Proposal for the public history project

My project is to display the history of Chinese Americans from 1850s to the present. The project focuses on their contributions and tribulations in the U.S. during the 150 years which make a significant of American legacy today. The display tries to argue that the Chinese immigrants, as other ethnic groups, make great contributions to this country but as the first and only ethnic group targeted by American law for exclusion, they had to continuously strive for equal civil rights since Chinese Exclusion Act took effect in 1882. The project will focus on the unique path of Chinese immigrants, bringing the stories of success, violence, self-help, difficulties and struggle together. These Chinese include famous people such as doctors as well as common Chinese, including the Chinese mafia. There are doctors who, by their researches, enriched American diet and invented new drugs that greatly improved the public health. And they are “small people” who were laundry men or gold miners who used legal means to obtain justice. The project aims to show the stories of common people using a bottom-up approach instead of treating Chinese as a whole homogenizing everyone, like other projects on Chinese Americans. The project will also include Chinese Americans’ experience after the ban on Asian immigration was lifted in 1965 and show to the audience what the Chinese immigrants now think and do in the U.S.

The digital technologies to do the project are mainly Omeka and the embedded plugins. The forms include videos, pictures, pdf files as well as texts. Many of the sources are primary sources which come from my own historical research and digitised archives from many institutions such as the National Archives and New York public library. The featured categories on the front page such as “featured item” and “featured exhibit” help highlight the things I would like to demonstrate most. The challenge is how to integrate the abundance of valuable resources with the excellent features of Omeka rather than simple listing of sources.

The target audience of the display is the general public. The first target audience is the Americans in the town where I live. It has a diversified population because of the university. So, the audience ranges from highly-educated people such as professors to the common Americans who may or may not have idea of the Asian community in the country. There are also internationals. The town has an African American museum which commemorates African Americans and John A.Logan museum which commemorates a white American General in American Civil War. So, one of my goals is to fill the gap that there is no institutions about Asian Americans who are in a small percentage of American population but have been in the U.S. for more than 150 years and made great contributions. Though it is a digital public history, I hope through my work, local Americans can have a clear idea of Chinese Americans. This may build new knowledge of Chinese Americans in them or correct their stereotype of Chinese Americans, or Asian communities. The secondary target audience is general public, in and out of the U.S. I hope through the digital public history project, they can understand the history of Chinese Americans and the importance of diversity, equality and liberty which are still the issues of the world today. Through the project I hope to show that diversity can lead to prosperity and liberty and equality concerns everyone. People’s fight for them can benefit everybody in the society.

In short, my project is to use Omeka and the historical archives I collected online and in the physical institutions to demonstrate the complexity of the Chinese immigrants’ path in the past 150 years. It is a path of success, struggle, tears and pride.


Revised Personas

Name: Jonathan Bean
Demographic: 57, male, white, college professor, Catholic
Descriptive Title: a knowledgable person on Asian Americans
End Goals: He hopes to retire in 7 years and moves to a place by the ocean.
Quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
A Day in a Life Narrative:

He gets up at 7 am and reads news. At 8:30 he goes to work and starts his day as the chair of the department. He is keen to learn everything digital and willing to use the digital means in his teaching and research. He loves exercising in the gym and often complains he is too busy to do that. He’s a very nice person and love helping students and any person he can help out. His wide reading and friendly personality give him rich knowledge of Asians and Asian Americans. Actually he is a fighter for equal civil right and serves on the committee of civil rights of Illinois.
End Goals: He hopes to retire in 7 years and moves to a place by the ocean.



Comparative Review of John A. Logan Exhibit

The John A.Logan Museum of Murphysboro, Illinois exhibits the life of John A. Logan, a Civil War general and later a U.S. senator.

The Physical site: 

The argument of the exhibition is John A. Logan was a great contributor to the Civil War and later the civil right movements of the African Americans. Though he was pro-slavery at the beginning, his view changed when he fought for the Union during the Civil War.

The primary audience for this work is the general public, including students, local residents and tourists. The type of visitors when I was there is local residents or the residents from towns nearby who make a weekend trip to the museum.

The primary items used to communication are texts, pictures and the items used by or related to John A. Logan. At the beginning of the tour, there is a section which introduces the history of Illinois, how the political view of the residents was formed before the civil war and how Logan families came to Illinois. The main means are texts and maps.

The site is laid out along the time line of the life of John A. Logan, starts from how his father ended up in Illinois. It is easy to navigate because you can follow the route of visit and the sequence of the exhibit is the same as his life time line. Each room exhibits one main period of John A Logan’s life. It encourages a single flow of traffic because the exhibition is organized along Logan’s time line, so if a visitor starts from “the childhood of Logan”, the traffic will be single flow.

There are not interactive elements in the physical space. It mainly relies on the visitors themselves to read and see the texts, pictures and items in the glass window.

There is one one curator on site, at the entrance/exit of the exhibition. You can talk to her to get the general information before you start to see the exhibition and you can communicate with her about your thought, questions, and suggestions after completing the tour. She is very friendly and knowledgable. And she will tell you some things that are not on exhibit.

To make the exhibition more effective, I think I will introduce some digital means such as audio and video. For example, I will install some electronic pads and TV screens, to show the documentary of John A Logan, to create some interaction on the pads where the visitors can get more information about Logan, played some ask-and-answer games and some other games based on history. Currently the exhibition mainly relies on texts, pictures and physical items in the display window.

The Digital Presence (

The argument about history is John A Logan’s life which chronicles from his birth to death, showing John A. Logan was a great contributor to the Civil War and later the civil right movements of the African Americans. The website mainly uses the forms of timeline, pictures and videos to show his great achievements. The visitors can get general idea of the main achievements of Logan but can not get many details. The website does not show interpretive point of view but just displays many facts of Logan’s life around different themes such as family, civil war and legacy.

The primary audience for the work is the general public, either those who plan to visit the museum or those who can’t but want to know more about John A.Logan. The success in delivering materials depends on the type of the audience. For those who plan to visit the museum, I think the website serves as a great preliminary introduction and arouses more of visitors’ interest in the exhibition. For those who can’t not visit the site but need to know more about Logan, I think the online exhibit could have had more content, adding more details and using more kinds of tools to exhibit. According to my personal experience, the assumptions it makes about the audience are they don’t know much about Logan, need the site to tell more and will visit the museum after reading the website.

The layout of website is easy to read and well-organized. You can find what you need under different categories and it’s easy to find the access to each part. You can find them either by clicking different categories or the link on the front pages, making it a shortcut directly to where you want to go. It is very easy to native. It is not obvious that it encourages a single flow of traffic. Visitors can just go back and forth by clicking the content they are interested in. They can skip what they don’t want to read.

The content is basically the same as the physical exhibition but less detailed. Also, it doesn’t not show everything in the physical exhibition, only part of them. It looks like a simplified version of the physical exhibition. But it also shows the information the physical exhibition does not show due to the limit of space such as the family tree, the information of every family members of Logan and their pictures.  The website offers other information about the museum such as telephone, hours, contact information, membership information, upcoming events, visitors’ feedback etc.

The site does not have participatory or interactive elements. The visitors are passive readers.

The interaction is only you can leave a message to them, if this counts as interaction. The interaction plays a very minor role in the success of the site.

The webite does an excellent job by adding audios and videos to introduce and interpret the history. But it might be able to use more digital tools to animate the exhibit such as 360 degree panorama pictures to set the visitors inside the exhibition, powerpoint slides, some interactive  features such as online talk, interactive videos, games and offer more details of history than the physical exhibition.  The physical exhibition is limited by space but the website isn’t.

Comparative Review of the Two Means of Exhibitions 

The advantage of the physical exhibition is the visitors can immerse themselves in the exhibition. It is easier for visitors to get “the atmosphere” of history.  Moreover, the physical present in the exhibition enables the visitors to see the items on the display much more clearly, while it is almost impossible to have this clarity by watching the online exhibit, even if the online exhibit shows everything on the physical display. Even if you can see the same thing clearly online, in matter in picture or video, the “texture” is different. The feel of history it gives you is different. The on-site item definitely give visitors more real feeling of history. The third advantage of physical exhibition is you can have interaction with the museum staff. This talk can give you more information about history, about the exhibition and other things you can’t find online and in the physical exhibition. Very few museums provide online interaction with curators and even if they do, it feels different from a face-to-face communication. The disadvantage of physical exhibition is the space is limited, so not everything is on display. Second disadvantage is you may not be able to reach the location either because it is far or a bad weather or off-hours.

The disadvantages of physical exhibition is the advantages of the online exhibition. The biggest advantage, in my opinion, is it is not limited by the space. The curators can show limitless content on the website and put them in good order. This is impossible in the physical exhibition. The second advantage is the visitors can decide what to read and what not to read when they see the exhibition online. In the physical exhibition, you can skip the part you are not interested in but first you have to follow the sequence of the exhibit set by the curator. Other advantages of online exhibit are you can see the exhibition at any time and from any location as long as you have a computer.

In short, the online exhibition and the physical exhibition both have advantages and different advantages. It depends on different visitors’ needs to decide what type is the best for the visitors.

Relationship Between Audience and Content In Public History Project

The relationship between audience and content in public history projects is mostly a question of authority, that is, who has the authority to decide the content and what role the audience plays in the public history project.

At the beginning, public historians saw “the public” the synonym for a generalized and somewhat passive “audience” and as a result, public history programs initially focused on the products of the history work not the process. The public historians saw the public history as new avenues and methods for communicating their ideas (A New Kind of Technician, XXI). However, in mid-1970s, the historian J.Ronald Grele made his call for the change of role of historians in public history, he proposed that “every man can become his own historian.” The task of public historians should be the facilitators rather than communicators of history, “the task of the public historian, broadly defined, should be to help members of the public do their own history and to aid them in understanding their role in shaping and interpreting events.” (A New Kind of Technician, xxiii). Some historians did not agree with this, they still emphasized scholarly authority, arguing that public historians must produce responsible narratives and challenge prevalent myth about the past. Since public history projects are in nature collaborative, I think it is questionable to place the authority to decide the content only in the hands of the historians. As a scholar argues, history should serve public good, “providing a window through which average Americans might catch a glimpse of the past and recognize their own place in the nation’s story.” (Conclusion, Towards a New Genealogy of Public History, 159).  Like Grele, it emphasized again the facilitator role of historians rather than the authority to transmit history to the “passive” audience.

The success of Chinatown history museum proves that to involve the public in the making of history exhibits can interest wider public and energize the history profession by the “dialogue-driven approach.” The contact with the public made the projects community-based. The people involved in the program was not only the museum staff and historians, but also Asian Americans, New Yorkers, East Side residents etc. As the founder of the Chinatown history museum said, “if we have learned anything since the Chinatown History Museum was founded, it has been that a community-based history organization can serve some real and important needs felt by our constituencies. But these needs can be effectively served only by engaging in continual dialogue with people.” (Creating a Dialogic Museum, 291). It broke the tradition that a few historians and historical organizations decided the interpretations of the history and culture of a community but involved in the collaboration of many different people to interpret the past and to define the experience and perception of China town. For example, in the Salvaging New York Chinatown exhibition, a photograph caused great public interest. It was a photo of a fourth-grade class from P.S.23 and many individuals came for to the identify people in the photo and their memories of the school. The museum decided to organize a reunion of those Chinese who attended school. Even Italian residents called in large number. This experience told us the dialogic approach created the space for historians, the public and the community to examine history today. Only with the public participation that the history could help to fundamentally question and revision who we are and what we should be doing.

The shared authority between historians and the public sometimes created tension. As the historian Barbara Franco said, “while we have a responsibility to monitor accuracy, our public partners are seeking understanding and meaning.” (A Shared Inquiry, 20) And sometimes the stories public historians want to tell are sometimes not the stories the public wants to hear. The one possible way to solve this problem is to acknowledge the heritage is stronger than history. Community history thrives in situations where people feel comfortable enough to confront their own pasts and share with others (A Shared Inquiry, 24). But sometimes the situation is not black-and-white. It takes negotiation, compromise and hard decision. Take the Meet Me at the Fair exhibition in Saint Louis as an example, the Filipino community thought the Igorot dog-eating stories were painful racist insults to other Filipinos but the historian still decided to exhibit the photo because the historian wanted to retain the interpretive control. The hindsight reflection of the historian that she should involved local Filipino Americans in the give-and-take discussion before putting the photo on the wall so that they may be able to agree on its value in the exhibit. This story also showed the important role the public played in the planning and staging of public history.

It’s not easy to do the public history well. As a historian, I understand historians’ insistence on accuracy and authority but we need to learn to practice with the public, not only for the public so that history can play a bigger role in the social progress of the society, providing a space of members of society to discuss, argue and reflect the varied pasts which are the touchtone for the present and for the future. Historians should join the public’s ongoing conversation, sharing the inquiry and authority of historians with the public in the formative stages of projects. It is an reciprocal process where the public and the historians can learn from each other.

What I Learned From User Research

I have done user interviews with two people. This is what I learned from user research:

  1. Due to different education level and life experience, people may not be able to answer all questions but they can provide some new perspectives I didn’t realize and these new perspectives can broaden the horizons of my project. I am thinking if I should adjust my set of question, not “one set for all”, but list more questions to enrich my research.
  2. Sometimes you need to guide them, remind them or adjust your questions so that they can talk more. And when they talk about things irrelative to your questions, you need to find a way to politely bring them back to the track without offending them.
  3. For other potential users, I am thinking if I should narrow down or widen the range of my target interviewees because  I may not get what I want from a certain group of people.
  4. These people may provide some useful resources I don’t have or think of. I need to add this question into the list of questions.
  5. The user research definitely makes me rethink my project, from questions to the target interviewees. I need to more time to redesign the project that can exhibit a comprehensive view over Asian Americans.


I am a PhD candidate of history of Southern Illinois University and my research area is transnational history. Currently I am writing my dissertation on the first Chinese woman who obtained the medical degree as well as the college degree in the United States.

Before returning to school again, I worked as a TV journalist of international news and edited news videos. It’s my first time to have hands-on experience on media and it sparked my interest in how to use technologies and media to tell stories interestingly. I returned to school because I wanted to have full-time research on history of the world.

I first heard of digital humanities from my advisor and it immediately attracted my attention. I did not hesitate to enroll in such a program when I learned I could do it online. What I have learned in the program has been very interesting and I look forward to public history I will learn this semester.

Actually I have no clear idea about what public history is and what both historians and the public do in it. But I presume it is to manifest history in public to the audience. I guess I will have profound understanding of public history at the end of this semester.

My learning goal of this semester is 1. to have full understanding of public history. 2. to explore how it can expand and deepen my research area using what I learn this semester. 3. I know public history deeply involve the public so I hope it can benefit my history teaching in the future.

Reflection on Final Project—Early Chinese Immigration Routes

My project aims to track early Chinese immigrants to the United States, seeing where they were mostly from and where they went in the United States. The sources is the Chinese Exclusion File. In 1882, the American congress passed Chinese Exclusion Act banning new Chinese laborers from coming to America and the legal Chinese residents in the U.S. from becoming citizens. Therefore, every Chinese who entered the U.S. had a record at the immigration office of the custom. To show this network map, I choose Kepler gl because it is a great mapping tool that can show the relation between locations and the information of these Chinese immigrants such as sex and occupation. Here is the embedded project (you can move the map inside the box. Make Pacific Ocean the center of the map).

There were a few problems when I completed the project. First, the names of locations in Chinese Exclusion Files are Cantonese while the modern maps use Mandarin. So, I have to translate Cantonese to Chinese Mandarin. Luckily there is a website for such translation. It’s for the Chinese Americans to find their ancestors’ home towns ( Second, it is huge amount of work by inputting the information of these immigrants, the latitude and longitude of their birth places and places of residence in the U.S. Thanks to Dr.Robertson’s suggestion, I picked 100 immigrants. But as they were picked randomly, the data is qualified to show the general situation of early Chinese immigrants. Third, when I made a data sheet and uploaded it to Kepler gl., the map didn’t show locations. I tried the slave narrative data sheet in the course, and it worked. I cut a few sets of data from my own file and uploaded them in two csv files to Kepler, one worked, and one didn’t.  After I changed the names of columns into the right ones (before, I took longitude for latitude and vice versa) and uploaded the file again, it worked! The Kepler showed the locations.

The result of the mapping is surprising. Before doing the project, I expected most of these immigrants were from Canton province. And the map did show this result. What surprised me is most of immigrants did not go to California though some of them landed in the ports there. From the map we can see, many of them went to Oregon and Washington on the west coast and most of them ended up in the east coast such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia even if some of them were born in California. This surprised me because I presumed California, in the past and the present, take most of Chinese immigrants. So, the map tells us this is not the fact, at least in the period when Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. On second thought I find this makes sense because California was the key force behind the passage of the Exclusion Act. It was not welcoming to the Chinese at that time. This is probably the reason why most Chinese immigrants didn’t stay in California.

The 100 people in the data sheet was selected randomly in the Chinese Exclusion files. So, the conclusion made from the map was representative of the general situation of Chinese early immigrants. The conclusion is most of them were from Canton province and ended up in the east coast of the U.S. and a few of them, born in U.S. moved back to Canton. You can see the information of these immigrants by clicking the routes on the map.

The link to the project is:

Please make the Pacific Ocean the center of the map so that the routes cross above the Pacific Ocean. They were the routes between China and America the immigrants followed. If Eurasia is the center, the routes will cross the Eurasia Continent between China and America and these were not the immigration routes of Chinese immigrants.



The Final Project–Chinese Immigration Routes

My final project is to track the early Chinese immigrants to the United States, where they came from in China and where they ended up in the United States. As my dissertation is to write the first Chinese woman who obtained a college degree/medical degree in the U.S., this research on early Chinese immigrants will help me understand the immigrant flow which reflected the social history of both China and U.S.

The source is the Chinese Exclusion Files. In 1882, the Congress passed an act that banned Chinese laborers from coming to America. It was built on the Page Act of 1875 which banned Chinese women from immigrating to the U.S. So, each Chinese entering the U.S. during 1882-1943 had a file at immigration office. They were asked many questions before the inspector decided if they could or could not enter the U.S. So the Files have abundant records of these early Chinese immigrants.

I plan to use Kepler.dl to visualize their routes, like the screenshot above. The screenshot was on the migration of American slaves. It was from a project of this course during the semester. I would like to make a similar one showing the early Chinese immigrants.

strategies to read different audiences for my project.

My project is to show where the early Chinese immigrants to America come from in China and where in America they end up. I  will use Paladio to show this map network. The target audiences of my project is scholars, Chinese Americans, and the general public who are interested in this topic.

1. Scholars of digital humanities and those who are interested in it

First of all, I will open a blog introducing my project: the goals, the tools, the rationale and the source. Then I will establish three tabs for the three audiences. Under “scholarly thinking on digital humanities” tab, I will discuss my exercise to combine traditional historical research and digital tool such as what difficulties I find, what may be useful for other academic research and the significance or potentials of this experiment for history study. I may also reflect my thought by applying digital humanities technology to the teaching of history in classroom. It is a professional.

After finishing this blog, I will share the link to the professional organizations where I’m a member such as AHA, the scholars I know, and the websites which provide professional network with other scholars such as H-Net. I will also share my link to the facebook and twitter pages of these places and my own personal account. I also want to make a video about my project using Echo 360 and upload it to youtube.

I want to convey a message that my project invites academic discussion on the project. After expressing my idea, design and practice, I would like to have feedback from other scholars so that I can improve my project. Their feedback is also the way to measure the success of my strategy because if I successfully let the professional people know of my project and they are interested, they will contact me.

2. Scholars of China Studies

To target this group, I will write down my thought under the tab “scholarly thinking on China Studies”. In this part, I will focus on the academic discussion on China, instead of the digital means to conduct historical research though I will discuss digital humanities in brief. The social media tools I will use are facebook, twitter and professional websites. In sharing the link to my blog, I will appeal to the audience with my discussion on the locations on the map. For example, who most of early Chinese immigrants came from a certain location of a province instead of another? Is the information shown by my map the same as the conclusion of the previous studies or is there anything new? What are the possible reasons behind people of a certain place went to America instead of countries? Besides the facebook and twitter pages, I will post a thread in the facebook discussion group of China studies, the forum on the websites of H-Net, American Historical Association and Association of Asian Studies. Meanwhile, I will also post this to the Chinese equivalent of these websites in China. I hope my blog would be a discussion forum on this specific immigrant issue.

3. the general public

I target the general public who is interested in this immigration study. I will set up a wikipedia entry and post on Facebook and twitter too. Through the outsourcing in wikipedia, I may find new useful facts about my study. It can help me reach a wider public, professionals and non-professionals. The third tab after “scholarly thinking on digital humanities” and “scholarly thinking on China Studies” in my blog is “the fun fact of early Chinese immigrants”. I hope the title could attract the interest of those who are not history professionals. To keep their interest going on, I will publish these facts bit by bit on facebook and twitter followed by the link to the blog. I will also post the pictures of map on Pinterest. By using these tools, I do not only share and publish my research but I also hope these people can provide me with more facts I might neglect in my research. Through the outsourcing, I think it is possible to make good use of the “public wisdom”.  To measure my success, I will look at the numbers of comments, shares, visits to the website and the messages they leave.

My blog is not static. I want to keep updating it with my latest thought, interaction with these three groups of people and even new research. And once updating it, I want to post this update on the facebook, twitter and and professional forums.

What I Can Do with Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is to invite the general public to help complete a project such as transcription of papers or correction of OCR texts. War Department Papers 1784-1800 and Trove of the national library of Australia are two of very successful crowdsourcing projects. I am a user as well as a contributor of these two projects.

War Department Papers 1784-1800 is transcription project. It asks the public help to transcribe the papers of American War Department to make the content easier to read, search and circulate. As a user, I find this crowdsourcing project is beneficial to both history professionals and non-professionals. Once made easier to read, the papers can attract wider public interest and save people’s time reading obscure handwriting. It’s more likely to make people enjoying reading original sources of history. As a contributor, the website of War Department Papers is very user-friendly. There is no difficulty or confusion when you try to help and transcribe the manuscripts. You can tick “mark as complete” when it is fully transcribed. Or you can view revision history to decide what you can do to the manuscript. To adapt to different contributors, the website gives the option to make the two boxes of original text and your transcription side by side or topdown. These small details of user-friendliness make the transcribing very pleasant experience.

The Newspaper Collection in the Trove of the national library company is a success among correction projects. It invites people to correct the OCR texts generated from the original newspapers. It sparked great public interest because the data shows the numbers of both users and the texts they corrected soared. The interface is easy to use. And it offers more options than War Department papers  such as comments, tags, download and categorization.  A user can tailor the newspaper articles to their need. It is also very easy to edit the OCR text. You can either click the pencil sign at the end of each line or click the editing text button on the top of the whole text. The original newspaper article sits side by side with OCR text and is highlighted in its own box. In the OCR text box, each line is relatively short so it is very easy to spot the errors in the sentence. Combining my interest in the articles, the correction process is fun to me.

The crowdsourcing projects build the communities which brings the people who have the same interest together. It makes history reach wider public by engaging the public in the project and such engagement changes the stereotype that history is a far, dry and professional-only domain. By inviting the public to the project and seeing their great contributions, the librarians and archivists have better understanding of the archives as well as gain lighter workload by outsourcing what could have been done by themselves. So, crowdsourcing is a fantastic way to energize public interest and participation in history projects, build communities for people who share the same interest, and better the public service of libraries and archives.

To attract more people to participate in crowdsourcing, I have a few pieces of thought. First, the interface should be easy to use. Like War Department papers, a contributor can just start their work by clicking the link. Second, the website should make it easy for other users to contribute if one piece of transcription is done. In War Department Papers, once I complete the transcribing, I have the option to mark it as “complete”. So when another user reads the list of manuscripts, he/she can look for another piece. This saves his or her time to browse and look for the untranscribed. Third, I think the crowdsourcing websites should increase a “share” button so that users can share their work on social media.  This can promote the projects and attract more people to participate. Fourth, like Wikipedia, the websites should make a place where people can communicate with each other instead of reading revision history and working alone. This can not only improve the quality of crowdsourcing but also help build the communities where people of similar interest can get together. Users can also use this place to talk with librarians and archivists. In short, the easier the website is to use, the more likely it can attract wider public.