May 282015

Just a reminder that our gracious hosts and colleagues at MSU have set up livestreaming for some of the #HASTAC2015 Conference sessions, including the plenary sessions.* The goal will be to livestream one session in each timeslot, creating a virtual conference atendee experience for those that cannot join in person.

The most up to date information on the timing and location of the streamed sessions will be here:

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May 272015

Interactive documentary

Millions of peopled died during World War II, but it's difficult to grasp what all the big numbers associated with the war mean. Neil Halloran explains in The Fallen of World War II, a hybrid between interactive visualization and documentary.

With the style in mind, it starts how you might expect, using a lot of icons and a few charts accompanied by a voiceover. But then it really gets into storytelling mode a few minutes in, focusing on casualties. Photographs lend a human connection to the otherwise stoic people icons. Transitions and zooming highlight various aspects of the war and are used effectively to keep you oriented in both the scale and individual events.

Explaining the big numbers

If you watch the interactive version on a computer, the video pauses around the 7-minute and 16-minute marks so that you can interact with the charts. The interaction doesn't go too deep. It's just tooltips that list events, but it's an interesting mechanism to provide you more details without explaining them orally.

Nice work. Be sure to watch through to the end.

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May 272015
I have an unusual education for the director of an art & history museum: a degree in electrical engineering. Engineering taught me to be a tinkerer, a builder, and a problem solver. It taught me that you can design a different future. That experiments are crucial. That you can make things instead of just talking about them.

I value my engineering education. But every once in a while, I look at my brilliant colleagues with liberal arts backgrounds and wonder what they know that I don't. A lot, I suspect.

I've been getting a taste of what I'm missing by devouring Diane Ragsdale's terrific series of blog posts about the course she is teaching on Approaching Beauty for business students at UW-Madison. Diane calls it "Beauty Class," but it really seems to be about aesthetic valuing: identifying beauty in its many forms, and developing a personal aesthetic sensibility.

The course is roughly split into two parts: defining beauty (both universally and relationally, through "big idea" texts, videos, museum visits, and artist lectures), and exploring beauty (through encounters in formal art contexts and the wider world). Start here, and get ready to spend a lot of time with each post. You'll burrow down rabbit holes of gorgeous videos, cerebral reading lists, and provocative artist talks.

I didn't know I was hungry for this until Diane shared it. I've filled some gaps in my cultural education through a career in museums: reading, looking, exploring, listening. But it's mostly just content. I can identify artworks by famous artists. I can tell a local story from 1849. I'm stacking up bricks of content knowledge. But that doesn't mean I know how to build a wall.

Diane's course is teaching me how to build a wall. How to identify beauty, how to disagree about it, how to be generous with it. 

It reminds me of higher-level math classes in college. The best courses were about manipulating numbers to generate meaning, not computation. We used the word "beautiful" to describe the best mathematical proofs. Diane is teaching me how, when, and why artists use the word.

While I'm grateful to Diane, I'm also surprised. Isn't it strange that I have spent years working with curators and artists, and I'm just encountering this now? Why don't we blog about it and talk about it and present conferences about it? I've experienced a smidge of it in dialogues about curatorial authority, cultural differences, and race. But there are less political conversations to have about it, too.

In week one, Diane shares a powerful video of choreographer Bill T. Jones "translating" a dance phrase to unlock its technical, narrative, and emotive power. Diane's course is for business majors. Perhaps we're most explicit about our values when forced to translate them for foreign ears. 

I fear we in museums are not translating and making our aesthetic values explicit enough, often enough. I know my education is sorely lacking, so maybe I'm just missing a body of shared knowledge that everyone else has. But I'm surprised how I'm amazed how often I've had conversations like this with museum colleagues:
Them: I love this piece.
Me: What do you love about it?
Them: [long pause followed by mumbling]
The same professionals who shy away from talking about aesthetic values are completely comfortable talking about aesthetics. We are constantly talking about aesthetics--commission this artist, change the lighting, move that painting, change this phrase--but rarely about the values that underlie them. 

Is it impolite or impolitic to share our aesthetic values? Too personal? Too subjective? Too elitist? Too hard?

What do you think?

If you are reading this via email and would like to share a comment or question, you can join the conversation here.
May 272015
You may be aware that some of the most famous documents in the world are currently on display at the British Library. One of those is Magna Carta (for good measure, we have no fewer than 6 of the medieval copies in our exhibition); others are the Petition of Right...
May 272015

My HASTAC project for the year has been to create a Wikipedia page for Robert Penn Warren’s little-known book Who Speaks for the Negro? In 1964, Warren travelled throughout the United States to interview a large number of men and women who participated in the Civil Rights Movement, both key figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and those little-known figures whose names might have been lost to history otherwise.

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 Posted by on May 27, 2015
May 272015

Flickr, Camille Rose

Ok. I’ve had a bit of feedback from folks. The issues seem to be:

  • audio doesn’t always load
  • locations don’t always trigger

Those are two big issues. I’m not entirely sure what to do about them. I just spun up a story that takes place around the quad here; I took the Ottawa Anomaly code and plugged in different coordinates. When I playtested from my computer, audio loaded up, which was good. But when I went downstairs and outside, to where I knew the first trigger to be: no audio. The ‘play audio’ function reported, ‘what audio?’ so I know the <> macro in the initialization passage didn’t load up.

I went to a second location; the geotrigger didn’t trigger. It kept reloading the previous geotrigger. Except – if I reloaded the entire story, then the new trigger’d trig. So am I dealing with a caching issue? Do I need to clear the latitude/longitude variables when the player moves on?

You can download the html and import it into the Twine2 interface. Answers on a postcard…

 Posted by on May 27, 2015
May 272015

#HASTAC2015 at MSU is quickly approaching! Whether you can make it or not, you can still join in the conversation and experience the conference via Twitter.

Just follow the hastag #HASTAC2015 or check out the conference feed, newly added to the HASTAC homepage.

It looks a little something like this:

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May 262015

Bus bunching

Maybe you've waited at a bus stop for longer than usual, and your bus finally shows up. And then, immediately after, a second bus on the same route pulls up right behind. What gives? Why can't they stay evenly spaced to improve everyone's waiting time? Lewis Lehe provides an explanation in a small interactive game.

Two buses travel along the same route, starting off in opposite positions. They make stops and pick up passengers right on schedule. But then add in your own small delays, and you see bunching relatively quickly. It really doesn't take much to throw off the equal spacing.

So the next time you find yourself in a bunching situation. Don't hate the driver. Hate the system.

See also Lehe's other interactive explainers on traffic gridlock and congestion. Lehe, by the way, is a PhD candidate in transportation engineering.

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