Traits of an e-newsletter worth staying subscribed to

Someone asked me recently to name examples of good email newsletters. I have to admit I scratched my head a bit on that one. In the last two weeks I used Gmail filters to effectively get rid of 90% of my subscriptions. Boy has my life improved!

A lot has changed on the e-news front in the past few years. Folks are really simplifying their newsletters so they are more easily viewed on mobile phones. One that I’ve historically liked is World Monuments Fund (I always click on something there). Brooklyn Museum has some good content too. Rather than sending you down rabbit holes in search of the perfect e-newsletter, I’ll tell you about some traits that make up the one I would stay subscribed to:

  • It’s a good snapshot of the organization overall. Generally it’s the only time someone will get a sense of the breadth of your offerings. Offer a variety of content from several of your departments.
  • It has short teasers with a picture. Skip feature-length stories. All your content should be able to be scanned with a couple of thumb swipes, with included links if your reader wants to know more.
  • ONE major call to action.
  • It features links and directions on following/subscribing/sharing social media. Emphasize those that have the most creative input (I.e. Storytelling) from staff. Featuring the latest episode of a podcast is a good example of this.
  • It offers a frequency option. People are inundated with email, so having the option of weekly/monthly/quarterly or by subject matter is important for keeping them on your list.

Those are my thoughts. If you think differently, I’d love to see your comments on this post. If you believe the perfect email newsletter exists for a cultural or heritage institution already, feel free to share a link to it as well.

Teaser image credit.

Can you spot the historic inspiration for the Voices of the Past logo?

When I looked into a new logo for Voices of the Past, I wanted something that represented both history and technology.  I discovered the graphic above while visiting the Minnesota Archaeological Society website, and something about it struck me. Check out the tailfeather of the bird on the right. Does is remind you of any new media symbols out there? How about this one:


MAS, which uses the entire bird on the left for its logo, states on its website:

The inscriptions … are from a 1,000-year-old pot that was discovered in 1957 near Red Wing, Minnesota by an MAS member. The thunderbird motif is representative of Middle Mississippian iconography.

I love the thunderbird legend and its symbolic meanings of courage, transformation, and victory so much that it remains my one and only tattoo.


Did Native Americans first conceptualize RSS 1,000 years ago? I’ll leave that to the conspiracy theorists 😉 But it did inspire me enough to use it as the basis for the logo Voices of the Past has today.


Tips on Creating a Large Family Tree for a Gift (with templates)

By Suzie Kolber

A large family tree framed and presented as a gift is a wonderful way to honor a person. It is the ideal choice for a milestone birthday or anniversary and has a lot of meaning. It can be difficult to choose the right template with so many options. The right one for your family may be different from what would work for someone else.

Consider Presentation
Since the family tree will most likely be prominently displayed, it should have a nice visual presentation. A circular family tree provides a continuous, symmetrical design that looks nice when framed. A fan is another option that appears like a piece of artwork when hung.

Another choice is the bowtie family tree chart if you want to include both sides of a family member. This is ideal for anniversaries where you would feature the married couple in the center and branch off for both of their families. Since there will be a lot of information or a long list of names, you want the shape to stand out even if someone doesn’t take the time to read the words.

Consider Information
To choose the right template for your gift, you have to consider how much information you want to include. This will influence the selection as to which style works best. If you only plan to include photos or a name and birthdate, a family tree with oval spaces will look nice. If you want more information included such as birth, marriage and death dates, lines or boxes will be more practical.
The landscape and pedigree styles are the most traditional. They can hold a lot of information in a way that is easy to follow. If you are giving this gift to a couple who did not have children, you may want to use a partner family tree. It allows you to trace the history on both sides of the family with the couple as the starting point.

Keep these tips in mind when designing a family tree print as a gift:

  • Choose a template that doesn’t have a lot of holes that are glaringly obvious – you don’t want to highlight missing people or unusual circumstances that may make people uncomfortable
  • Remember that your family tree chart doesn’t have to be an 8×11 piece of paper; it can be as large as you need it to be to fit the information
  • Consider making it vibrant with a colored background but choose a shade that doesn’t take away from the information or make it difficult to read
  • Find free templates online and try out different ones – you only know when something works once you see it
    A family tree chart is a fabulous gift that many people will appreciate. It is a gift from the heart and one that is personal to the recipient but that others can enjoy. Be willing to play with different styles to fine the one that fits your needs.

Suzie Kolber created to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

Book Reviews: Art of Social, Art of Work, Impact Equation and Leadership Handbook

The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick

I’ve been working in (and with) social media for several years now. Despite all the emerging services, there’s been very little that’s actually new in approaching it. Guy Kawasaki is someone I respect, and it’s the reason for looking at this book more deeply. Its stated purpose “is to enable you to rock social media.” Much of what’s here, you’ve likely heard before, scattered across thousands of social media posts over the last few years. The charm of this book is that is distills this conventional wisdom into a concise handbook on social media process and strategy. From planning to writing to SEO and graphics—it covers exactly what you need to keep in mind. A good primer for the newbie, and a good reminder for the veteran.

The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

What is the impact equation? No worries, you won’t have to be good in math to understand it. Instead, this book is a reflection of the concepts that shape today’s social media-focused values. I have to admit that one statement in the first chapter really hooked me: “If you’re in a small town in central Louisiana, your needs will be different from those of someone in New York City.” I was “that guy” in a small town in central Louisiana when I discovered my digital heritage legs. I’ve now lived in Philadelphia and Miami, and can say the principles in this book will be applicable to any time and place or stage of learning. It provides insight on establishing your platform, and then demonstrating the bravery to be different, even as you attract an audience. The book is full of simple, yet profound, truths. A philosophical complement to Kawasali’s “Art of Social Media.”

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Admittedly, some of my interest in “The Art of Work” came from the author’s name being so similar to mine. Having read it now, I can say that it’s a good, concise distillation of methods for keeping perspective on work situations.  Like many books, it’s often allegorical or filled with stories from the lives of famous people (e.g. Walt Disney, Steve Jobs). The quote that introduces part two pretty much sums up the purpose of this work “Every single that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.” The book has a balance of practical and philosophical  advice. It calls on the reader to consider their situation and, with intention, employ “deliberate practice” so that they are able to live their best lives, which is often the result of repeated failures. The author’s story about becoming a writer is particularly inspirational. Goins sums it up by saying “…finding your calling, as mysterious as it seems, is not only a mystical process; it is intensely practical. You either act of what you know, or you miss your moment.”  All-in-all, this book is a quick read that encompasses profound life lessons.

The Leadership Handbook by John C. Maxwell

One of the first business books I ever bought was authored by John C. Maxwell. Billed as “the leadership expert,” John’s relationship-centered approach is good for introverts like me to remember now and again. This book is a keeper as it distills many of his leadership concepts into brief and actionable instructions. It goes beyond handbook to function as a devotional, and a course in positive habit development. Application Exercises and a Mentoring Moment end each chapter to ensure each lesson is taken to heart. One of the most valuable pieces of advice Maxwell offers is in the chapter “Keep Your Mind on the Main Thing.” There are times in life that you have to step back and ask three critical questions: 1. What gives me the greatest return? 2.What is most rewarding? 3. What is required of me? He adds to that a closing chapter on the importance of establishing a legacy by picking NOW how people should summarize your life. What’s your legacy? The stylistic elegance Maxwell has honed over his decades of writing has produced a volume of simple truths that you’ll want to continually come back to throughout your career to refocus your life, and savor.

Note: These books were provided to be as review copies by their publishers. I wrote these reviews because I they mean something to me, and I think you might like them as well.

Cultural Collaboration through Wikipedia and The Commons << Case Study

In 2013, I started up the GLAM-Wiki initiative at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to provide greater access to the organization’s rich store of historical art, books, instruments and oral histories related to the history of chemistry. The program initiative began with the hiring of a Wikipedian in Residence and continued with trainings and edit-a-thons that have gained participation throughout the Northeast U.S.

Accomplishments as of Spring 2014:

      329 Images contributed to Wikimedia Commons
      One million views for pages with CHF images in January 2014
      14 new articles on Wikipedia
      725 Wikipedia articles edited by Wikipedian in Residence
      4,000 edits on Wikipedia by Wikipedian in Residence
      Nine “Did You Know” featured articles by Wikipedian in Residence
      145 Attendees at eight workshops and talks
    140 Attendees at GLAM Cafe Digital Humanities Events

The full report on the program, with tactical advice for other cultural institutions, can be viewed and downloaded below.

Program Report: GLAM-Wiki @ChemHeritage by jkguin

Paging the Past: A compelling gaze into “the belly button of the ancient world”

Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World Book Cover Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World
Michael Scott

Note: This book was provided by as a review copy, though opinions below are entirely my own.

Living in a world that seems to inject an element of magic in nearly every story of time and place, it's surprising to me that Delphi hasn't attracted more attention to this point in books or film. In "Dephi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World," Michael Scott manages to craft a richly detailed history of this ancient place through an accessible narrative style.

While I confess to a bit of Delphi obsession, my knowledge of it would scarcely fill two pages of this book. The span of history covered is awe-inspiring. Has a historic site—and a relative few individuals (women no less) ever held such influence over world affairs so long a time?

Here are five interesting elements of this book that enlightened my understanding of Delphi, which Scott describes as “the belly button of the ancient world”:

  1. It’s virtually hidden away. Despite its central role in the ancient world, Delphi was never exactly accessible. It lies in the foot hills of the Parnassian mountains, “resembling a fortress that Nature herself had chosen to take care of.” Nature and time have obscured the site even more, but it has never seen more traffic either—about two million visitors per year.
  2. Vapor courage was the secret sauce. The Pythia’s responses were “inspired” by a vapor chasm, over which she sat on a tripod.
  3. It changed hands more often than Chrysler. Nothing speaks to Delphi’s political and cultural influence more than surviving invasions on too many occasions to count. For a small town, it carried tremendous staying power.
  4. It was a monument to heroism (from a certain point of view). Partly because so many cultures occupied Delphi at some time or another, the monuments there are a fairly definitive gallery of world history. It’s regrettable so few have survived, but this book describes them well.
  5. Nero (?!) slept here. Nero was indeed the first Roman emperor to visit Dephi. Initially, he gave much autonomy to the city’s ruling council, and was honored with a statue of himself there. Unsurprisingly, the relationship cooled when Nero claimed some of Delphi’s statues, and the Oracle made a comment to him about mother-murderers.


There are several aspects of how this book was written and organized that I appreciated:

  • Shakespeare framed its structure (kind of). In his introduction, Scott frames the book’s three parts with a quote from Twelfth Night: “some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them.”
  • It’s chronological, but narrative. The book certainly has themes weaved into its narrative, but it is largely chronological. A wise move for making so much history make sense.
  • The illustrations add value. Quality photos and illustrations abound, always adding to the story without overwhelming it. Favorite images: “The Priestess at Delphi” and anything from the chapter on archaeological excavations of the early 20th century.
  • The end matter is a book unto itself. The story of the modern archaeological record is indeed my favorite part of this book, and it leads elegantly into perhaps the best end matter I’ve seen in any work: An insider walkthrough of the Delphi museum as it appears today, Abbreviations, Notes (about 60 pages) and a detailed index.
  • Top-grade construction. The first thing I noted about this book is the quality of its construction. The weight and feel of the paper, the binding and even the typographical presentation, make it a pleasure to read.

If Delphi intrigues you on any level, this book is a masterwork for your library. It’s authoritative and accessible, and only gets better in the final few chapters. Worth the read, in print format especially.

Question: What’s your favorite fact, story or resource about Delphi? Leave a comment below, or share it on social media with hashtag #voicesofthepast. I’ll be listening!

Paging the Past: No Greater Valor and the role of faith in a pivotal WWII battle

No Greater Valor: The Siege of Bastogne and the Miracle That Sealed Allied Victory Book Cover No Greater Valor: The Siege of Bastogne and the Miracle That Sealed Allied Victory
Jerome R. Corsi Ph.D.
Thomas Nelson
October 28, 2014

The role of faith in the military is a worthy subject as it plays a key role in a successful military. Surrounded by death, faith is both weapon and defense. In "No Greater Valor," author Jerome Corsi explores the role of faith in delivering the "Christmas Miracle" at Bastogne, Belgium, during World War II.

The narrative focuses specifically on American military faith in the Christian tradition. It’s a fair thesis in the context of the time and place of the subject matter. And, on the whole, the book is an engaging, solidly researched narrative about the beliefs of the people who experienced this chain of events.

There are several good stories encapsulated throughout the larger narrative. The stories are told from multiple perspectives using primary sources. Chiefly, this includes an exploration of General Anthony McAuliffe’s unlikely “Nuts” response to German demands for surrender. There are some good folkloric elements as well, such as the story of an eleven-man “ghost patrol” that advanced peacefully through no-man’s-land into American lines unchallenged and then disappeared into legend.

The legend of this moment in time extends to three tellings of the origins of “The Patton Prayer” by Chaplain James High O’Neill. This prayer was composed at the behest of General Patton for clear weather for battle, and printed on a Christmas card and distributed to soldiers. The prayer was credited for the unexpected break in bad weather on Dec. 23, 1944, that allowed American fighting planes to repel the Germans while other resupply aircraft relieved Bastogne’s suffering. The fortunate weather also earned O’Neill a medal from Patton.

If you’re interested in this as a historical work, you’ll find it more credible if you skip the author's hyperbolic introduction. Among other things, his remarks connect the end of "don't ask, don't tell" to the conjectural court martial of chaplains who refuse to marry same-sex military officers. The next sentence wonders at the likelihood of the banning of the Christian Bible from military bases.

The final chapter makes a more reasoned argument regarding the role of a moral code for keeping a nation united for the greater good. In “No Greator Valor,” Corsi accomplishes his goal in “picking up the pieces of history, and confronting the puzzles of the past” through compelling storytelling about people whose strength of character made a difference in a pivotal moment in time.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Book Review: Dek Unu

Dek Unu: Another Tomorrow Book Cover Dek Unu: Another Tomorrow
Gor De Meel
New Generation Publishing
November 24, 2014

When I read a book review that says “I could not put this book down” I’m always a bit skeptical. But Dek Unu qualifies for this superlative statement. The only thing I knew about it when I started to read it was that it had some archaeology in it, and one of the early quotes that hooked me is “Knowledge of the past is knowledge of ourselves, he kept telling himself. If we don’t take history to heart, we have no future.”

While it contains those heritage values I hold dear, it more so blends my other favorite genres—Sci-Fi, fantasy and post-apocalyptic fiction to create the most pleasantly surprising read I’ve experienced in a while. The book is built in layers, with each piece of the narrative taking a slightly different approach as the story builds. Why did mankind fall? Who are the Protectors and what is their interest in us? What the destiny of the select children? Is life without faith a life of choice?

There are many intriguing plot and philosophical issues, but what makes this book shine is the skill of the narrative. It’s clean, well paced and entirely natural. Something you want to savor. Whether it’s debate among scholars or violence in the back alleys, Dek Unu is always accessible. With all the mysteries, the biggest remains who is Gor de Meel, author of such coolness?

Note: This book was provided as a review copy from the publisher

Book Review: The Southern Foodie’s Guide to the Pig

The Southern Foodie's Guide to the Pig: A Culinary Tour of the South's Best Restaurants & the Recipes That Made Them Famous Book Cover The Southern Foodie's Guide to the Pig: A Culinary Tour of the South's Best Restaurants & the Recipes That Made Them Famous
Chris Chamberlain

It's about history, it's about food, it's about the South! During my time in the North, I sought out little bits of southernness I could find. The Southern Foodies Guide to the Pig by Chris Chamberlain is one of those gems that fed my soul, and my mouth. Subtitled “A Culinary Tour of 50 of the South’s best Restaurants and the Recipes that Made Them Famous,” the book more than lives up to its promise.

  • Favorite profile: What sets this book apart is its interviews with the “masters” who make the meat. People like The Pit Master Pat Martin of the Fatback Collective, who raise awareness of heritage hogs and cook whole hogs around the country. The process for whole-hog cooking is described in g(l)orious detail.
  • Favorite Hint: 8 Ways to Use Bacon Grease made my mouth water and brought back fond memories of my grandmother’s cornbread (hint: use a tablespoon of it to grease your skillet before you bake).
  • Favorite tidbit: Then there are the nuggets of folks wisdom and myth busting between chapters. For example, “Wild hogs used to roam the fields of the lower end of Manhattan. Farmers had to build a wall to keep the pigs from digging up their crops. The street that ran alongside this wall became known as ‘Wall Street’.”
  • Favorite Recipe: Tennessee Whiskey Sauce
  • Meal for my bucket list: Central BBQ Baked Beans, Fresh green peas with new potatoes, fried apples, and double-cut pork chops with dirty rice. Blackberry crisp for dessert.

I’m back in the southerly regions now and looking forward to going home to Louisiana this summer to make that meal with my extended family. Thank you Mr. Chamberlain for sharing your storytelling and culinary skills with us in this Southern Foodies Guide.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Case Study: Alchemical Quest Rare Books Museum Interactive

alchem quest

In 2012, I managed development of a museum exhibit interactive called The Alchemical Quest, which supported an exhibit of rare books. The books originated during the golden age of alchemy, from the 16th and 17th centuries and were drawn from the collections of the Othmer Library of Chemical History. The report below documents the project team’s efforts to make these texts accessible and alive to visitors via touch projection technology.

Project Goals:

  • Reinforce the depth and complexity presented in the exhibition content
  • Implicitly reiterate the exhibition narratives while allowing for visitors to enjoy the imagery of the books through the interactive experience
  • Provide visitors with alternate means of experiencing the books in the exhibition
  • Foster curiosity and encourage deeper exploration of images and text
  • Demonstrate an example of an alchemical process in its entirety
  • Reflect the fantastical and practical balance found within the books


Case Study: Museum Interactive for The Alchemical Quest Exhibit by jkguin