Top 5 Most Significant Pulp Magazines

This summer, I am thrilled to be working with the pulp magazine collection at the Library of Congress. You might not know it, but you are probably familiar with the pulps. Have you ever heard of Tarzan of the Apes, Sam Spade, or Buck Rogers? All three first appeared in the pulp magazines. Do you enjoy science fiction or like to watch hard-boiled detective movies? Thank the pulps.

The pulps printed tales of adventure, romance, mystery, and the bizarre for a popular audience. Invented in the late nineteenth century, the pulps reached the height of popularity between World War I and World War II. The bestselling pulp magazine titles sold over 1 million copies per issue! The Library of Congress holds over 300 titles and 14,000 copies of pulp magazines.

My first research assignment on the job was to pick my top 5 most significant pulp magazine titles. It was a delightful but an almost impossible task. I attempted to include a variety of the important pulp publishers, authors, and genres. Of course, there are glaring omissions from my list. Not a single Western pulp title made my list.

However, I hope that my list gives some sense of the historical importance of the pulp magazine and its enduring legacy in popular culture.

Without further ado, here is my list, in order of original publication date.

The April 1912 Cover of The Argosy.

The April 1912 Cover of The Argosy.

The Argosy
Founded: 1882-96
Publisher: Frank Munsey Co.

The Argosy was the original pulp magazine and served as “the prototype for all pulp magazines to follow.”[1] Frank Munsey cut costs by printing his all-fiction magazine on the cheapest type of paper possible. The low cost of production allowed Munsey to sell his product to working-class readers for only a dime. Thus, the pulp magazines were born.

Munsey asserted, “The story is more important than the paper it is printed on.” [2] Munsey published all genres of pulp fiction in The Argosy and his 1905 title All-Story magazine. However, he is probably most famous for publishing Edgar Rice Burrough’s serialized adventure novels including Tarzan of the Apes. By the 1920s, Argosy had adopted an all-adventure format. The last issue of Argosy was published in 1979.


The September 1929 cover of The Black Mask.

The September 1929 cover of The Black Mask.

The Black Mask
Founded: 1920
Publisher: Pro-Distributors
The Black Mask featured classic tales of tough private eyes and hard-boiled detectives. The magazine arguably originated “the modern mystery story.”[3] Stories by Carroll John Daly, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett took “mystery fiction out of the vicarage and the country home and drop it down on the turbulent mean streets”[4] Hammett published some of his greatest works including The Maltese Falcon in pages of The Black Mask.





July 11, 1925 cover of Love Story Magazine

July 11, 1925 cover of Love Story Magazine

Love Story Magazine
Founded: 1921
Publisher: Street & Smith

Love Story Magazine was the first of the incredibly successful romance pulps. Unlike many of the other pulp fiction genres, the romance pulps were created for a primarily female audience. And in contrast to the ‘slick’ women’s magazines, pulp romances were geared towards working-class women not the upper-middle-class.

Founded by the pulp publishing powerhouse Street & Smith in 1921, Love Story attracted over 600,000 readers during editor Daisy Bacon’s reign in the 1930s. Although a typical Love Story ends in marriage, it also typically features an independent leading woman and a proto-feminist attitude. As Bacon said of her readers, “She doesn’t have to marry to get somebody to support her –she can do that herself. And so she considers other things…Why, women are just beginning to know what romance is all about, and how to go after it.”[5]


October 1933 cover of Weird Tales

October 1933 cover of Weird Tales

Weird Tales
Founded: 1923
Publishers: Rural Publishers, Popular Fiction Publishing

Weird Tales is a prime example of the horror and fantasy pulp genre. Weird Tales boasted thrilling supernatural stories accompanied by Margaret Brundage’s vivid cover art. Both the stories and the artwork often featured the erotic. Weird Tales notoriously tested decency standards when it published the CM Eddy’s The Loved Dead about necrophilia. The magazine also published classic authors including H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and a young Tennessee Williams.




October 1927 cover of Amazing Stories

October 1927 cover of Amazing Stories

Amazing Stories
Founded: 1926
Publisher: Experimenter Publishing

The founder of Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback was also the progenitor of the phrase ‘science fiction’. Science fiction stories predate 1926, but publishers used a variety of phrases such as “off-trail” or “scientific romance” to describe the stories which were sprinkled amongst the other genres in pulps. Amazing Stories was the first magazine entirely devoted to science fiction, allowing fans to find science fiction stories in one place and helping to define a new genre. Amazing Stories was the origin of enduring characters such as Buck Rogers and sci-fi tropes such as scantily clad space-women.


For more on the history of The Argosy, The Black Mask, Love Story Magazine, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, or to pick out your own personal top 5, please visit The Pulp Magazines Project.

[1]Lee Server , Danger Is My Business: An Illustrated History Of The Fabulous Pulp Magazines, (Chronicle Books, 1993), 19.

[2] Peter Haining, The Fantastic Pulps: Twenty-One Tales of Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, and Science Fiction from the

Famous Pulp Magazines of Yesteryear, (Vintage Books, 1976 ), 13.

[3] “Pulp Fiction.” Vintage Library,

[4] Server, Danger Is My Business, 62.

[5] Server, Danger Is My Business, 80.


A Capital Market: Final Reflection

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try  again.”

– Some man named William Edward Hickson [1]

“No. Try Not. Do. Or Do not. There is no try.”


Last semester, I began researching the history of Center Market after finding a picture of the market building at the National Archives. The caption on the back of the photograph claimed that Center Market was, “a fixture of downtown Washington for over 50 years before it was torn down starting in 1931 to make way for the National Archives”.[2]

I immediately wanted to learn more about this forgotten landmark.

As Center Market is no longer standing, I turned to photographs to provide valuable information about the marketplace: including the architectural features of the building, the layout of the market, the goods sold at market, and the dress of the people at the market. Despite the claim that, “fewer than five interior photographs of Center Market are known to survive,” I found an abundance of photographic images of the market.[3]

Although I found wonderful resources and images from the market, I was not fully satisfied with my final product. My critique of aside, the most disappointing part of the project was that I was unable to share all of the cool images and stories that I found about the market.

Therefore, I was thrilled to partner with the National Archives’ Office of the Historian to create a new web exhibit on the history of Center Market. I decided to channel my inner-Yoda (there is no try!) and re-tackle this project. I identified two major goals.

  1. Increase public access to images of the marketplace
  2. Streamline my interpretation while limiting the content to sources from the National Archives

Increasing public access to the photographs required research, digitization, copyright analysis, and the use of social media. When I began this project, there were only 6 photographs of Center Market available in the National Archive’s Online Public Access (OPA) database. I identified and scanned over 30 photographs from 3 series in the Still Pictures Division of the National Archives at College Park, MD.

Before I could digitize the scans, I had to determine each photograph’s copyright status. Although the authors of Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright make a compelling case for fair use, the National Archives has its own ideas on the subject. Luckily, most of the still pictures holdings were created by government employees and are automatically in the public domain. However, I did find a few images in the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation Series that appeared to be copied from other sources. From research at the Library of Congress, I determined that most of these photographs were taken by private individuals and the copyright status was unknown. I did not upload these images  into OPA.

Once the images were scanned at the appropriate resolutions, I entered all of the metadata (Title, General Records Type, Production Date, Specific Media Type, Scope and Content, General Note, Parent Arc ID, Image File Name) into an excel spreadsheet. The images and information were submitted to NARA in early March and will be available through OPA in the next 4-6 weeks.

Although the OPA database is a great resource for researchers, I also wanted to share the photographs via social media.  OPA automatically groups the photographs by their assigned government series. Flickr Commons allowed me to display all of the Center Market photographs from all of the series together. The Flickr gallery currently includes the 6 photographs that were already in OPA. The rest of the photographs need to be loaded into OPA before being added to Flickr.

The Flickr gallery is great because it is interactive. Flickr allows users to share, group, favorite, and download images. Flickr also has a wider audience than OPA. To date, 7.687 users have viewed the first photograph in the set. WOW! Check out my previous review of Flickr Commons for more information about this project.

OPA and Flickr are good for public access, but I also wanted to provide more of a historical context for the photographs. My second major goal was to streamline my interpretation for a new exhibit.

A Capital Market: Washington D.C.’s Center Market  is guided by the big idea that Center Market was a social center in the middle of Washington D.C. I coded the web exhibit in HTML5 and CSS using Dreamweaver. The web exhibit  will be hosted by the National Archives. It is not online yet, but please check out my sneak preview here.


Screenshot of the Exhibit Homepage. The navigation bar includes links to “Exhibit Home,” “History,” “Inside the Market,” “Outside the Market,” and “Flickr Gallery”

Social relations in the market were structured by the built environment. Inspired readings on spatial history, I juxtapose images from inside of the market with images from outside of the market. The photographs will be displayed as tabbed galleries and will link to official Archives record on  OPA.


Close-up of the tabbed gallery. Users will click on the the tabs to cycle through the gallery.

In addition to the two photo galleries, the web exhibit also features a page on the history of Center Market and a link to the Flickr gallery. When new photographs of Center Market are discovered at the National Archives, they can be added to the Flickr gallery.

I used responsive design to code the web exhibit to be sure that it would display properly on different sized web browsers. Keeping in mind Nancy Proctor’s advice about the importance of mobile technology, I created a separate CSS that will automatically trigger when screen displays are less than 400 pixels wide.  Although the mobile-friendly website is a good first step, a mobile app would be a good future project to occupy all of the people waiting in line to see the Constitution!


Mobile display of the web exhibit.

I am really proud of the final product! The exhibit design is simple and clear. The images that did not make it into the web gallery are all still easily accessible and available for scholarly research or creative reuse.

Even better,  this model can be used for future projects at the National Archives. I am working with another intern in the History Office to upload his research on  the Federal Records Survey and create a new Flickr set. He found great images of  the (ahem) questionable storage of government records prior to the establishment of the National Archives.

War Department Records stored in the White House Garage.

War Department Records stored in the White House Garage. U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 64-NA-48-3

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so I close with this image. The preservation of historic  buildings, documents, and images requires thoughtful planning and dedication. History is full of silences. In the digital age, records are vulnerable to more than fire, or vermin, or poorly built shelving.

Public historians must do their part to promote preservation and accessibility. I truly believe that it is the responsibility of historians to share their research and their sources with the public.

There is no try.


[1] Sorry, William Edward Hickson, but I have to go with Yoda on this one.

[2] Center Market, Ninth Street, Looking to the Southeast, ca. 1928. 64-NA-273a. National Archives and Records Administration.

[3] James M. Goode, Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings, (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979), 263.


A Capital Market: Web Exhibit Script

For my final project, I created a web exhibit on Center Market for the National Archives’ Office of the Historian.

The good news is that the exhibit is fully coded in Dreamweaver using HTML5 and CSS!

The bad news is that it is not online (yet). The exhibit will be hosted by the National Archives after all of the photographs have been loaded into the National Archives’ Online Public Access database.

Although I can’t give you a link to the website, I can do the next best thing!

[Drum roll please]

Presenting an exclusive sneak peak of: A Capital Market: Washington D.C.’s Center Market!


Screenshot of the Exhibit Homepage. The navigation bar includes links to “Exhibit Home,” “History,” “Inside the Market,” “Outside the Market,” and “Flickr Gallery”

Washington D.C.’s Center Market

“The great focus of interest, the one-time social center, place of endless entertainment, is gone and can never be restored…Another generation will have no concept of the significance of the site on which they stand.” -The Washington Evening Star, May 17, 1931

Located near the United States Capitol, Center Market occupied valuable and symbolic space in the heart of Washington D.C. Center Market was well named; the market stood at the center of the physical city, but it also served as a social center. Individuals of different ages, classes, races, and gender came together in the public marketplace.

Throughout its history, Center Market was loud and lively. Center Market’s vibrant and chaotic history can be recaptured through photographs, maps, and documents stored in the National Archives.



Screenshot of the History page


The History of Center Market

“One seldom sees it illustrated on picture postals, yet the Market has played an intimate part in the lives of our citizens from Presidents and other great men of our nation down to the humblest citizen.”

– Boston Cooking School Magazine, 1915[1]

In 1797, President George Washington designated two acres in the heart of Washington City for use as a public marketplace. For the next 134 years, Center Market was a Washington D.C. landmark on Pennsylvania Avenue where the National Archives Building now stands.

Center Market opened for business in 1801. Public markets were common in early American cities. Markets provided city-dwellers with fresh produce, and gave country farmers a place to sell their goods.[2] In its earliest days, Center Market was no more than a collection of ramshackle wooden sheds. Bordered by the Washington Canal, the swampy land earned it the nickname “Marsh Market”. Early Washingtonians recalled hunting wild ducks in the wetlands near the market, and purchasing live fish from the Canal.

As the city of Washington D.C. grew, so did complaints about the dirt and disorder of the public market. A group of investors formed the private Washington Market Company in 1870. The Market Company hired prominent architect Adolf Cluss to design a modern new building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The ornate Victorian market building attracted thousands of customers a day. Streetcar lines from all corners of the city converged at the market. During the early twentieth century, the market added a billiards room, bowling alley, and a dance hall for community events.

Center Market returned to public ownership in 1921, managed by the Department of Agriculture. However, this arrangement was short-lived. Center Market was located at the tip of the Senate Park (McMillan) Commission Plan’s proposed Federal Triangle. The Commission envisioned a unified city of white marble and monuments centered on a majestic and magnified National Mall. [3]

In 1931, the government demolished the red brick Victorian Center Market building and began construction of the National Archives Building.



Screenshot of “Inside the Market” page. The page will feature a tabbed gallery of four images from inside the marketplace.

Inside the Market

The interior of Center Market featured over 600 modern market stalls featuring elaborate displays and high quality goods such as cured meats, baked goods, and flower arrangements.

Designed to appeal to middle-class marketers, the market building was thoroughly modern and hygienic. The facility boasted high ceilings with ventilated skylights, electric lighting, cold-storage vaults, and a spacious café.  

Inside Center Market

“A Birds-Eye View of Part of the Fruits and Vegetable Section of Center Market”
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 83-G-3575
This photograph shows the interior of Center Market as it looked in 1915. Although the market may appear empty, the photographer noted that the crowds of people moved too quickly to be captured on the glass negative!


Adolf Cluss plans for Center Market

“Plan on the Center Market and the Washington Market Company, c. 1869”
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: RG 46; SEN 43A-E17
Architect Adolf Cluss presented this plan to Congress in 1874. He eventually abandoned the proposal for a grand hotel in the market, but did include restaurants and retail stores in the space.


Young Boy Tending Stall

“Young Boy Tending Freshly Stocked Fruit and Vegetable Stand at Center Market, 02/18/1915”
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 83-G-21
This market stall advertises fresh Florida oranges. Stalls inside Center Market typically featured elaborate displays and high quality goods.


Attractive Display of Cured Meats

“An Attractive Display of Cured Meats”
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 83-G-6126
A group of women shop at Center Market in October, 1922. In the 1920’s, the Department of Agriculture used the market to test new innovations including refrigerated display cases, machinery, and employee uniforms.




Screenshot of “Outside the Market” page. The page will feature a tabbed gallery of four images from outside of the marketplace.

Outside the Market

Center Market’s exterior was just as bustling and crowded as its interior. Farmers’ wagons, trucks, and automobiles lined the curb outside of the market selling fresh country produce.

For a nominal fee, street vendors, or “hucksters,” could sell wares outside of Center Market. Hucksters packed the streets around the market, hawking seasonal goods, greenery, and even preparing food at open-air restaurants.



“Front View of 7th Street Entrance to Center Market”
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 83-G-6124
Washingtonians of all ages pass Center Market in 1922. The pressed brick market building faced a public square on Pennsylvania Avenue.[7]

Aerial Photograph of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.

“Aerial Photograph of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.”
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 18-AA-151-35
Center Market is visible to the far right of this photograph. The aerial photograph, taken by the Army Air Corps, reveals the massive size of the public marketplace.


•“Photograph of the Farmers Line Outside of Center Market” U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 83-G-16314A Streetcars, automobiles, horse-drawn wagons, and pedestrians all packed the backside of Center Market. Farmers drove wagons filled with produce from the country into the city on market days. Farmers either sold the goods in covered stalls outside of the market or right out of their wagons.

“Photograph of the Farmers Line Outside of Center Market”
U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 83-G-16314A
Streetcars, automobiles, horse-drawn wagons, and pedestrians all packed the backside of Center Market. Farmers drove wagons filled with produce from the country into the city on market days. Farmers either sold the goods in covered stalls outside of the market or right out of their wagons.



“At Center Market. 11-year-old celery vendor. He sold until 11 P.M. and was out again Sunday morning selling papers and gum. Has been in this country only half a year. Washington, D.C., 04/13/1912” U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 102-LH-2928
Lewis Hine took this photograph of a young street vendor for the National Child Labor Committee. Hine and other Progressive Era activists used photography as a medium for social reform. [6]

Flickr Gallery

The Exhibit also links to a Flickr gallery of historic photographs of Center Market

Works Cited:

[1] Washington Topham, “Centre Market and Vicinity,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society,Washington D.C., 26 (1924): 56.

[2] Helen Tangires, Public Markets and Civic Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 3-4.

[3] James M. Goode, Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings, (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979), 331. Thomas E. Luebke, Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013),  2, 9, 26.

[4] Alan Lessoff, and Christof Mauch, Adolf Cluss Architect: From Germany to America, (Bergamot Books, 2005)

[5] Lessoff, and Mauch, 160

[6] For more information on Lewis Hine see: Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs: Images as History Mathew Brady to Walker Evans, (Hill and Wang, 1989), 164-230.



National Archives and Records Administration. “Witness the Past in Modern-Day Washington, DC, the Penn QuarterNeighborhood.” Tour. Historypin, n.d.

Brown, Elspeth H., Catherine Gudis, and Marina Moskowitz, eds. Cultures of Commerce: Representation and American Business Culture, 1877-1960. Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

Goode, James M. Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979.

Hoagland, Alison K. “Seventh Street/Downtown: A Place to Live and Work.” In Washington at Home: An Illustrated History of Neighborhoods in the Nation’s Capital, edited by Kathryn Schneider Smith, 53–70. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House, 1993.

Lessoff, Alan, and Christof Mauch, eds. Adolf Cluss Architect: From Germany to America. Bergamot Books, 2005.

Luebke, Thomas E., ed. Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Washington D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013.

McWilliams, James E. “Diversity: Refined Crudeness in the Middle Colonies.” In A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America, 167–199. Columbia University Press, 2005.

Moskowitz, Marina. “Backyards and Beyond: Landscapes and History.” In History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources, edited by Karen Harvey , 67–84. Routledge, 2009.

Murdock, Graham. The Idea of the Public Sphere. Edited by Jostein Gripsud, Hallvard Moe, and Anders Molander. Lexington Books, 2010.

National Museum of American History. “America on the Move: Center Market,”

Shephard, Robert J. When Culture Goes to Market. Peter Lang Publishing, 2008.

Tangires, Helen. “Contested Space: The Life and Death of Center Market. “Washington History 7, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 1995): 46–67.

Tangires, Helen. Public Markets and Civic Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Topham, Washington. “Centre Market and Vicinity. “Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington D.C. 26 (1924): 1–88.

Trachtenberg, Alan. Reading American Photographs: Images as History Mathew Brady to Walker Evans. Hill and Wang, 1989.



Review: Flickr Commons

Flickr Commons was launched in 2008 as a partnership between the photo-sharing social network Flickr and the Library of Congress. According to the Flickr Commons homepage, the project was created with two main objectives:

  1. To increase access to publicly-held photography collections, and
  2. To provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge.

As a public historian, the goals of increasing access and sharing knowledge are near and dear to my heart. I decided to evaluate Flickr Commons project to see how well it meets these goals.

The volume, variety, and quality of images on the Commons is impressive. Since 2008, the Commons has expanded to feature collections from 84 cultural institutions all over the world, including the National Archives. The Commons is searchable across all institutions, allowing users to access content by topic rather than limiting them to  holdings in one particular organization.

The breadth of content is amazing, but even better is the information accompanying each image. Institutions can include the original title, provenance, rights information, the location in the archive, and a caption that provide a historical context. Flickr is a beautiful platform to display photographs and holdings right next to all of the relevant metadata.

Flickr Record

Flickr Commons offers an attractive interface for collections while still including all of the relevant metadata

But there is more to Flickr Commons than its good looks. As Bronwen Colquhoun points out in  “Making Sense of Historic Photographic Collections on Flickr The Commons”, the true beauty of Flickr lie in its interactivity. All of the images on Flickr Commons are in the public domain, and therefore, can be creatively reused and repurposed by the public. Flickr makes it easy to download images (in various sizes, bonus points) and to share images via social media.

Flickr Commons also offers its users several ways to interact with the photographs within the platform. Users can act as curators grouping images or creating themed galleries. Flickr also allows users to favorite images, and then these images are saved to a “favorites” album. Finally, users can actually share their knowledge, opinions, and interpretation in tags, comments, and notes.

As Colquhoun notes, there are several ways that cultural institutions have engaged with Flickr. My favorite case study was the “My LOC Favorites” contest held by the Library of Congress. As you might imagine, this contest challenged users to create a gallery of their favorite images from the LOC. An easy way to get users to engage with LOC’s content, it also produced amazing user-generated galleries.

N.Y. Playground

“N.Y. Playground”, Bain News Service, publisher. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

For instance, Flickr user BobMeade included this photograph in his gallery, My LOC Favorites. He included a comment explaining his decision, “Nostalgia. This photo reminds me of my childhood. My Dad made me a billy cart a bit like this. Billy cart is Australian for Box cart. It reminds me, too, of how I’m continuing a family tradition of home-made toys. Sometimes when my son asks me for something I build it for him.” In one brief comment, BobMeade connected an image from the LOC back to his personal history and and gave a new depth to the image.

For my final project, I created a a Flickr Commons set for the National Archives Office of the Historian on Center Market . The coolest part was that I could geotag the photographs with an exact location. This allows Flickr users to search for images by location or to view an image location on a map. This feature gives users some sense of the spatial history of Federal Triangle. In the weeks since the first photo was posted, it has been seen over 5,300 times! 9 people have added it to their favorites gallery.

Flickr Gallery

The National Archives Office of the Historian’s Flickr gallery of historic photographs of Center Market

Once the other photographs that I found and scanned are loaded into the National Archives Online Public Access database, I will add them to the Flickr set. Flickr Commons will not replace an institution’s own online collection, but it is a great addition to its online presence. Flickr Commons is easy to use, well-designed, and meets the scholarly needs of public historians; it combines the flexibility and innovation of a new media venture with the knowledge and standards of good collections management. I would love to see more cultural institutions involved in similar partnerships.



“I don‘t need an app to find a restroom”

It is hard for me to remember life before smart phones, let alone a time before cell phones. I bought my first smart phone in 2010 and in just four years, my Android has become indispensable. As the Pew Internet Project’s Mobile Technology Fact Sheet makes clear, mobile has taken over. Not only do 90% of Americans own a mobile phone, 44% of Americans sleep next to their phone every night to avoid missing texts, calls, or emails. Mobile phones are an intimate part of many American’s daily lives. And they are beginning to be the preferred way for Americans to access information. 34% of internet users primarily use their cell phones to access the web… a number that is growing every year!

Mobile websites and mobile applications are therefore an incredibly important way to reach a huge audience of Americans. But does mobile fit into the mission and purpose of cultural institutions such as museums?

The Smithsonian Institution Office of Policy and Analysis conducted a visitor study in 2010 to find out how their audience used and would like to use mobile devices in a museum. Many people used cell phones to find directions to the museum, access operating hours, and learn about what exhibitions were on display at the museum. A few people even googled names or titles from the gallery to learn more about the exhibitions. The interviews make it clear that people use mobile devices to get information on-the-go. However, I wonder if these are the types of questions that museums should be trying to answer. Can museums really compete with Google Maps at wayfinding, or with Yelp at providing local recommendations?  Perhaps there are better, lower-tech ways to provide directions or information to guests at a museum. My favorite quote from the visitor study was: “I don‘t need an app to find a restroom.”

Mobile media opens up a lot of exciting possibilities. But museums need to think carefully about the mobile experiences that they create and make sure that their mobile apps are encouraging people to learn, share, and engage…not just directing them to a restroom.

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Social Media Madness

If you had to pick the very best children’s book of all-time, your first choice might not be, The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2009.* As far as I know, the book has not made it to the top of any critic’s lists. But in at least one Wisconsin elementary school, this book reigns supreme. Last week, the students crowned this book as champion in their school library’s March Madness Book Bracket.

The school’s awesome and talented librarian organized the contest. Disclaimer: the librarian is my mother. But family connections aside, this campaign is a great example of social media at its best. March Madness style brackets are a popular way to organize social media campaigns. In this case, my mom had students vote on their sixteen favorite books through four head-to-head rounds. The students used Google+ and Destiny Quest to vote on each round and to share their own personal picks with their peers.

Book Madness Bracket

The elementary school’s most popular 16 books face off in a March Madness Book Bracket

The original field of contenders was determined by the audience; the Sweet Sixteen was composed of the most-frequently-checked-out books, seeded by popularity. Some of the results were surprising to my mom. She knew that Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a popular series, but would not have guessed that Rodrick Rules would turn out to be the #1 most-checked out book in the school. And I am guessing that Sardine in Outer Space might not make it into her personal top 5 list.

As Dana Allen-Greil and Matthew MacArthur note, social media can heighten a cultural institution’s impact through “true dialogue and mutual understanding with those whom they claim to serve.” This requires knowing your audience and actually trusting them with the power to create content. In this case, it required allowing students to be the experts on what makes a good book.

The March Madness Book Bracket was fun for all, but it was also a good way to learn. Students used computer skills, created pie charts to analyze the voting results, and got really excited about reading their favorite books.

March Madness Paper Bracket

A good social media campaign can incorporate “in real life” or IRL elements such as this paper bracket posted in the library.

The important lesson here? Social media is not just about spreading the word. Nor is it just about encouraging participation. Utilizing social media to its fullest potential requires collaborating with your audiences to fulfill your mission, whatever it may be, whether you are a teacher, curator, publisher, or historian.



*I am left with one pressing question: What makes The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2009 better than The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2010 or 2011 or 2012? I know who to ask!

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Design by All

Dan M. Brown lays out a case for thoughtful design documentation in Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning.

Brown defines design as a, “complex process composed of many smaller activities,” including (but not limited to):

“…listening, analyzing, evaluating, brainstorming, synthesizing, experimenting, composing, describing, discussing, exploring, reacting…”

-Dan M. Brown

Site maps, flowcharts, wireframes, design briefs, and usability reports might not sound exciting. But these documents allow designers to capture the design process in a form that can be shared, discussed, tweaked and improved by others.

I never used to think of myself as a designer. My experience with graphic design was limited to one art class in middle school (and let’s face it, I will never be a graphic artist). Then suddenly I was a young professional working with designers and developers. It was a tough learning curve. My team would often send a project out to designers and get something totally different back. Or we would get exactly what we asked for, but technical difficulties prevented it from going into production. As I began to take on the role of project manager, I found myself learning to speak the language of designers and developers. As I did, my own thought-process began to change. I used to think of design as just “making something pretty.” I began to realize that design was actually about  purpose, function, and form.

Documentation is crucial to good communication and digital project management. But perhaps more importantly, these documents allow for collaborative design. Brown argues that the main challenge for a web designer is to,”help everyone contribute to the design process, to establish a vision and help a multidisciplinary team realize it.” (xi)

The diagrams and deliverables that Brown outlines in his book are documentations of the design process, not the process of design itself. Not everyone knows how to create a flowchart (or even how to use AdobeInDesign). But (hopefully) everyone knows how to listen, question, and explore. Historians need to be able to think about design to offer their own expertise to the process.







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Market Space

Space is neither simply natural geography nor an empty container filled by history. It is rather something that human beings produce over time. Spatial relations shift and change. Space is itself historical.

-Richard White

Drawing upon Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of SpaceRichard White provides this definition of space in What is Spatial History? and challenges historians to think about change over both time AND space as they practice history.

I am currently researching Center Market, Washington D.C.’s oldest and largest public marketplace. The market was located on Pennsylvania Avenue from 1801-1931 until it was demolished to make way for the National Archives Building. I am using representations of space such as maps and blueprints to try to recapture a sense of a place that no longer exists.

Plan of the Interior of Center Market 83-G-8993

Plan of the Interior of Center Market, June 1924. Courtesy of the National Archives.

This ground plan shows the massive size of the market and even some of the diversity of activity, but it fails to capture the daily activities and use that really produced the market. Center Market was much more than a building. Although they were constrained by the built environment, people shaped the market space.

Photograph of the Interior of Center Market (83-G-672)

Photograph of the Interior of Center Market, April 21, 1923. Courtesy of the National Archives.

Photographs can give some sense of everyday life in the market; pictures capture the layout of the market, the goods that were sold, the people that shopped there and the clothes that they wore. Together these things inform us of the culture and experience of the past. When compared with representations of space such as maps or plans, they can also show surprising discrepancies. For instance, the official ground plan of Center Market only depicts the interior of the market. However, photographs show that Center Market’s exterior was just as bustling and crowded as its interior. Farmers’ wagons, trucks, and automobiles lined the curb outside of the market selling fresh country produce.


Photograph of the Farmers Line Outside of Center Market  (83-G-16314)

Photograph of the Farmers Line Outside of Center Market. Courtesy of the National Archives.

The very name ‘Center Market’ hints at the importance of space and movement. The market originally earned the name because it was easily accessed via the main roads and waterways of the city of Washington. Center Market was located in the ‘center’ of a very different Washington D.C. To get a better idea of the change, take a look at this map of the city of Washington D.C. in 1861 compared to 2014. The ‘center’ of Washington D.C. has changed from being a vibrant public marketplace to a monumental core of official government buildings.

It is worth repeating: space is, “something that human beings produce over time…Space is itself historical”

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What’s in a Name? Early American Magazines and Museums

I was casually perusing Thomas Jefferson’s bookshelf at the Library of Congress, when I came across several volumes entitled, The American Museum. My interest was piqued by the title. The volumes appeared to be bound copies of a periodical…but why was it called a museum?

A quick Wikipedia search revealed the The American Museum was a late-eighteenth century literary magazine edited by Matthew Carey. In addition to Jefferson, subscribers included Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Noah Webster.

According to a list from  Frank Mott’s A History of American Magazines, early American periodicals were frequently  titled “museums”. Of course, the title alone does not reveal if this term was commonly used in other early American writings. Using the Google Ngram Viewer, I searched a corpus of American English books from 1750-1850 for the terms “museum” and “magazine.”

Google Ngram chart showing the use of the words"magazine" and "museum" from American English publications between 1750-1850

Click this chart to view the search results, sources, and manipulate the dataset.

This chart shows that during this period, the term “magazine” was used much more frequently until about 1820 when “museum” starts to become more popular. Google Ngram allows the user to view the source material by date, allowing users to get a quick feeling for how these terms were actually used. Although the term “magazine” is consistently used to describe serialized publications, the meaning of “museum” changes gradually throughout the period. Before 1820, the term “museum” refers to a printed collection of works by assorted authors, such as A Museum for Young Gentleman and LadiesBy the mid-ninteenth century, the term “museum” began to align more closely with our current-day conception of the term; for instance,  The Antiquities and Marbles in the British Museum

I have now identified a change over time, but why is it significant? IS it significant?

In The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture, Jared Gardner argues that it is. In early America, the term “museum” was not simply interchangeable with “magazine” or “periodical,” it had a unique and distinctive meaning. Gardner argues that early American museums were communal efforts, sometimes circulated privately, and sometimes marketed to the public. The collections were loosely edited, dependent on the contributions from its readers, and full of “contradictory evidence and ambiguous conclusions.” (p3) As Gardner notes, the early American museums share many parallels with today’s internet culture.

The shift away from periodicals being called “museums” was not just a simple change of name; it marks a literary and cultural shift.

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Review: Creating a Winning Online Exhibition

In Creating a Winning Online Exhibition: A Guide for Libraries, Archives, and MuseumsMartin R. Kalfatovic provides a great introduction to the principles that guide a successful web exhibit. Kalfatovic cover a wide array of topics from accessibility to intellectual property to web design, blending new media issues with more traditional scholarship on design and museum studies.

Underscoring the importance of thoughtful planning, Kalfatovic devotes his opening chapters to the theory and practice of organizing and crafting an exhibition. Kalfatovic believes that a successful exhibition will communicate a central idea; this is what separates an exhibit from, “a random collection of objects or… images.” (9) This central idea should guide the selection of objects and images for the exhibit, as well as steer the execution and organization of the exhibit. Kalfatovic provides readers with a useful overview of the process, providing an example timelines and a list of deliverables including the proposal, exhibition script, label text, and intellectual property rights.  Kalfatovic borrows many of these concepts from physical exhibitions, incorporating tips from leading scholars such as Beverly Serrell. However, Kalftatovic does a good job exploring the differences between physical and online exhibitions. Visiting a website is a very different audience experience than walking through a gallery space. Kalfatovic argues that web exhibits need to be organized with this unique user experience in mind.

In the second half of the book. Kalfatovic tackles technical issues and design. In concise and understandable terms, Kalfatovic walks readers through the best practices for image formats, markup languages, web design, and accessibility issues. Rather than simply listing the best practices, Kalfatovic does a great job explaining exactly why these are the standards and why these standards are important for library, archives, and museum professionals.

  • Why is it necessary to use a cascading style sheet instead of html to create tables? While HTML tables display in a fixed size, CSS renders tables based on the size and settings of a web browser. The tables will automatically adjust size with the user.
  • Why should I provide Alt text with images? If an image does not display, or if people with disabilities cannot view the image, this text will describe the image in words. This is also a great reason to use descriptive text for hyperlinks, rather than a generic “Click Here!” message.
  • How is online color different than print color and what are the origins of CMYK? OK, this one gets pretty complex. It has to do with additive color mixing theory and light refraction. It is actually still hard for me to explain this one, but I did get to test the theory by digitally mixing the colors red and green. Red and green paint may mix to brown, but red and green makes yellow on a computer screen!
Color mixing experiment. Red plus green equals yellow!
An experiment that demonstrates the unique properties of additive color mixing. In the digital world, mix red and green to make yellow!

The book ends with a series of very useful appendices including: sample database fields, tips for using contractors, and information on Dublin Core Metadata. The book is a well-organized and handy reference tool that I am sure I will consult as I work on my final project for this class.

Of course, this book is not a comprehensive guide to creating an online exhibit. As should be expected from a book published in 2001, certain aspects of the book are very dated. There is no mention of social media. The design section, although it provides a great overview on layout and typography, gives very little guidance on usability testing or audience-based design. Kalfatovic stresses the importance of interactive web exhibits, but is years away from the type of participatory practice and shared authority that Nina Simon explores in her 2010 book, The Participatory Museum.

However, the core argument of this book is timeless. As Kalfatovic persuasively argues, an exhibition’s success depends on a variety of elements including its purpose, audience, design, and maintenance. If the book is guided by one big idea, I think that it might be this: thoughtful planning is the key to a winning online exhibition.






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