away from the Quantico Marine Base.

Analysis of the Physical Site

The exhibit galleries are laid out along a curved hallway, and while visitors are free to enter any gallery they’d like, the pathway implied by the design, the visitor’s map, and museum staff is to view exhibits in chronological order. (Starting with the American Revolution Gallery, then moving on to the World War I Gallery, etc.) Exploring the museum in this way drives home the overarching message the organization is trying to instill into visitors: The Marines have been a vital part of United States history since before its founding and in every important era since.

It should go without saying that the museum’s target audience is members of the Marine Corps – present, past, and future, along with any individuals who are connected to a Marine. However, the exhibits do a good job of appealing to visitors who have little or no affiliation with the Corps. The balance between explanatory information and content meant to draw on nostalgia or previous experiences is well done. Additionally, attempts have been made throughout the museum to include elements that would appeal to children and visitors who appreciate hands-on engagement. (Unfortunately many of these elements have been modified or closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) As a result, the types of visitors in the space during my visit included adult couples, families with small children, and small groups of adult friends.

Disabled interactive exhibit – “D.I. ‘Guidance'”

The exhibits in the museum included a variety of objects (weapons, military vehicles, uniforms, etc.), photos, videos, and interpretative text. The NMMC also did a good job of communicating content to visitors in the form of experiential learning: outlines on the floor indicated where a visitor should stand to put themselves in the shoes of a new recruit about to be processed. Other engaging elements included a pull-up bar visitors could utilize to compare their physical strength against that of a new Marine and a “You’re the D.I.” (drill instructor) experience that allows users to evaluate a trainees uniform. I did come across one docent in the museum. He was a docent-in-training who had served in the Corps. He was sitting on a chair making conversation with visitors who had questions or simply wanted to make conversation. He also used an iPad to show visitors relevant photos.

“You’re the D.I.” interactive exhibit

Overall, the exhibits in the Museum were really well done. The only glaring issue I noticed was that of sound pollution from other exhibits. Atmospheric sounds bleeding from one room to the next sometimes made it difficult to focus on the content I was trying to consume.

Analysis of the Digital Site

The website for the Marine Corps is the first result in a general Google search for “Maine Corps museum.” The themes present in the museum’s website are closely aligned with the ones communicated at its physical location. The museum continues its interpretation of U.S. history through the perspective of the Marines. The bulk of the site’s “Exhibits” tab are pages that directly correspond to existing exhibits in the museum. (Ex: The World War I Gallery corresponds with the page titled “World War I.”) These matching pages offer a few paragraphs of text that explain what on-site visitors can expect when they visit the museum alongside some photos of the exhibit itself or featured in the exhibit. There is one “Walking Tour” video posted on the “Legacy Walk” exhibit page, but its placement on the page is off-center and its size is small — it’s as if it’s not meant to be an important element of the page. As stand-alone representations, these pages get the job done of communicating the main interpretative them, but not as elegantly as the physical exhibits.

Screenshot of the “In the Highest Tradition” Online Exhibit

The “Exhibits” tab does contain one page titled “Online Articles & Exhibits” that features five articles and two digital exhibits. The first online exhibit “In the Highest Tradition” is hosted on the Google Arts & Culture platform. It leans heavily on narrative techniques, moving the user through a story chronologically. The entirety of the exhibit is featured on one page. Users enter the exhibit at the top of the page then scroll down to reach the end. The exhibit features only text and images, there are no interactive elements. The other digital exhibit, “A Tribute in Silver”, takes a very different approach. Focused on objects made of silver that communicated concepts of respect and triumph in the Marine Corps culture, this exhibit has very little narrative thread connecting the different artifacts and is primarily focused on the objects. A brief introduction paragraph is featured on the exhibits home page, but every other webpage consists of a main object, an interpretative caption about the object, photos of the object, and some other images related to the object. The list of objects is featured in its entirety on the left side of the screen, so users can select what object they’d like to view.

Screenshot of the “A Tribute in Silver” Online Exhibit

With such different styles, the messages these two exhibits are communicating to users seem to be in direct conflict with each other. One seems to emphasize the importance of  objects, the other emphasizes the importance of moving through history chronologically. Neither does as good of a job of placing users into the Marine experience the way that the physical site did. Additionally, neither online exhibit offers users the chance to directly interact with representatives of the museum (unlike the docent who was present in the physical galleries). While it’s unrealistic to expect someone to be available for in-real-time online conversation at all times, it would have been nice to see a “Contact Us” or “Feedback” button within the exhibits. (These buttons did exist on the NMMC website, but both exhibits were hosted on separate platforms.)

 

Comparing 3 Digital Tools

After working with Voyant, kepler.gl and Palladio, I feel like I have a better understanding of the kind of data that each tool works best with, some of the weaknesses of each tool, and how the tools can be used together. Voyant is meant to be used primarily with textual data. At the bare minimum, kepler.gl requires geographical coordinates. Palladio works to visualize relationships between different elements within a dataset or datasets and emphasizes the interconnectedness of those elements.

Shortly after completing the Voyant module, I learned about a research project involving the textual analysis of 16 of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels. Dr. Ian Lancashire used two different pieces of software (Concordance and Text Analysis Computing Tools) to analyze Christie’s writing and make observations about the author’s vocabulary size and how it changed throughout her career.  The results of the analysis led Lancashire and other researchers to theorize that Christie suffered from undiagnosed dementia at the tail end of her writing career. This example showcases the importance of textual analysis tools like Voyant; the ability to organize text in new and different ways allows researchers to view data from new perspectives and generate new questions and theories. A word of warning though – users of Voyant (and really any digital humanities tool) should still question any new patterns brought to light by the software.  For example, a quick analysis of Franz Kafka’s book The Metamorphosis in Voyant displays words like “father”, “sister”, “mother”, and “family” as some of the top words in the work. It wouldn’t be a crazy jump for someone who has never read the book to conclude based on this data alone that Kafka’s work is a touching tale about a man’s family. This scenario hits home that context matters, which is why Voyant has included a “Context” view.

Words that appear most frequently in Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis", not including stop words. Via Voyant and Project Gutenberg.
Words that appear most frequently in Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, not including stop words. Via Voyant and Project Gutenberg.

The overlap between Voyant and kepler.gl (and other GIS analysis tools) is clear: as long as a dataset contains text and geographical locations, both tools can be utilized. Take for example, the Authorial London project which maps locations in London referenced in literature. If a user wanted to analyze literary works by Charles Dickens, they could input his works into Voyant and analyze the texts that way. But GIS tools can provide a different perspective on the same set of information. Using Authorial London, a researcher can easily view a map of the locations Dickens references in his works, including the overlap in places he had personal connections to. The use of both textual analysis tools and GIS tools paints a fuller picture for researchers and provides new perspectives that previously would have been difficult to achieve. In my opinion, kepler.gl is superior to the software used in Authorial London because of the flexibility it provides its users, especially with the easy-to-manipulate filters and layers functions.

Palladio is unique in that, in addition to offering graphical visualizations of networks, it also offers a map visualization of the same dataset.  The map function of Palladio doesn’t seem to be its strongest feature, so it makes sense that if a researcher wanted to examine data from a network perspective as well as a geographical perspective, that researcher would utilize both Palladio and kepler.gl. For me, Palladio and the module about network analysis was the most challenging to wrap my mind around. It’s easier for me to see the value in network analysis when examining relationships between people and another element (other people, locations, events, topics, etc.). A great example of this is the Digital Yoknapatawpha project and the  visualizations included there analyzing the networks between characters in William Faulkner’s works and other elements in the author’s novels (locations, other characters, events). Examining relationships between non-individuals (as we did with the locations and interview topics in the WPA Alabama Slave Narratives exercise) muddies the waters for me a little bit, but perhaps things will become more clear with further exposure and practice. I was also very aware of some ease-of-use shortfalls concerning Palladio. Coming from kepler.gl which made it easy to color-code points on the visualization, options to do so were severely limited in Palladio.

Market Research & American Business, 1935-1965

Overview

URL: https://www.marketresearch.amdigital.co.uk/

Market Research & American Business, 1935-1965 offers keyword search, advanced search (title, company, industry, document type, etc.),  and search directories. The database does not appear to provide any information about the digitization process regarding its contents.

Facts

Date Range: 1935-1965

Publisher: Adam Matthew Digital, a SAGE Publishing company

Publisher About Page: https://www.amdigital.co.uk/about

Object type: Consumer research materials, reports, and advertisements that span more than 30 industries and spotlight multiple big-name brands.

Location of Original Materials: The Hagley Museum and Library, the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University, and the Advertising Archives.

Exportable Image: Images are available for PDF download.

Full Text Searchable: Full text searching is available for documents.

History / Provenance

Original Catalog: The MR&AB database is a combination of selected materials from the catalogs of three different institutions (the Hagley Museum and Library, the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University, and the Advertising Archives).

Original Sources: A collection of Ernest Dichter’s papers make up the bulk of the database.

Digitized from Microfilm: It does not appear that the materials were digitized from microfilm.

Reviews

Adam Matthew’s website about the MR&AB database contains three reviews: https://www.amdigital.co.uk/primary-sources/market-research-and-american-business-1935-1965

Access

WorldCat link: https://www.worldcat.org/title/market-research-american-business-1935-1965/oclc/890605705&referer=brief_results

Adam Matthew Digital does provide free four-week trials to teachers and certain staff of academic institutions: https://www.amdigital.co.uk/products/free-trials

Info from Publisher

Press release from SAGE Publishing in 2014: https://au.sagepub.com/en-gb/oce/press/american-consumer-culture-market-research-and-american-business-1935-1965

Contact Information:

info@amdigital.co.uk

Adam Matthew, Pelham House, London Road, Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 2AG, UK

By phone: +44 (1672) 511921

By fax: +44 (1672) 511663

Other Info

Market Research & American Business, 1935-1965 offers a variety of additional tools, including: teaching materials, business biographies, a page-by-page guide on using the database and conducting searches.

Citing

On the FAQ page of the database, MR&AB encourages researchers to cite items using the source archive holding the original material. The copyright notice included with each image should provide information about the origin source and other information necessary for proper citation.