Tag Archives: Digital History

Nailed it!: Reflecting on Interactive Exhibit Design and Nail Polish History

Finishing touches:

As I had hoped, without tweaking, the patch and the Makey Makey worked perfectly! So I moved on to create a stand that would make the project look a little more professional. I used cardboard and tape to make a stand and then painted it. I also built a little stand with the title “Nail Polish History” painted on it. After I let the paint dry, I conducted a few tests to ensure I didn’t undo a connection and took it upstairs to present at the interactive exhibit showcase. I reconnected everything and tested it again, just to be sure.

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What I wanted to do:

My original plan was to construct a controller using a webcam and the Max 6 program to recognize the colour of the user’s nail polish. This would allow the user to learn about nail polish history by matching their nail polish with the colour of a section in the nail polish patch in Max 6 that would teach you an interesting fact about nail polish.

What I ended up doing:

However, this idea proved too difficult in a short amount of time. The nail polish colour matching was far too complicated and therefore I ‘spectacularly failed’ that portion of the project. I did succeed in what I ended up creating. I decided to use the Makey Makey and connect with Max 6. Using the Makey Makey allowed me to still use the nail polish theme, but in a different yet fun way! I used brass fasteners as my conductive element. I strategically placed them where you would press if you were pressing a button on a controller that looked like a hand and placed another fastener at the base of the hand where your palm would normally sit. The fastener at the base acted as the ground for the Makey Makey. Using a patch my professor provided me, I added my content and added one more option in the patch for users to choose on the hand. It wasn’t as tricky as I had once assumed, thank goodness. I then used the help functions within Max 6 to figure out how to effectively use presentation mode. I succeeded and was able to present my project without any hitches to the class and the various guests.

Interactive Exhibit Showcase:

My project was well received by the class and guests. It was nice to see that even people who have much more experience in the field than I do, were impressed and interested in what I had achieved. I made sure to explain what I wanted to do originally and why I had to change it to the patrons. Below are some photos from the event:

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What I would have liked to have done differently:

I would have preferred that each video and photo show up on the screen by themselves. In the few minutes before our digital project showcase I didn’t have the time to fiddle with the patch in order to make this happen. But with some time and additions to the code, I probably could have made that happen.

I also would have preferred that my videos were a larger size and that they stopped playing when another part of the patch was triggered. The video size could have been remedied by changing the quality of the original saved video. The reason I chose mobile versions of the videos to begin with, was to ensure that I would not overload my computer and the software. I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible.

I would have liked to do more in-depth research into the history of nail polish and nail art. There is so much more to the art than what people think, so I believe it could be expanded on quite nicely. In particular I would have liked to delve into the history behind nail art as a business. I think it is fascinating that the nail art business is thriving and I want to know when it started and why. I would also like to know more about how the esthetician serves as a therapist in some cases.  Patrons tell them things they would not share with those close to them and I would like to know how that role is mentioned or not mentioned in school before the esthetician goes out into the workplace.

What I learned:

I now know that I CAN complete a digital exhibit and not completely fail! I also learned there is always so much more you can be doing and always someone that is going to be capable of so much more than you. You have to keep this in perspective because you know what you are capable of, and know that you are not as technically capable as other people may be. I really enjoyed taking on a project like this, even if I didn’t seem like I was enjoying it at the time. I am glad I had the opportunity to, in Ms. Frizzle’s famous words: “take chances, make mistakes and get messy!”

Ms Frizzle


Friends Forever: Nail polish history and Max 6



Today, the project finally started coming together! I met with my professor to get a patch and a MakeyMakey. Although I wasn’t able to get a MakeyMakey today, I will be able to pick one up tomorrow. In the mean time I used the brass paper fasteners and curled them using some needle nose pliers to make a sturdy place for the alligator clips from the MakeyMakey to connect. I thought this would be the easiest way for the contraption to stay together and look kind of cool too! I then ensured the alligator clips fit.. which they did! Yay for small successes!


After a lot of tinkering, changing file names, and searching the contents of my computer.. we finally made the patch work on my lovely Windows computer. This success was followed by a well deserved high-five. 


Next, I started adding my nail polish content to the patch, ensuring the correct file names were kept and double checked that I saved after every change.




I was able to add all the content and add an additional output to the patch and the patch STILL WORKS! Next, I decided to figure out the ‘presentation mode” business. Using the awesome Max 6 help pages, I found step by step instructions for switching to presentation mode, selecting items to be in presentation mode, resizing and moving things in presentation mode. 


After I followed all of the steps, I ended up with the screen below! YAY!



Tomorrow I will obtain a MakeyMakey and test the connection. And if all goes to plan, Max 6 and nail polish will live happily ever after in my Interactive Exhibit Design project. And if not… well I don’t want to talk about it.

“Sometimes, you’ve gotta dance with who brung ya” & other words of wisdom gleaned from the National Council on Public History Conference 2014



As the first conference I’ve ever attended, all I can say is WOW. I was overwhelmed (in a good way) from the moment I arrived in Monterey, California for the annual National Council on Public History Conference.

Jess and myself

I knew I wanted to get as much bang for my buck as possible, so my colleague and I filled up our days to the absolute max! On the first day at 8:30am I attended the pre-conference workshop entitled “Digital Preservation for Local History and Cultural Heritage Collections”. This workshop was led my Cinda May of the Indiana State University Library. It was incredible. Cinda May was a commanding speaker and quite humorous too. She provided us with a workbook that included all of her slide with space to take notes and a section of resources that are helpful in the field of digital preservation. Cinda May told us that it is easy to digitize things, the trick is to keep all of the digital pieces together. You have to come up with a digitization system, include metadata in the file names, and make sure you are backed-up in case of emergency. Her rule of thumb is three digital copies stored in separate locations, preferably separate geographic locations! However, she thinks that seven copies is the absolute best. Cinda May directed us to various online tools that could help us in our own institutions. Many of her online tools were actually Canadian, and being the only Canadian in the room, I felt pretty darn special. She pointed out CHIN’s Digtial Preservation Toolkit that can be accessed by anyone is a great resource for this type of digital preservation planning. Cinda May also discussed the importance of disaster planning. It’s all well and good to have a disaster plan, but if you only have a copy online, you’re going to be in a pickle when your computer gets wiped out. After three hours of intense learning, I asked Cinda May if I could get a photo with her. She was quite surprised but obliged. She was flattered when I told her that I had been live-tweeting her session, she thought it was great because then more people would learn about digital preservation! If you are interested in any of the resources Cinda May provided us, I would be happy to send them to you!

Cinda May & I- Digital Preservation for Local History and Cultural Heritage Collections

I went out to lunch with my new American friends who attend the graduate program at New Mexico State University. We had a lovely time jesting about Canadian/American differences. I was teased for using the word washroom instead of restroom and other things of that nature. The funniest part was when I asked for vinegar for my fries. The waitress looked at me kind of funny, but said yes. She returned with two small bottles, one with red liquid inside and one with green. I was confused so I asked my new friends what it was because I had asked for vinegar for my fries. To which they responded “What are you, British?” Apparently malt vinegar isn’t as common in California so I was forced to stick with ketchup. Next, I went back to the hotel and finished some homework, there is no rest for the wicked… or Canadian grad students.

NMSU friends and the Canadians

That evening was the First Time Attendee and Mentor/Mentee Reception in the Museum of Monterey, followed by the Opening Reception. It was neat mingling with Public History professionals before we had really got into the meat of the conference. Everyone was very welcoming and interested in what I had to say. NCPH as a welcoming and friendly conference certainly lived up to the hype. The New Professional and Graduate Student Social at London Bridge Pub followed which allowed all the grad students to get to know one another a little better.

Grad Student Social

The next day (March 20th), I started out nice and early with session 4: “Sustainable Practices for Co-Created Exhibits” which was followed by Speed Networking. I posed the question in session 4 “how do you deal with conflicting personalities in co-created exhibits?” Everyone laughed because it can be such an issue in creating exhibits as a non-cohesive group. They suggested that not all conflict is a negative, it just means that the people involved care deeply for the project. They also suggested that Kumbaya moments make for really boring exhibits. You need someone being the final decision maker in order to make things really work. My favourite quote from the session is that “co-created exhibits are more like cooking than baking”, with cooking you can throw a little of everything in and it usually turns out alright. With baking, you have to stick to the recipe (or model) otherwise you’ll have a disaster. I really appreciated the honesty that came from the panelists. Then I attended the Speed Networking session that was phenomenal! I had the opportunity to speak with six different professionals that offered advice for moving ahead in my career and told me how they got to where they are. All of the professionals provided their cards and suggested we contact them if we want to discuss things further. It was a wonderful experience and I hope that it continues in the future.

After a quick lunch I sat in on session 17 “Broadcasting History: Radio, TV, and New Media”. Very interesting session discussing the medium through which we convey history and how it must be different for the different forms of media. I then served my volunteer shift, recording attendance in afternoon sessions and later handed out drink tickets for the Consultants Reception where I got to know a lovely grad student from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. After my volunteer shift was finished, I attended a Dine Around at a local seafood restaurant. The conversation was stimulating even though the restaurant was so popular it was tough to hear one another.

Sea Lions

Friday March 21st, my colleague Jess and I went exploring the shops on the wharf and finally got to see the sea lions we had been hearing so much about! They were hilarious. We also had some delicious apple cinnamon caramel crepes before heading back to present in the Digital Project Showcase. I presented on my digital project on the County of Oxford Jail in Woodstock, Ontario. Check it out here. It was my first conference, so I was a bit nervous to present, but I made it through and even made people laugh, which is always a bonus! After my presentation I got to meet with my mentor Andrew T. Urban, Assistant Professor at Rutgers University. I was able to discuss my research and bounce ideas off him without feeling intimidated. It was really neat to have a professor at a university see serious merit in the things you want to research and further explore. He suggested multiple books and articles that would be helpful on topics I am interested in and offered to look over things I am working on. To say the least, I am so glad I was a part of the mentorship program, and am glad that my mentor/mentee relationship will continue into the future.

Oxford County Jail Presentation

Andrew T. Urban and myself

Then I attended session 44 “Public History in Practice: Strategies for Sustaining the Profession”. This topic generated some seriously heated discussion but was quite interesting and entertaining. I also attended the Public Plenary “The End of Growth” with Richard Heinberg which was well attended and incredibly pertinent to the NCPH theme of sustainability.

Public Plenary

Saturday was not only the last day of the conference, but it was the day we flew home and wanted to go to the Aquarium that EVERYONE and their grandmother said we had to see before we left. So, as good grad students in search of summer internships, we attended session 52 “Internships: To Pay, or Not to Pay. Then I attended session 54 “Small Stories in the Big Picture: New Approaches to “Micro-Public” Histories”. Jess and I quickly said our goodbyes, grabbed last minute business cards and rushed off to pack up, check out, and burn over to the Aquarium. Luckily one of our NMSU friends was there for a second time and offered to show us all the good stuff quickly since we only had an hour until we had to cab to the airport and get on the flight home. Yes, the Aquarium was everything we thought it would be and more! Thanks again to Will, our lively Aquarium tour guide.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Will and myself

After attending the sessions I did and meeting the people I met, it is safe to say that Public History as a field is definitely a sustainable profession that is always expanding. I am excited for what the future brings in Public History as I am merely at the beginning of my career. After attending NCPH, I feel like I am a part of a welcoming, professionalized field that I am incredibly proud to be associated with. It was a remarkable experience and I can’t believe how lucky I am for being able to attend and be immersed in everything NCPH offered. Attending NCPH is going to be a birthday present to myself for years to come.


If you are interested in any of the sessions I attended and live-tweeted, visit my twitter feed: @1StephanieJohns


A snag…

Since my last post, I have come to find out that my idea was far too lofty. That being said, my professor suggested I try using a MakeyMakey and a cardboard hand with painted nails as the controller for my Nail Polish History exhibit. I took his idea and ran with it!

I chose to use brass fasteners as the conductive part of the hand. They will allow me to connect with the MakeyMakey alligator clips and trigger a command on my Max 6 patch. This will show a video, text, and/or a photo related to nail polish history.

Check out my cardboard hand controller progress below:






I thought that the hand looked rather boring so I decided to add something into my project that I love.. HENNA! I looked up some designs online and freehand drew them on the hand.





TA DA! The almost finished product! Tomorrow I will meet with my professor and work on connecting the MakeyMakey and plugging in the content to the Max 6 patch.



Nail Polish History- Things are moving along!

Success!! Just a little bit…


This morning I began to worry that my webcam would not be compatible with Windows 8. Which technically it isn’t. But after some discussion with classmates and the professor and few google searches, I found the driver for Windows 7 and my VX-1000 webcam. Even though I am running Windows 8, the driver still works and just warns that some capabilities will not be enabled. So far, so good! Yay! Thumbs up!



What is the main part of my project? NAIL POLISH! I left the room and painted three of my nails with different colours to test under the webcam. 


Next I decided that Macgyvering a webcam stand would be the best option for finding the correct height for the video. Using my water bottle and the webcam box I found the perfect height to get both my nails and most of my hand focused on the screen.



After I set it up, I filmed a short video to track the colours of the nail polish so that my professor can help me figure out a patch for Max 6.

What are the next steps?

– using the new patch in Max 6 and troubleshooting to ensure it works with my computer and webcam

– writing a short history of nail polish or a few fun facts

– testing the patch with everything connected

Hopefully everything continues smoothly… and I succeed moderately.






Interactive Exhibit Design: The History of Nail Polish and Nail Art

Aha! An idea has formed and I have an understanding of what I need to do to bring it to fruition!

My project will be an interactive history of nail polish! Who knew you could find information out there on nail polish history?! I hope to include sections on: Early Nail Art, North American Nail Art, The Business Side of Nail Polish and Nail Artistry, different Techniques, Types of Polish, and links to neat Nail Art Tutorials that people can do at home.

Using the program Max 6 and an external webcam, I will turn your fingernails into controllers for the interactive exhibit on the various aspects of nail polish history. The first step will be for you to paint your nails predetermined colours (5 or 6 depending on the number of headings I decide to go with). This will allow the webcam and Max 6 to recognize when you select different headings within the onscreen interactive display. You will have to match your fingernail to the colour of the heading you wish to open. When you are finished reading or watching video about the topic, you can use one of your nails to go back (colour to be determined).

As I work through the Max 6 Jitter tutorials I will update you on my progress. But for now, here is a rough drawing of what I want the presentation mode of my interactive nail polish history exhibit to look like.


Interactive Exhibit Design Idea 1: “Swing and Jazz: A Who’s Who Experience”

For the Interactive Exhibit Design Class, we are required to create an exhibit using interactive and digital techniques. Below is one of the ideas that has been slowly percolating in my brain. Lets hope I can succeed spectacularly, rather than fail spectacularly as I wade into this unknown technical territory!

Title: “Swing and Jazz: A Who’s Who Experience”

The plan for this exhibit is to set up as if the person entering the exhibit is on a stage, like they are part of the show. They will sit down on the stool which will activate a welcome screen instructing the visitor to interact with the items around them. They will have the option to press a key on the keyboard, say something into the microphone, turn the page of a score, or press down a valve on the wind instruments (maybe just one instrument, or maybe a different person will be represented by a saxophone, trumpet or clarinet). When the person does one of the above described actions, part of a song that relates to a certain Jazz or Swing musician will begin to play which will lead into the biography of that musician being displayed upon the screen. The person can then choose to learn more about Jazz and Swing as a genre or play another instrument and learn about another musician. When finished they can leave, once they stand, there will be a Swing/Jazz song that plays them out of the exhibit with a screen that says goodbye or something that relates to the Jazz and Swing eras. I could have poster boards with instructions and an overview of the Jazz/Swing era at the entrance to the exhibit so that visitors would know what to do and would have a good understanding of the material before beginning the exhibit exercise.
– multimedia Computer with Sensors, using Max since it was made by musicians anyway it would probably do the project justice. I would need a sensor for turning a page of the score, for sitting down and standing up from the stool, for pressing down on the valves for the wind instruments, for sensing vocals, for the keys on the keyboard (or maybe done without sensors on Max)
– a program built by me to control all of these ideas and ensure the correct video plays when an action is performed
-t.v. or computer screen to show video of history of swing and jazz eras, and specifics on certain influential musicians
– a music stand, clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, stool, old microphone, and a keyboard
– a mannequin (or two if not expensive) to be the musicians, possibly holding multiple instruments, could also dress the mannequin up in period clothing for a performance (one female, one male) on either side of the keyboard
– fabric to create drapes to make it feel like the visitor is on stage, they would hang behind and on either side of the t.v./computer screen the visitor will be facing
Time Period:
– 1910-1970, focus more on the 1920s and 1930s
– Identify some key figures in the rise and popularity of Swing and Jazz music (for example: Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington)
– Identify and explain the origins of Swing and Jazz
– Identify and explain why Swing and Jazz originated from African-American roots
– Provide an interesting way to learn about music history rather than just reading it. Includes hands-on activities, music and text.

Idea number 2 coming soon…



I have created a Flickr account to document my project progress in the Interactive Exhibit Design class I am taking this semester. I have provided the link below for you to use at your leisure:


The account at the moment contains photos I took at Fanshawe Pioneer Village a few weeks ago for another class but are just is interesting as my project documentation will be! As an added bonus there is a photo I took on my exchange to Germany in high school that I thought was rather neat.

Stay tuned for more photos and blog posts about the ups and downs of a non-technical girl, in a very technical class.


Photo source: http://bit.ly/1azeH00

In digital history this week, we were fortunate enough to learn from David Brown about an interesting Graph Database Management System called Sylva.

Even though I felt like this:

It was a very interesting system to test out. My only experience with entering data into a database for other people to use is at the Oxford Historical Society in Woodstock where I entered Probates of Will into an Excel spreadsheet. Excel isn’t the easiest to work with, sometimes your work disappears and you have to start again. During the brief, yet thorough, tutorial we were provided, David showed us how entering data into the system is rather straight forward and that it is laid out nicely in a visualization. Sylva uses points and edges to draw connections between the data which Carla Watson pointed out, was very similar to my favourite non-digital learning tool: mind-maps. They help you visually represent the content and use short phrases or words to help you remember what it is you are studying. Mind-maps link the information that is related and can easily be expanded to fit more. The Sylva database works a lot like that, by having never ending space for you to add more and more edges and individual points. It also allows you to link ideas in more than one direction if another link is necessary to make the connection. I’m glad that even my old high school study ideas of making mind-maps to connect pertinent information can still relate to the hi-tech big data world of Sylva.

I enjoyed the tutorial, even though it went a little over my head. I can’t wait until I become an expert at inputting data into Sylva and can show everyone my awesome visualizations!

Canada’s History Forum 2013


For my Digital History class this week we were asked to watch all or part of the Canada’s History Forum 2013. For a list of the speakers and the program you can click here.

The forum this year spends a lot of time surrounding the topic of Aboriginal History as is seen in the presentation of Young Citizen Video Project Awards and keynote Kate Hennessy of the School of Interactive Arts and Technology. The reason for this is the celebration of the Centennial of the Arctic Exhibition

The Forum itself was broadcast online using the program livestream and had little to no hiccups while I watched. I could understand everything, except of course the French. I’m glad Canada’s History chose to stream the Forum so that it could reach so people that would love to attend but cannot because of other commitments or long distances. 

The opening segment that recognized the grade 6 students for their winning contributions to the Young Citizens Video Project was inspiring. I think that it is important to realize just because these kids are young, doesn’t mean they don’t have something important to say about our nation’s history. I love it when children are given the opportunity to produce works that maybe an adult wouldn’t have thought to look into. The videos were enjoyable and used digital history methods with oral histories to create their final products. These kids are certainly on the cutting edge of historical research and crossing into the new ways of presenting their findings. 

Key note speaker Kate Hennessy discussed a project she is partnered with “New Technologies and Access to Cultural Heritage in Museums from the MacFarlane Collection to ‘Inuivaluit Living History’” You can explore the website here.

A closer look at some of the videos on the website, it is clear that the web designers made sure that everything on the site was interconnected so that someone learning about the topic for the first time or an expert could easily make their way from one item to another. While watching the video “A Case of Access” the image along the right hand side changed to match what was occurring in the video. This image then linked me to the artifact being discussed, including photos, a description and the cataloguing information. The videos also include Inuvailuit people’s responses to seeing, touching and working with their peoples artefacts.

Hennessy discussed how the digital exhibit is more than just a copy of what is in the Smithsonian. I think that this is exactly what digital exhibits need to be in order to draw in a wider audience for the topic. There are people that have no interest in looking at objects in a museum setting but would rather be able to search through online exhibits and have the internet at their fingertips to search for information they see as relevant in relation to the exhibit. This type of online exhibit also allows for people that do not have the means to visit the museum, a way to interact fully (aside from handling the objects) with the artefacts.   

Hennessy went on to talk about how they worked with teachers to create lesson plans that were curriculum centred for the Northwest Territories aboriginal curriculum. Even though they have not been in contact with those implementing the curriculum for a year, I believe that thinking about how historical information will fit into what our children are being taught is important from the inception of a project. Education of young people is important and if something like this is merely an online exhibit it wouldn’t be reaching its full potential and audience.

Overall, Hennessy’s talk was engaging and I look forward to hearing about projects like this in the future.