My Year with Interactive Exhibit Design

Once again the end of a semester has come and it’s time for me to dwell upon the lessons learned with technology.

This semester, we were given one project to work on all year, ending in a final showing during out last class.

I partnered with Erica Gagnon, who also wrote about this lovely experience, and together we set out to create a cool way to display history in a public setting.

I thought about old TVs, (you know, the one’s with the bunny ears and static and wooden frames?) and how it might be cool to incorporate them into something history related. After all, who doesn’t love TV and bunny ears?!

In on of our first classes, we went around the table and threw out ideas. This was the one I suggested.

And luckily for me, Erica liked it! Which is how our beautiful partnership began, and we went to the drawing board to create something extraordinary.

We thought we would have a number of “Canadian” moments (we started thinking somewhere around 10) and then thought it would be cool if you could push a knob on the TV and go to other historical moments for other areas of the world. Grand, grand plans.

Which of course got reduced.

We settled for Canadian moments and we further settled for two Canadian moments. Because that was enough to figure out!

Erica and I used Max6 (a program that has been discussed previously on my blog) and Phidgets to come up with…




But this is jumping ahead to the finished product and making it look FAR too easy. Creating this baby took some time.

We played around with Max6, trying to figure out how to make the slider phidget work with the program and play a video. We figured that made the most sense, you would slide a knob along a track and that would trigger the video. With this in mind, and with help from our professor Bill, we eventually came up with a patch on Max6 looking like:


Basically, static would play until you moved one bunny ear to a certain point along the slider and then a video would play. If you kept moving the bunny ear, you would hit more static and then the second video. Interestingly, the videos were on a continuous loop so they didn’t restart every time to triggered them, much like on an actual TV.

So. What next? After this, we actually had to get those pesky videos…

Turns out, getting videos off YouTube isn’t as easy as clicking a button. We tried a bunch of different methods for downloading them before finally finding one that worked. Thanks to Marco Chau’s YouTube video we were finally able to download the videos.

We chose the Canadian men’s hockey team winning the gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics and then part of a Justin Bieber concert, just for fun.

Once the videos were downloaded, we converted them into .mov or .mp4 and inserted them into our Max6 program.

There were some technical difficulties in that the noise from the videos would play through the static (we were hoping for silence) that we didn’t have time to fix, but ultimately, it worked as we had hoped!


Dang! Static! Where’s our TV program?!?!


Oh now that’s much better!

With the technical part done, it was time to get crafty. With only two classes to go until presentation day, Erica and I began building a TV with our bare hands…


We used the cover the Mac computers come in to protect the computer screen…


Our “old school” TV frame…


How we fastened it on… Yes, those are rocks. It’s called being resourceful, people!


Look at that wood panelling! We used bottle caps covered in tape for the knobs and a mesh bag for the speakers.

And we ended up with the finished product you saw earlier in all its glory!

All in all, I have to admit, this class didn’t defeat me as I thought it might. Having a partner like Erica, who just gets technology, was incredibly helpful, as was having Bill as our prof. He let us flounder and try to figure things out for ourselves and if we couldn’t, he would swoop in with a suggestion or some advice.

I greatly enjoyed working with these different technologies and seeing what everyone else came up with. It was a learning experience I hope to take with me and apply in the field.

Not Quite a TED Talk, but You’ve got to Start Somewhere

What seems like many moons ago, I sent in an abstract for a paper I hadn’t even written yet to a graduate conference call for papers at the University of Alberta.

It was on the topic “Resistance is NOT Futile” and we had to be writing about any form of resistance within history. Since the paper was for my class on Indigenous research methods, and I was hoping to focus on Two-Spirited people, I felt I could easily meld my paper to revolve around historical resistance.

A few weeks later, I was informed my paper was chosen and I would present! I was of course very excited, but also figured most people’s papers probably got chosen – couldn’t get a big ego. Yet.

I wrote and handed in my paper on Two-Spirited people’s resistance to colonial definitions of gender before the winter holidays and the conference became a vague thought in my mind of something coming up in the distant future.

As seems to be the case, it wasn’t in THAT distant of the future and soon it was almost time to head to Alberta. And I wasn’t ready.

I was nervous to present on such a broad topic with so many discrepancies and so a large risk of getting something wrong. I’ve taken one Native Studies-esque class (ie. the one I just finished) my whole life and now I’m thinking I know enough to present on it?!? What was I thinking?!

I researched the topic further, trying to quell my nerves and convince myself I had a good point and knew what I was doing. I wrote my presentation, trying to keep it long so the Q&A session would be short. But 20 minutes is a long talk and eventually I accepted questions would be asked. Don’t fight it. (Sometimes, resistance IS futile)

After crafting my talk to have a few jokes, some pop-culture references, scholarly mentions and (hopefully) some interesting points, I was starting to feel more prepared.

I practiced alone (muttering and pacing everywhere), I practiced with one of my best friends (for unconditional love and support), with classmate Jes (for tips and advice on talking (and my outfit)), with a random person I barely knew (to see if I could hold her interest) and was finally ready.

If only I had an artistic montage on the time leading up to the conference…

Of COURSE the weekend I was supposed to fly into Alberta, there would be storms everywhere and it ended up I couldn’t go to the first day of the conference. So, Friday March 1st, I got dressed and headed to campus.

Luckily, I had someone to come with me through the train system and GET me to school. About two hours early… Once there, I got lost despite wandering around looking at the map on my phone, but some helpful people pointed me in the right direction.

I got to the right building and walked around the floor looking for the room number. And when I found it, my nerves faded almost completely.

I was standing in front of  a door to a room that looked to be about the size of a small office.

And my visions of grandeur disappeared.

I think I was hoping for standing ovations, screaming crowds… TED Talk style. But, as I say in the title of this post, everyone has to start somewhere. Perhaps one day I’ll speak in front of that many people. Jillian Michaels can do it. Positive thinking!

I left the room (it wasn’t even open yet, I was so early) and went to get a coffee and read my book. About half an hour before my session started, I headed back over and took a seat in an unsurprisingly small room with about six people in it.

Everyone was very nice, introducing themselves and talking about their schooling and research, but once in the room, I suddenly got too nervous to talk much.

Why so nervous? Besides the normal pre-presentation butterflies, I also met Winona Wheeler, a known Indigenous scholar whose work we read in class, within five minutes of entering the room and my stomach dropped. I knew she was going to BE at the conference, but she wasn’t chairing my panel so I had hoped she wouldn’t be there!

Not that I think I got my facts wrong or didn’t believe in what I was saying! It’s more I didn’t want to take the chance of saying something wrong or being asked a question I couldn’t answer.

I don’t know if I heard much of the presentation before mine, I was too busy mentally going over my talk. When I finally got up to the podium (in front of about a whopping 16 people!), I can only hope I appeared calm and composed and not like I was sweating profusely.

I gave my talk, answered the questions and it was done. One question was asked that I could not answer, but I tried to say as much as diplomatically as possible (basically without being like “… whaaaat…?”) and Winoa Wheeler turned out to be very nice. She complimented an aspect of my work – maybe I know something about something after all… There goes my ego, just taking off.

I sat down and was done! My first academic graduate presentation not in front of my classmates! I felt like balloons should be falling from the sky, trumpets blaring, and glitter being thrown in my face by happy people in body suits dancing around me!

Maybe that will come after my TED talk….

They Don’t Make ’em Like They Used to

Cataloguing the medical collection at Fanshawe Pioneer Village and I came across some gems I thought I’d share with all of you:


They may LOOK like Altoids, but don’t be fooled…


DANGER! Who knew it was such a serious illness?!

Some great "bathroom reading"...

Some great “bathroom reading”…

Well if there's "magic" in it, it HAS to work...

Well if there’s “magic” in it, it HAS to work…


This stuff basically cures anything. From headaches to dirty blood. I don’t know how that pesky dirt got in there, but this will clear you right up!

DISCOVERED! A germ that causes dandruff! It's science! Also had no idea Listerine dabbled in this genre. Dandruff AND minty fresh breath!

DISCOVERED! A germ that causes dandruff! It’s science! Also had no idea Listerine dabbled in this genre. Dandruff AND minty fresh breath!

“I’ve Lost my Marbles…”

I don’t know if any of you have seen Hook, but it’s a childhood classic. I found myself quoting it a lot at work this week, but my quotes were lost on my co-workers. Historians.

Why was I quoting this random-but-extremely-well-cast film about Peter Pan? Because I was given the task of cataloguing about 20 clay marbles. (And in the film there’s a elderly character who is constantly saying that until you discover at the end he’s lost real marbles, not his mind. PLOT TWIST!)


So there were my marbles – I hadn’t lost them after all. I decided this task was blog-worthy because it was such an enjoyable challenge. As I’ve mentioned previously, I do quite like a good crafting session, and cataloguing can get preeeettty crafty if you’re in the right spirit.

I’ve given a “how to” on recording artifacts before, and the fun part of clearly writing the catalogue numbers on the artifact. You get to use nail polish AND a quill! See? Crafting.

Typically, you try to write the catalogue numbers where people won’t see them when the artifact is on display. With marbles, you can imagine this entails some fine print… BRING IT!

I started easy:


But soon progressed to the smaller ones:


It took me most of the morning, but I loved it! Perhaps for my next set of schooling, I’ll try being a surgeon… It can’t be THAT different.



You may remember a somewhat fear-filled-panicked-prediction-of-breakdown from a post in 2012 about this year’s Digital Exhibit Design class. Well it’s here…

We started our very first class by just diving right in! We were given a bunch of random material and told to craft something. I love getting crafty so this was right up my alley- if all technology were like this, I would be a techno-QUEEN! QUEEN, I SAY!

But alas, after the crafting, we had to begin doing things with a computer. We were set free in the techno-jungle with little idea what we were doing, so Jes and I flailed around slightly at first. BUT THEN! We had an idea.

We were working with Max 6.0 and Phidgets. To be honest, I’m still not completely sure what Phidgets are, but I believe they are a triggers that connect to Max 6 (with the proper programming) and then can make the computer do things. Vague, I know. I’m told it’s a learning curve.

This class, the “trigger” was a set of sensors that lit up lights in Max 6.0 when connected to our invention. It looked something like this:


Jes with our craftings… (it’s a flower with a watering can. Duh!)

It’s a flower, complete with watering can and Thumbelina (she’s hiding at the moment – as a girl the size of a thumb might). All the wires were attached to a Phidget circuit board (with commands such as “space”, “left arrow” etc) like so…


And then when the circuit was completed comme ça:


A light would light up on Max 6 depending on the command to which the wire was connected. Cool, je sais.

So the NEXT week, the fun continues! Now that we have the basics somewhat down, I paired up with Christina (not in our program, but apparently we have to branch out and I am always up for trying new things!). We took our flower and “pimped it”, using different patches on Max 6.

We made it so touching the watering can to the flower would connect the circuit and trigger a patch on Max 6 to make a “glugging” noise (that we downloaded off the internet). Essentially, so you could hear the flower drinking! Things just got cooler in this class.

Coming up?

Erica and I work on our final project: a TV… What does this TV do you ask? Well you’ll just have to read on to find out!

Oh the suspense!

An Update on Life Outside the Museum

A lot of my past posts lately have related to life at Fanshawe Pioneer Village, or the things I’ve learned in Digital History. But what else has been going on in my other classes?! The suspense!

Seeing as I only have three classes, I’m limited in what else I can talk about. So! I will focus on my Introduction to Public History class. Which provides, in my humble opinion, a lot more than an introduction.

For this class, we have to design and create an exhibit for Museum London (opening February 23, 2013), surrounding the theme “London Works“. In the main lobby of the museum, they have a large cabinet where they show items from their archives that don’t often meet the public eye. This is where our display will go.

We divided our 10-people program into three groups and we each took a sub-category of “work and labour”. The groups are: labourers, professionals, and domestic work.

I am in the professional group with Erica Gagnon and Paulina Johnson. Together, we will RULE THE WORLDDDDD! Well. The professional world. Of London. Maybe.

This is just a teaser into the real lives of our group and the display we are creating, but hopefully through the MANY hyperlinks in this post, I have caught your attention (probably not- sorry about the lack of pictures, there isn’t much to document yet) and I will keep you “posted” (ha, get it?!) on the developments in this glorious historical world of public history.


What Happens When Winter Comes?

It clearly has been a long time since my last post since I’m talking about shutting down Fanshawe Pioneer Village for the winter and that happened at the end of December. But if you’re really curious, perhaps you’ll forgive me my absence and read on. Either that, or you haven’t been reading all along and didn’t even notice the break. Either way, just what DOES happen when winter comes at FPV??

A glorious thing called site shut down. It actually is really cool to do because you get to step behind the plastic barriers stopping visitors from entering rooms, move that velvet rope and trod upon historical grounds where most cannot trod. Of course it also means sweeping, dusting, looking for mice nests and mopping everything until it gleams, but that’s all part of the excitement.

Carriage shed before its extreme make-over...

Carriage shed before its extreme make-over…

So. If you have a historical building (like the one above) and are looking to close it down for the winter, here’s what you do:

First, dust EVERYTHING. We use a fine-haired duster to brush all things off.

Dusting away!

Dusting away!

Next, clean all clear surfaces such as windows and plastic dividers with a less harmful cleaner than Windex.

Sweep EVERYTHING. It’s pretty satisfying to see the dirt piling up in a place that rarely gets swept, but has groups of children visiting every week.

Mop it all! This is the best part. The floors can look so shiny:

Freshly mopped floors in the Masonic Centre.

Freshly mopped floors in the Masonic Centre.

Once all is dusted, swept, wiped, mopped, vacuumed (if you can), you cover the main items in the room with large, plastic tarps.







In some cases, the tarps are to protect from sun damage (we also use sheets). In others, they’re in case of leaks in the building. In buildings with smaller objects, prone to leaks, we moved items into the centre of the room and covered them under one tarp. (That is what we did in the first “Tarped…” photo)

And that’s pretty much all there is to it – if a montage was created for this event, it would take no time at all and would probably involve singing. As it is, site shut-down is the work of week and the efforts of many different people. There are a lot of buildings to tuck in for a long winter’s nap!