Thursday, November 8, 2012

Following the Presidential Race from Afar . . .

I'm sure everybody's news outlet - be it social media, television, radio, newspaper - is filled with post-election analysis.  But rather than a long treatise on who won, what passed, popular vote vs. electoral college, or the reasons behind the results - I thought I would offer my perspective on participating in an U.S presidential election from a foreign country.

The Campaign
I don't know how many times Doug and I expressed our relief to be in Canada during the entire campaign.  It was such a pleasant experience.  The news media covered the presidential candidates (even during the Republican primary) enough that I knew what was going on without feeling like that was the only thing going on in the world.  We didn't have to deal with political ads (unless we watched the Detroit or Cleveland stations), there were no phone calls or junk mail.  I felt informed without being inundated.  I searched online to educate myself about the Michigan proposals we would be voting on, but even some of that was covered by CBC.  We didn't have to suffer through that disgusted phase you reach in September, where you feel like if you hear one more muck-slinging, truth-twisting, overly serious political ad you'll scream.  It was great!

The Absentee Ballot
The absentee ballot process was pretty simple.  Doug and I registered at the township hall, they sent us some paperwork to fill out, we returned it, and voilà - ballot appears in the mailbox (notice that I said ballot - singular - the one downside: Doug's ballot got lost in the mail and by the time we realized it was too late to have another one sent and get it back in time.)  I sat down and started by filling in all the bubbles I was sure about.  There were the usual suspects I didn't know anything about (how do I know who should sit on the Board of Michigan State University - how do you even educate yourself about that?  I tried using the internet, but had little success.)  I immediately sent it back in, feeling all stars-and-stripes-and-fireworks when I was done. 

My ballot

I thought it would be a relief come election day that I wasn't stuck in long lines to cast my ballot, and to some extent it was.  All day on Tuesday I followed my friends on Facebook and Twitter talking about the lines at their polling place.  But the awesome part is people were more happy than frustrated there were lines.  There was so much positive support (at least among the people I follow) about how many people were getting out to vote, there were very few complaints!  After awhile I started to feel a bit like I was missing out on the experience and excitement that is part of casting your vote on election day at your local polling place.  I'm not saying I would be convinced to drive for two hours to stand in line for an hour to cast my vote, but I would count it as a slight downside to the absentee ballot.

Photo my friend Erin took of her polling station in Michigan.

The Threats to Move
If you're from the United States, at one point or another you've heard someone say they're going to move to Canada if things don't go their way (things being an election, the economy, the draft, etc.)  We've all heard it, maybe some have even said it.  The conversation goes a little something like this:

xkcd cartoon

Personally I don't take most of these claims seriously.  I tried to explain it to a few of my friends here when, after Obamacare wasn't repealed, people were threatening to move to Canada (which is hilarious for a whole different set of reasons...)  Here's my theory on why Canada is the go-to escape: 
  • The language is the same (at least in most parts of the country) 
  • It's not that far away 
  • It's been done in the past (draft dodging) 
  • Since there's little to no coverage of Canadian politics in the U.S. you can just assume that Canadians would agree with whatever political leanings you have (because their all so polite - right?) 
The point is, the idea of moving to Canada (or Australia, as I've read is another popular option) when you're disappointed in the U.S. is not a new concept.  So why so much media attention?  (see this, this, this, and here, just for examples)  My theory is that now something you would say among like-minded friends, is something that you Tweet or post on your Facebook wall for the whole world to see.  It's now something tangible that can be counted and recorded (or laughed about at a later date.)

The Results
Just kidding - I promised this wouldn't turn into a political rant or rave about who won and what passed!  If you're curious about my political leanings, I fall into the same category as my father who once told me, "In a room full of liberals I feel like a conservative, and in a room full of conservatives I feel like a liberal."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Old East Village Commerical Corridor

This past winter semester I was busy with the War of 1812 smartphone app and interactive exhibit design projects, both of which I discussed at length on this blog.  For the public history program I had to choose a third course to fullfill my requirements.  The program is pretty flexible with electives, and many of my classmates took courses outside the history department such as "Principles in Applied Archeology" or "Land Claims and Primary Historical Research."  After exploring some of my options - both within and outside of the history department - I couldn't decide which course to take, nothing had really captured my attention.  That's when I started to look into developing my own course with an independent study.

The previous semester I had done some mapping using ArcGIS and enjoyed it more than I had anticipated.  I looked into taking a GIS course in the Geography departments, but I had some inside information that because of a change in TAs from the previous year it might not have as much of a historical bent as in the past.  So I decided to approach a couple of people I knew in the Geography department (see, it's all about knowing the right people...) about being an instructor for an independent study.  I asked the rest of the Public History crew if they were interested in joining me.  That's how Douglas McGlynn and I ended up spending our winter semester researching the historic commercial buildings of Old East Village in London, Ontario.

Building upon and updating some research that had been conducted a few years ago in the Geography department, Douglas and I used ArcGIS Online to create an interactive map that describes the architectural changes that took place over time to the commercial corridor of Old East Village.  Using city directories, fire insurance plans, historic and modern photographs we tracked how these buildings changed over time, not only in looks but in use as well.

If you would like to learn a bit more about it, head over Old East Village Commercial Corridor project website!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Movin' Out

These past few months have certainly been devoid of frequent blog posts, and for those of you who check regularly, I apologize.  It has turned out to be a much busier summer than I anticipated.  Between my internship, job hunting, vacationing, and 1812 events - time seems to be flying by.  Along with all these things, Doug and I moved into a new apartment in June. 

When we first moved to London, we rented a house from a family who was spending a year in the States.  They were friends of Doug's supervisor who put us in touch with them as possible tenants.  We really lucked out with our living accommodations for our first year in Canada, and knew it was going to be a hard act to follow.  Fortunately, this past year gave us a chance to learn the city and get an idea of which neighbourhoods we might want to live in. 

We had been living in what's known as "Old North."  This part of London was an ideal location for us, as it was easy walking distance to both campus and downtown.  We were also close to public transportation, which made it a nice commute during inclement weather.  We also liked that even though we were living in the city, we still had a 'neighbourhood' feel and could easily go out for a walk/run/bike ride.  In fact we found ourselves only using our car once or twice a week - mostly to get out to Fanshawe Pioneer Village for my research assistantship (since unfortunately, the bus system doesn't reach there) or to pick up groceries. 

There were a few things we looked for in a new place:
  • Neighbourhood - Although we are both currently attend Western (though the end is near for me!), we aren't what you would call 'typical' college students, and so wanted to avoid any apartments or houses that were in the concentrated student area.  (Nothing against college students - we both enjoyed our undergrad years, we're just an old married couple now and intend to live as such!)  We wanted to be in a nice neighbourhood in London, conducive to evening walks and Saturday afternoon bicycle rides.

Accessibility - We have also both come to enjoy leaving our car at home on most days (although with my current internship I'm driving more, but I hope to go back to the walking/biking/busing commute come fall) so an accessible location was important to us.  After a year, we know what parts of town we frequent so easy routes to these places was important.
  • Size - We have learned that for us one of the keys to a happy marriage is our own space.  So we really wanted a two-bedroom place.  Plus, with comprehensive exams coming up for Doug, and job hunting in my future (well, it's in my present too...) a home office was something we really wanted this time around.  Sometimes you just need a door to close....

  • Character - London is filled with great heritage homes and apartment buildings.  Though this was definitely a 'want' and not a 'need', we did look for a place that had some character or history to it.  We both hate moving, so wanted to find an apartment we could settle into for our next three or four years in London, so it had to be someplace we liked.

  • Management - Do enough apartment hunting, and you'll start to get a feel for the type of people/company you want to rent from.  We have really been spoiled with the places we have lived.  Both the on-site manager in our Michigan apartment, and the family we rented from our first year in London were great.  We wanted someone we felt comfortable with, and would make for a good living situation.
  • Budget - Did I mention that we're both currently grad students, and I don't yet have a job lined up following graduation?  So, yea - the price had to be right.

After a bit of a search, we finally found an apartment that we fell in love with.  We have relocated to 'Old South' London in an area situated between the Wortley Village and SoHo neighbourhoods.  The apartments were built in the 1940s and still retain a lot of the character from the time.  We have great hardwood floors and crown moulding.  (It also means we have a lot of quirks of old buildings, including windows that tend to stick in the humidity and no outlets in the bathroom.)  Overall, the pros definitely outweigh the cons and we love our new place.  We are still learning our new neighbourhood, since previously we had spend most of our time in North London, but so far we really like it.  We're walking distance from down town and have easy access to bike trails.  Plus, there is a bus stop with a line that leads directly to Western just outside our door - which is ideal for Doug.

At this point we are pretty much settled, with only a few purchases left on our apartment 'wish list' but it's getting there.  Visitors are always welcome!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mentors, Meals, and Meeting People - NCPH 2012

This is the final post in a series about my experience at the OAH/NCPH 2012 Annual Meeting.  I started out talking about some of the more "traditional" sessions I attended at the meeting and then highlighted a couple of the "non-traditional" sessions that I found particularly enjoyable.  However, by far the most invaluable part of the trip to Milwaukee and attending NCPH 2012 was making connections with so many different people in the field.  

This brings me to the single piece of advice I would offer to any grad student or new professional planning on attending a conference - especially a large one for your field.  Take advantage of every opportunity offered to meet new people and have a new experience.

The first opportunity for me, was to sign up to be a volunteer at registration for the conference.  Grad students could volunteer and have our registration fee waived (so a great way to save money as well!)  Laura and I were assigned the unenviable time slot of 7:45  - 11:30am of the first day of the conference.  As much as it pained us to get out of bed so early, after such a long drive the day before, what previously seemed like a necessary evil to save some money turned out to be one of the best experiences during the conference.  Greeting members of both NCPH and OAH as they arrived, I had a chance to introduce myself, make contacts, and put names with faces of people that I wanted to hear speak.  It turned out to be a great opener when talking with people later in the conference, "Didn't I meet you at check-in?" and even resulted in some consulting work for me!

Mentor/Mentee Program
NCPH provides grad students and new professionals attending NCPH annual meetings for the first time an opportunity to connect with conference veterans through the mentorship program.  I signed up, and was paired with Mary Rizzo, Associate Director for the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.  We exchanged a few emails leading up to the conference, and then planned to meet at the opening reception the first day of the conference.  Mary was enthusiastic and easy to talk to, and introduced me to several other people at the reception.  We talked a bit about how we each got into public history, our roles in NCPH, and Philadelphia (we both love the city!)  I felt fortunate to have such a great pairing in the Mentor Program, because Mary had just as many questions for me as a new member of NCPH (she is a board member) as I had for her, a veteran in the field.  It made me feel that NCPH is concerned with meeting the needs of its members (which can be tricky for such as diverse field.) 

Women in the Historical Profession Luncheon
The conference offered many opportunities specifically for grad students, and one was free tickets (on a first come, first serve basis) the the Women in the Historical Profession luncheon.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity to network (and - let's be honest - get a free meal) Adriana, Laura, and I signed up.  This event was hosted by an Organization of American Historians (OAH) committee (it was a joint OAH/NCPH meeting.)  This was a change of pace for us, as most of the functions we had been attending were geared toward NCPH members (though some were for both organizations, like the opening reception.)  The three of us found ourselves at a lunch table with professors, authors, and traditional history PhD students.  I had a nice chat with a professor next to me about the UWO Public History program and what I planned on doing once I finished with my MA.  While it was a good opportunity to talk with people at the conference I likely wouldn't have otherwise met, it was also a bit of a reminder of why I am in public history as opposed to more 'traditional' history.

Overall, the conference was an amazing experience, and this was mostly a result of the people I listened to/talked with/met while I was in Milwaukee (as well as the fabulous people I traveled to the meeting with!)  It gave me a feel for what I dynamic organization NCPH is, and that is because of the diverse membership.  This was a wonderful opportunity, and I would recommend attending an annual meeting to anyone in the public history field.

Come to Ottawa in April for NCPH 2013!  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pathway to the Past - Route 1812

You can put the app on
your mobile device right now!
If you can "get your kicks on Route 66" you can get your history (as well as hotels and food) on Route 1812!  Yes, the mobile app for which my public history class spent all year researching content, is finally available, and it's free!  People have been asking me how they can access the app, and there are a couple ways.  

First, if you have a touch-screen device (any device - Apple, Android, Blackberry - doesn't matter) you can scan the QR code here, and it will take you to the app website.  From there you can put it right on your device.  (If you don't have a QR code scanner app on your mobile device, you can usually download one for free - it's a pretty handy thing to have since QR codes are becoming so popular.)

If you don't have a touch screen device, you can still access the app using a computer.  The app is available online here.  The website will only work if opened in a Google Chrome browser.  (If you need to put Chrome on your computer - you can do that here.)

Article in the Amherstburg Echo
announcing Windsor launch.
I recently wrote a wrap-up of our year-long Public History project, and I mentioned there how the scope of the project had evolved during that process.  The app now encompasses the entire Southwest Ontario region, and includes War of 1812 sites, other tourist attractions, as well as hotels and restaurants for those travelling the Route.  

Our class was still only responsible for the content of the 22 sites we were originally assigned.  So as you go through the app, you can find our research primarily on the sites between Windsor and London (the little black top hats.) The stellar Prelude to War section written by Adriana can be found under the Introduction tab of the app, as well as Sushima's amazing wrap-up, The Aftermath, in the Conclusion portion.  There is also a list of everyone who assisted us through our research and collaborative process (and it is a lengthy one) in the Tecumseh Parkway Development of the Acknowledgements section.

There has been a bit of press surrounding the launch of Route 1812, with events this past weekend in both Windsor and Hamilton.  I was able to attend both, and they were quite different experiences.  

Article in The Windsor Star about
the Windsor launch.
Saturday evening was the Windsor launch.  This event was held at the Mackenzie Hall Cultural Centre.  It opened with hors d'oevres, featuring specially labelled 1812 wine and a blueberry "cannonball" jam.   The official Essex County War of 1812 Commemoration Declaration was read, followed by speakers Kyra Knapp, 1812 Bicentennial Southwest Ontario Region; Jim Hudson, Southwest Ontario Tourism Corporation; Mike Dove, Western University; and Steve McBride, Weever Apps.  As Steve was walking the audience through the app, he also asked me to talk a bit about the sources we used during our research, and how we obtained all the images and audio found on our sites.  Even after the "official" event was finished, I lingered quite awhile speaking with some of the attendees.  We were thrilled to talk to the grade 7 teacher who planned to have her students access the app on their smartphones in class on Monday.  This was just one of the many ways we had envisioned our original app being used!  It was a nice opportunity to finally meet some of the other collaborators face to face, as well as catch up with my classmates who are all busy with internships this summer.  

The Sunday afternoon event in Hamilton has a slightly different feel to it.  Downtown Hamilton was busy with people since it was also an Open Streets day, and the road was closed to car traffic.  There was a VIP reception prior to the official launch, with more 1812 wine and ice cream.  We also had the opportunity to preview the new documentary series by the Ontario Visual Heritage Project, A Desert Between Us and Them.  I'm looking forward to seeing the finished project, which will officially launch next year.  The official Route 1812 launch ceremony took place in the lobby of the Tourism Hamilton Visitor Centre, and there were numerous speakers representing the many organizations and municipalities that collaborated on the project.  I would list them all here - but honestly I can't remember them all!  It concluded in similar style, with Steve, of Weever Apps, demonstrating to the attendees how to navigate the app on an iPad.  Perhaps it was because this event was larger, or due to the fact there was so much else going on around it, but I felt less "a part" of this event than I had Saturday evening.  Still, it was a pleasant afternoon of visiting with classmates and catching up.
Featured in an 1812 Special Section
of the Windsor Star.
The Amherstburg Echo, The Windsor Star, and the Southwestern Ontario Tourism Corporation have all run articles about the app.  It's interesting to see how each organization involved highlights different aspects of Route 1812.  Some tout the boost in tourism it could bring to the area, others delight in the merging of history and technology, but most seem to recognize that the whole project would not have been possible without the hard work and collaboration of many different people.

I was also interviewed for the CBC Windsor radio show The Bridge to talk about our role in developing the content for the app!  They weren't sure when I recorded the interview when it was going to air, and by the time I got the notice I had already missed hearing it!  Oh well, is probably for the best - as I don't care for the way my voice sounds recorded (chalk it up to my nasal mid-western accent...)  However, I did screen-capture the tweet mentioning the segment about our app.

Radio spot on CBC Windsor, The Bridge.
If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, I will likely be updating any more Route 1812 related news I find.  It's rewarding to see all of our hard work finally reaching the public!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Speed Networking, Poster Session, and a Tour of Tavern Culture - NCPH 2012

Previously I wrote about some of the more "traditional" sessions I attended at the OAH/NCPH Annual Meeting.  But of the coolest things about NCPH 2012 is the number of "non-traditional" sessions that they offer.  This can be anything from ThatCamp, to working groups, to local tours.  I had the opportunity to attend and participate in a few of these sessions, and I found that they really enriched my annual meeting experience.
Speed Networking
Since I first read about NCPH 2012, I knew I wanted to participate in the Speed Networking session.  Though it was free to attend (some workshops/tours have an additional cost at the meeting) spaces were limited, so I signed up for my spot as soon as I registered.  As described in the meeting program, this session was a professional twist on "speed dating."  There were about 35 experts representing various public history fields, such as museums, historic sites, historic preservation, government, education, and consulting.  Each of the experts was seated at a small table with their name, position, and institution listed.  The grad students or new professionals participating could chose someone to sit with, and we had fifteen minutes to introduce ourselves, ask questions, exchange ideas, whatever was on our mind as people entering the public history field.  We had five of these fifteen minute sessions, and were encouraged to talk to people in several different areas.

I came to the session armed with a stack of business cards, and a handful of questions in my mind.  I was experiencing an equal mix of excitement and nervousness, but fortunately I'm outgoing enough that I was confident I could keep a conversation going for at least fifteen minutes!  I was surprised by the differences between each of the meetings I had.  Some of the experts asked me a lot of questions, and I found myself spending the whole time talking about the 1812 smartphone app or my interactive exhibit design project.  Some only needed one question about their current position to launch into a detailed step-by-step description of how to get a job with the U.S. government.  Most everyone was helpful, I made a few connections which I anticipate keeping up in the future, and still am in contact with some via social media. I was also pleasantly surprised with the round about way that many of the people I spoke with had ended up in public history.  My career and educational path has been similar to that, and as such I find myself a bit older than the average grad student, but it was good to know there are others who have been successful with a similar path.

While it was a bit of an overwhelming experience - especially for the first day of a meeting I was attending for the first time - it was nice that it took place early, I was able to reinforce the connections I made throughout the rest of the conference.  I also hope to be a participant on the "other side" of the table someday and pay it forward to future public historians.

Poster Session
The Saturday afternoon poster session and reception was culmination of my NCPH 2012 experience.  It was our third day of the conference, and I felt comfortable and confident about discussing our project, with a healthy dose of excitement and nerves mixed in.  As a first-time presenter at NCPH, I appreciated the less formal nature of the poster session, and it helped to have Adriana and Laura by my side.

We arrived early to set-up, filled with enthusiasm from the session we had just left about commemorating the War of 1812.  We knew that there were some people at the conference looking forward to talking to us about our project, as they had already sought us out at previous receptions.  Just minutes after putting up our poster and setting up the table, people started milling around the exhibit area and asking questions (even though the session didn't start for another 30 minutes.)  Some of the most common things I discussed were the difference between how Canada was commemorating the War of 1812 versus the United States, what we were doing to tie this project into other regional tours and events on both sides of the border, what our role was in the technical side of project, and when it would be available to the public.  I also found myself talking a lot about the perspective I brought to the group as the only American working on the project.

I was amazed at how quickly the session flew by.  I took a brief break to walk around and look at some of the other posters, and chat about other projects (we were next to a really interesting project about cemeteries.)  But I could hardly believe it when I checked my watch and we had less than a half an hour left.  

Looking back on the experience I would encourage anyone who is interested in presenting at the NCPH annual meeting, but a bit overwhelmed by the traditional sessions, to consider submitting a poster proposal.  It was much a sharing of ideas and experiences as a presentation of them.  I got quite a bit out of the session from comments and suggestions that people had.  It would also be a great format for a project in progress if you are looking to get some feedback from the public history community.  I am extremely glad I participated.

Riverwest Grad Student Tour of Tavern Culture
Along with the sessions in the conference centre, NCPH 2012 also offered a variety of tours for participants to experience the culture and history of Milwaukee.  Many of these tours do have an additional cost (transportation or admission fees) but they offer a unique venue for exploring the city where the conference takes place. (Check out Krista McCracken's post about Milwaukee's built heritage!)

We decided to spring for this tour which was geared toward graduate students.  It was an opportunity not only to explore a historic district of Milwaukee, but also to mingle and network with other history and public history grad students in a more relaxed atmosphere.

We left from the Frontier Airlines Center on a bus and drove to The Polish Falcon in the Riverwest neighbourhood.  Settled in the mid-19th century primarily by wealthy German immigrants, Milwaukee's Riverwest neighbourhood was home to a sizeable Polish American community by the end of the century, and later a large Puerto Rican community as well.  Located just across the river from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Riverwest is now home to many students and young families. 

Once we arrived at The Polish Falcon, we enjoyed some time to mingle and were provided a fabulous meal by Cafe Corazon, a local restaurant.  Following dinner, we enjoyed a spirited discussion of the pros and cons of reenactors at history museums (yep - you read that correctly...) and then continued our tour  to The Public House.

The Riverwest Public House Cooperative, one of the only two cooperative bars in the United States, opened in March 2011.  In addition to hosting concerts, fundraisers, and other entertainment, the Public House is a frequent host to the socials and meetings of area labour unions, teachers' organizations, and other activists.  This evening, the entertainment included folk music and poetry.

Our final stop was the Art Bar (at least, that was the last stop for Laura, Adriana, and I - who knows if others continued the tour!)  This unique Riverwest location is not only known for its eclectic décor, but also for being a place for local artists to meet and display work.  As a business, they are also very involved in the community.

There were two things I enjoyed about this tour.  I had the opportunity to experience a Milwaukee neighbourhood with a rich history and culture, that without the tour I probably wouldn't have felt comfortable exploring on my own.  But with the UW-Milwaukee grad students, it was like experiencing it with locals.  It also was a great chance to visit and network with other OAH/NCPH  grad students.  I made several connections that I have kept up since leaving the conference!

I'll be reviewing this particular tour in more detail in and upcoming issue of The Public Historian.  

Stay tuned for my final NCPH 2012 instalment, when I talk about my experiences outside the usual sessions and tours!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome - Living with a Thief

For the most part, I try to keep this blog about pubic history, grad school, living in Canada, stuff like that.  But seeing how May is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) awareness month, I thought I would share something a little more personal.  

I've been thinking a lot recently about what it's like living with EDS, and even though Doug is the one with the genetic disorder, as his wife (and by extension, sometimes caregiver) I too live with EDS.

For those of you that aren't familiar with EDS - and most people aren't - it is a genetic connective tissue disorder.  There are four types of EDS, with type IV (vascular) being the most rare and severe.

Doug has type IV.   

People with type IV have blood vessels that are fragile and prone to tearing which often leads to aneurisms, strokes, and organ failure.  There is no cure and the only treatment is a healthy lifestyle, daily vitamins, and trying to avoid "risky situations." (By risky situations I mean contact sports, roller coasters and sky diving.)

Living with EDS is a bit like living with a thief.

In the beginning, before you have a diagnosis - when you're just the guy who always has shoulders that dislocate easily and seem to be prone to headaches - little things get stolen from you.  At first when these things are small - such as when shoulder surgery at the age of 15 ends your days on the school baseball team and you start to umpire instead - you suspect that perhaps you are just misplacing them and don't think anything of it.  You adapt, go on without them.

But then the thief takes something big.  You're sitting in class and one side of your body goes numb and your eyesight gets blurry.  It's terrifying.  A trip to the hospital and several tests later - after your symptoms start to subside - you're sent home with the diagnosis of a "complex-migraine."  It's akin to your house being broken into, calling the police, but the detective says there are no clues, so he can't catch the guy.  You just kind of live in fear.

Maybe for awhile things are fine.  You've been living with the joint problems, so you've adapted, you can relocate a shoulder like no one's business.  You even chalk the other episode up to college stress.  Things are fine now.

Then one day the thief strikes again, big time now.  Pretty much clears out your house.  Thank goodness this time you're fortunate to have a detective with-it enough to find the very tiny clues left behind.

There's a pain in your leg so severe, at the age of 27 you seriously consider a cane to get from your car to the classroom.  At the two week follow-up appointment for your "pinched nerve" the physicians assistant can't find a strong pulse in your lower leg, so you get sent for a doppler ultrasound.  During the ultrasound the nurses go quiet, and within two hours you are getting a CT scan and being prepped for surgery.  Something is seriously wrong.  But then the cardiovascular surgeon looks at your scans and notices an anomaly.  Rather than operate - which could be life-threatening for someone with vascular EDS - he waits and refers you to the Mayo Clinic.  Thank God this surgeon thought to look for zebras. (The symbol for EDS is the zebra, because as the saying goes, "when you hear hoof-beats you never think to look for a zebra." EDS often goes un- or mis-diagnosed.)

Several trip to the Mayo Clinic and a whole team of fancy doctors later, and your geneticist confirms the diagnosis of vascular ehlers-danlos syndrome.  Your given all the information they have on the disorder (which isn't much, you found all that info researching EDS on the internet), some genetic counseling, and told that you should come back once a year to have your cardiovascular system monitored.  The geneticist is great, but there really isn't anything else he can tell you to do.  You're body will heal itself as best it can (as it did with the stroke that you had three years earlier, that went undiagnosed) and you can be as active as your pain levels will allow you.

So now you know the thief is in the house, but you have educated yourself so you think you can live with it.

Then something else goes missing and you just get really angry.  How do you cope with a disorder that you can't even fight?!  They say the best offense is a good defense.  But how much safer do you really feel with a thief in your house when all you can do about it is constantly take an inventory of your stuff and wait for the next item to go missing?

Will it be something small?  Like recognizing that you can't play soccer or hockey anymore, because even if you keep the contact to a minimum your body aches for days afterwards?  Or will it be something big?  Like getting a call from your husband in the middle of the afternoon because he can't see?  And just when you think you've come to terms with EDS, something else happens and throws you for a loop.

So you sit and wait.  Some days are good.  You enjoy all the things that you can do - ride your bike, play golf, and generally enjoy a high quality of life.  Some days are not so good.  Like when you try to explain to people that even though you look like a perfectly healthy 29 year old, you actually live your life in almost constant pain.

EDS is a thief in your house, and even when everything seems fine and you can't see him, you know in the back of your mind eventually something else will be gone.

To learn more about EDS, visit the Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation website.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Group Project - War of 1812 Smart Phone App

(Note: I started this blog post on April 24, the day we handed in our final project, as per usual life got in the way, and as a result I have just now finished it!)

This morning, I handed over the final draft of our public history group project.  A good portion of our time this academic year has been devoted to the development of content for a War of 1812 Historical and Commemorative Smart Phone App.  This project has certainly been a learning experience, and not just about local history related to the War of 1812.

A little background about the project:  We partnered with the War of 1812 South Western Ontario Region, Tecumseh Parkway Committee, and Western Corridor Alliance to produce a regional smart phone app.  Our portion was to provide the historical content about Procter's retreat from Fort Amherstburg in the fall of 1813.  This included researching 22 sites from Amherstburg/Windsor area to London relating to this campaign which culminated in the Battle of the Thames where Tecumseh was killed.  To make the project a bit easier to manage, we were divided into four groups of three, and each group was given a selection of geographically close sites.  (My group had all the sites in the Amherstburg/Windsor area.)

Tour of 1812 Sites
We started by taking a bus tour of most of the sites last fall.  We were accompanied by representatives from South West Ontario and Tecumseh Parkway, to give us some background on the area and the 1812 sites (as much of this was new to us.) We learned how after the Battle of Lake Erie, the armaments from Fort Amherstburg (present-day Fort Malden) were used to outfit the HMS Detroit, leaving British General Procter low on supplies and with little choice but to retreat from the approaching Americans lead by General  Harrison and Commodore Perry.  The leaders of the First Nations alliance, most notably the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, did not wish to retreat.  However, retreat they did, up the Thames River, until the two sides met on October 5, 1813 at the Battle of the Thames, just two miles outside of Fairfield.

It was a significant victory for the Americans, seeking revenge for what they considered the River Raisin Massacre.  It was also quite a blow to the First Nations - whose leader Tecumseh was killed during battle - and the British.  General Procter found himself court-martialed the next year as result of the retreat and the battle, effectively ending his military career.  (This has been your cliff-notes version of Procter's Retreat...)

Once the groups were decided and sites assigned, we commenced our secondary source research.  Books such as Glenn Stott's Greater Evils: War of 1812 in Southwestern OntarioSandy Antal's A Wampum Denied, and George Sheppard's Plunder, Profit, and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada were passed around the office, and each small group hunted for resources pertaining to their particular sites.  

We started to visualize what we wanted the app to look like, and how we hoped people would use it.  Grand visions of interactive time-lines, moving maps, and fancy interfaces left many of us feeling overwhelmed and in over our heads at first.  As we started to scale back and just concentrate on our content - developing an interpretive plan, and coming up with a narrative - the project started to seem more manageable.

After turning in our secondary source research report, we had an opportunity to talk with the company we were told would probably be handling the technical side of the app.  We had been contracted for content, they were taking the content and creating the actual app.  Reality set in as restrictions on images, audio, and video became a reality.  But at least now we had a framework we could work in.

Image from Windsor Community Museum
Following the winter break it was time for primary source research.  My group made plans in January for a trip back to Amherstburg and Windsor to spend the day at the Windsor Community Museum, as well as visiting the sites we hadn't had time to stop at on our first tour.  The visit to the museum was extremely helpful in acquiring many of the images that were ultimately used in the app.  We also spent many afternoons going over the resources at Western's Archive and Research Collections Centre, and hours pouring over digitized documents and images from Library and Archives Canada, National Archives and Records Administration, and the Library of Congress.

We turned in our carefully detailed primary source research reports, and it was time to start writing.  Hours of research now had to be summed up into 300 word text boxes with images and audio.  For some of us, keeping it short, sweet, and to the point was not easy.  We had to discuss with others what they were writing as well, to make sure not to waste precious words repeating ourselves.  Along with the 22 sites, we had also decided to address some of the themes we found reoccurring throughout the research, such as farming, transportation, and family participation during the War of 1812.  It was also necessary to provide an introduction, not only to the war, but also to Battle of Lake Erie to put the retreat in to context (as it is all about context...), and have a conclusion to the retreat and the war itself.  
Mock-Screen Shot for First Draft

Once assembled, this first draft needed to be edited.  We were taking content  about 29 different sites and themes, authored by 12 different people, and making it into one cohesive narrative.  That was a very long weekend for the group leaders and editors...

During the time between the first and second drafts were were thrown a curve-ball.  The partners had contracted an entirely different company to create the app.  The technical framework with which we had been working was going to change.  Work temporarily paused, and we knew that new specification from this company could change some of our plans.  How many images would there be per site?  What were the format requirement for the audio and video?  Was there a limit on the number of sites?  These were all important questions we had to address before we could start ordering digital copies of our images, paying for the rights to use them, and record our audio.

After a Skype call between our team, the partners, and Weever (the app company) we were all - for the most part - on the same page, and we kept working toward a final draft.  Weever was eager to start adding content as they were planning on a launch date in May, but we were still waiting for feedback from the partners on our second draft.  I had been serving as a large group facilitator, and I lost track of the number of email sent with images and audio.
Final Draft PowerPoint

Finally, I sent the last of the content to Weever, and gave Professor Mike Dove a hard copy of our final draft, along with a final budget and permissions for all of our images, audio, and video.  It is hard to express the relief that followed.  

There have been a few changes since turning in our final draft.  We were sent a temporary link to the app in progress, which I opened to discover our sites had been combined with dozens more in the south west Ontario region.  It had been decided rather than to do several small regional apps, to just do one large app.  This meant that while our narrative was still there, it was a bit lost among all the other sites.  There were also some edits that needed to be made to the content, and missing captions (which provided information about where we got our content - which was sometimes a condition of permission to use it.)  These issues are being addressed, and I look forward to having a final product I can proudly show to prospective employers when I start interviewing for a job this fall.

Like I said at the beginning, this whole process has been a learning experience.  Those of you who know me, know that I take great pride in my work, and like to have control over the process (that may be what lead me to the role of large group facilitator...) as well as the final product.  I had to keep reminding myself, especially toward the end of the project, that we were just providing the content.  It isn't solely our app, we were contracted to work on it.  

This also became part of one of the biggest lessons I learned about graduate school - it isn't always about the product, sometimes it's about the process.  Is this project what I envisioned it would be when we started? No, not even really close.  Did I learn a lot in the process?  Absolutely.  I researched in archives, made contacts with local historians, sought permission to use images, work on maintaining a project budget, wrote historical text for public consumption, leaned how to be flexible in a contract position, lead group meetings, and with my small group presented our project at a national conference.  So regardless if the end product is what I thought it would be, it was certainly a successful one!

Stay tuned for the Route 1812 app!  As soon as the final app is available I will be sure to let my faithful readers know!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Interpretation, Commemoration, and the Future of History Museums - NCPH 2012

My original intention was to spend each evening at the conference in Milwaukee blogging about that days experience - what I was learning, and who I had met.  Little did I know that days filled with sessions and tours, and evenings busy networking and socializing would leave very little time for sleep - let alone blogging!  Since returning home life has been busy as well - the end of the semester, starting an internship, planning for a move - but there is still much I want to discuss about the NCPH conference.  Better late than never!

I intend to break my discussion into three posts, with the hope that none of them will be too long.  This is because I feel there were different aspects of the conference, all with different things to offer.  Today I start with a discussion of three of the "traditional" sessions I attended at the NCPH/OAH annual meeting.  Not really a summary of the presentations, I'm going to talk more about my overall impressions, and the lessons I brought home with me from Milwaukee.

Lessons Learned in Researching, Preserving, and Interpreting Women's History at Historic Sites
Those of you who know my public history background, know that I got into the field because of my interest in interpretation.  It was positive experiences with excellent interpreters at historic sites that got me interested in working in history to begin with.  I was excited to hear what the participants in this session would have to share.

What stuck with me most from this session is what Heather Huyck, of the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites, said - rather than just asking "were women there?" assume women were there (wherever "there" might be for each site), and then tell their stories.  Don't limit yourself to specific and significant contributions, think about what the experience of the women would have been at a particular site.

This reminded me how important it is to think outside the box when it comes to interpretation.  Places have so many different stories to tell, we can often get stuck in a rut of what has always been done, or even what people expect to hear.  

Pam Sanfilippo, of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, talked about how visitors are often surprised to find how little time is spent discussing the Civil War or Grant's presidency at the Grant's family home, White Haven.  But as she pointed out, it is not the White House, and it is not a battlefield.  White Haven belonged to Julia Dent Grant's family before being passed on to the Grant's.  This makes it an ideal location to tell the First Lady's story, along with interpretations of the Grant's courtship and lives after the presidency, which took place at White Haven.  People are even more surprised to hear about the slaves that worked at the estate.  

Chances are there is women's history to be told at every historic site, the key to find that story, and interpret it well.

State of the Field: The Present and Future of History Museums
Being someone who is just an internship away from graduating with a MA in public history, I was anxious to hear what those in the field felt was the future for history museums.  Though there are many directions I could go in the area of public history, I have always pictured myself working in a history museum after graduation.

This was one of those sessions that left me feeling energized and exhausted afterward.  One of the common themes seemed to be that history museums need to shake the (mis)conception that they are static institutions. (Unless you are static - then you need to evolve into something more active and engaging to survive....)  Phrases like "shared authority," "advocacy and civic engagement," "fair conversation moderator," and "demystification of the history process" were abundant in the presentations and discussion.  

It is no secret that non-profit organizations have been hit hard in the economy, and it is essential to reach out to new demographics without alienating those that are currently attending museums.  New technology and interpretation can give visitors a greater control over their experience, but how to do that in ways that don't completely loose the structure that attracts some visitors.  Shared authority with communities is a great way to get people involved in a history institution, but it is a fine line to walk without completely giving away all authority. 

War of 1812 in History and Memory
I was SO disappointed to have to leave the discussion portion of this presentation a bit early to set up our poster.  I knew this was a session I couldn't miss, as the poster we were setting up was about the War of 1812.  It has been interesting researching and commemorating the War of 1812 in Canada, where there is quite a bit going on - as an American, where in the States 1812 is often referred to as "the forgotten war."  In fact, you only had to flip through the conference program to realize that.  I think I counted 8 sessions with the US Civil War (150th anniversary) in the title and maybe 2 that mentioned 1812.

Historical memory is something that is constantly being created, and that is clear in the way that we choose to commemorate conflict.  There are challenges to commemorating a war, particularly a war where there are no clear winners - and where the First Nations, who are often unrepresented in the conflict, are clearly the ones who lost.  It seems to me that the War of 1812 would be the perfect opportunity for international collaboration when it comes to commemoration, especially since there has been peace at the border ever since the end of the war in 1814.  Instead you see the war being represented in entirely different ways on either side of the border (with the occasional exception of projects like this one.)

Perhaps because there were so few sessions devoted to 1812, the post-presentation discussion was a lively one (made even more so by the lights in the room accidentally being turned off at a particularly entertaining moment!)  It was just the energetic send off Laura, Adriana, and I needed to prep ourselves to talk about our own 1812 commemoration project.

Stay tuned for more of my impressions from the NCPH/OAH Annual Meeting.  I'll be discussing some of the "non-traditional" sessions I attended, and other networking opportunities!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Road Trip to America's Dairyland - NCPH/OAH 2012

Laura, Adriana, and I have arrived safely in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the National Council on Public History & Organization of American Historians 2012 Annual Conference.  We had a very enjoyable road trip and even arrived early enough to do a little exploring in Milwaukee.  Since it is late, and my volunteer shift is early tomorrow, I'll tell the story of our day in pictures.  (You can also check my Twitter for a play-by-play...)

Ready to go!

Doughnuts Adriana was talking about

Rest stop in Indiana

Chicago for lunch

Walking around Milwaukee

With the "Bronze Fonz"


Outside convention center