Sixteen Tons was derived as a way to share research to other scholars, teachers, and the public based upon the many hours I spent working in archives around the world. Coming from a field where research tends to be highly guarded and secretive until your work is published, my work with the CHI initiative has provided me with the understanding that it is, not only okay to share my research, but it could provide a useful alternative to the bulky dissertation that tends to mostly collect dust on a library shelf. By simply adding media and a web address to my dissertation research, I’m going to be able to reach far more people.

Most of the inspiration behind my project came from another online project, Like a Family. It is a website component to the book of the same title – one that I had read during my first year in graduate school. The website is old, outdated (I showed this one to a THATCamp session and got a lot of geocities cracks) and not very visually interesting, but it shows some initiative on the part of the American Historical Association to acknowledge that research should not be confined to the filing cabinets of crotchety old historians until they decide to publish in an academic journal.

Like a Family seemed to be a bit of a bust, however. Despite photos, links to oral history, and lesson plans and suggestions for teachers, it seems unlikely that the website ever obtained many visitors. Part of this reason may be contributed to the lack of interaction between the viewers and the development of the project. As a website that was created mainly by two historians, there seemed to be no drive for further development or improvement from others.

With this in mind, I’d like to review three projects that have used public collaboration to successfully shape their websites: Historypin, Timetoast, and the Brooklyn Museum. Look for them in Part 2 of this post.