Category Archives: Reviews

The Crane House and Historic YWCA at the Montclair History Center.

On-site Exhibits

The Crane House and Historic YWCA is owned and cared by the Montclair History Center (MHC), formerly known as the Montclair Historical Society. It is located in 110 Orange Rd, Montclair, Essex County New Jersey, some 10 miles west from Newark NJ and 20 miles west of New York City. The Montclair Historical Society was founded in 1965 with the purpose of saving and caring for the Crane House, a federal revival style landmark home originally built in 1796 in 159 Glenridge Ave and moved to its current location in 1965. The MHC cares for two more historical houses, the Nathaniel Crane House and the Clark House. This review will focus on the exhibits in the Crane House and Historic YMCA.

The Crane House and Historic YWCA serves as the backdrop to tell the histories of the Crane family and the YWCA of Montclair. The house was first built by Israel Crane in 1796. He was a successful entrepreneur, owned a general store, several textile mills, and a rock quarry in Newark. He also built a turnpike that facilitated his trading activities between port cities like Newark and the interior. The house remained in the family until the early 1900s.The history presented in the Crane house focuses on the social and economic changes experienced in the Montclair area. The fortune that allowed this house to be built was generated by a merchant family who successfully pioneered and expanded trade from the eastern ports of Newark and New York to the western and central parts of New Jersey. In this regard, the house largely tells a history of opportunity and progress available to a wealthy merchant family during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Parts of the exhibit also mention the presence of domestic servants and slaves that lived in the house, although information about them is neither abundant nor prominently displayed. 

Details about the layout and architecture of the house are displayed throughout the house to help visitors contextualize the histories told in the two exhibits. The house is a three-story home with four bedrooms in the second floor, two sitting rooms, one dining room and kitchen in the first floor, and a basement. The basement is mainly used for lectures. Rooms in the second floor have not yet been updated to reflect the interpretative vision of the house so I will not include them in this review. Visitors enter the house through a back door that goes into a foyer from where one can see the front door, a staircase going to the second floor, and access to four rooms in the main floor. In the foyer, visitors will find pictures depicting members of the Crane family, and documents illustrating different moments in the family’s history. Most of these documents are under a glass cabinet, so visitors cannot touch them, but they are still clearly legible.

In addition to the foyer, two rooms in the main floor are dedicated to the Crane family. A sitting room and the dining room. Both are furnished with donated eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture, pictures and paintings of the family, and even a family tree commissioned by James, a son of Israel. Visitors can walk around the rooms and find copies of  original newspapers and documents related to the family and the Montclair area. For instance, one can see the document that released James Crane from military service after the civil war. Members of the Crane family lived in the house until the early 1900s.

The house was rented for some time until 1920 when it was bought by the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) of Montclair North-Essex to be used as their headquarters. For most of the early twentieth century, the YWCA was a segregated institution. The YWCA in Montclair was peculiar in that it was not affiliated with a white YWCA. During this period, the house was used as dormitories, social center and offices. African American women who arrived at Montclair seeking housing, employment, or entertainment could find respectable and safe accommodations and leisure in the YWCA. In 1965 the YWCA needed more space and considered demolishing the existing house and building a new structure in the land they owned. A group of concerned citizens argued for preserving the original house and suggested it be moved to a different location. Land was donated and the house was moved to its present location.

The remaining two rooms in the main floor are used to tell the history of the YWCA in Montclair. In the kitchen, visitors can walk around a small table that holds more copies of documents and newspapers. Here, visitors will find census data detailing the demographic history of African-Americans in Montclair and Essex county, newspaper clippings of classified adds seeking domestic workers, and pamphlets promoting social events geared to African-American women. From here, one can walk to a second sitting room, more modern in its furnishings and, the only one where one is allowed to sit on the furniture. In one of the walls, there is life-size photograph that was taken in this very room, depicting some of the women who lived in this house. One can also find an iPad where visitors can listen to interviews conducted with women who lived in the house and watch a short documentary produced by the MHC narrating the stories of these women and the YWCA in Montclair.  There is a clear interpretative shift in these two rooms where the exhibits seek to use the experiences of the YWCA, and the women who lived in it, to introduce visitors to the larger history of race relations, African-Americans, and women in Montclair and Essex County. 

The exhibits at the Montclair History Center are geared to students and the general public. When I visited, I was accompanying a group of university students during a weekday. The director of the Center explained that the Center is open for guided and free visits on Sundays and for school visits during the week. They get a reasonable number of visitors, but they are rarely very busy. They also get a regular influx of visitors to their archives and library. 

For most of its history, Crane house was used to tell the history of the Crane family and Montclair. Over the past 15 years, there has been a deliberate attempt to also add the history of the YWCA to the permanent exhibits of the Center. There has also been a greater attempt to engage the visiting public with the sources that can help us document the history for the house and the larger community, hence the use of documents and newspaper clippings present in the exhibits. This is meant to balance the immersive experience of simply walking through the rooms of the house. There are few signs for directions and information. I think this helps maintain the immersive experience, but at times, one could use additional information, particularly geographical information. Even though most visitors are local, the exhibits assume a high degree of knowledge about the Montclair and north-Essex area that some visitors may not have. The life-size photograph in the YWCA room made very good use of an image that could be clearly tied to a specific place in the house. A regular size picture hanging on a wall, could have conveyed the history of the space, but the enlargement and placing of the photograph does convey the sense of one entering the room where these women met. The power of this effect could be enhanced if the voices were projected through the room rather than played on an iPad, But that would of course require more technical arrangements that may not be justified or possible given the resources of the center. 

In general, the space is adequate for no more than 15 visitors at the time. Having visited with a group of 25 students, we had to be divided in two groups and even that proved less than ideal. This is, however, a function of using an old house to the tell history. Given the limitations of space, the exhibits are well displayed and, if visitor numbers are kept under control, they should be able to navigate the space with ease.

I was able to talk to the director of the Center, and she expressed her plans to use the rooms in the second floor to expand the exhibits. The steps the Center has taken to use the documents in their archives to further engage the public in their exhibits seems a valuable tool. I would further advise creating some materials that can be unobtrusively displayed to offer more context and information on the house and objects displayed in the exhibits. Also, given the mission of the center to document the history of Montclair and Essex county, it would be useful to add more geographical tools and information about the surrounding areas.

Online Presence

The Montclair History Center has a limited online presence in the form of a website that explains the goals, history and services of the Center. The website includes information about the exhibits, but no actual exhibits. Instead, one can find brief historical summaries of the three historical houses cared for by the Center accompanied by some photographs taken from their archives.

The audience for the website are potential visitors, both private and institutional. The website is well organized. It includes some items that relate to the history of Montclair more generally. For instance one can download a booklet describing several self-guided walking and bike tours around the town of Montclair. It also includes announcements for future events and exhibits, and a description of research services. It also includes a link to the documentary that the MCH produced about the women who lived in the YWCA.

The website does not include any interactive elements. and, as far as I could see there are no opportunities to communicate with the site’s creators. Having said this, during my on-site visit I spoke to the director of the Center and she mentioned that they are in the process of finalizing a new web strategy and they hope to develop more online exhibits in the future.

I believe digital media could be used to offer visitors the opportunity to expand the scope of their visit. The on-site exhibits are clearly limited by the reduced space that the house offers. Online exhibits could help display more objects, documents and information and complement and expand what the on-site exhibit offers. For instance, it would be interesting to see some of the trade routes that were opened during the time of Israel Crane, I think adding interactive maps to both the on-site and online exhibits could really help better contextualize the history of Montclair and the role it played in connecting port cities like Newark with farming lands in the interior of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Some of these maps were on display in the archive section of the center. I think they, together with other documents, could be digitized and added to a more robust online exhibit. In this way the house and its exhibits can serve as a window into a much larger history.


More than 20 years after its creation, Wikipedia illustrates the benefits and pitfalls of crowdsourced information. What started as a site widely distrusted by most, it managed to create a model for open collaboration that has gradually earned a healthy measure of trust among the public and even the scholarly community. One reason why many of us have come to appreciate Wikipedia, despite its many flaws, is that  it has worked hard to bolster what my teachers used to call its “critical apparatus”. That is, it has created the means for other scholars to critique the content and structure of the material presented in its many pages.

As a young student of history, I was taught that the citations in my papers constituted the “critical apparatus.” Among scholars, it is through citations and references that one is able to support one’s claims. The critical apparatus created through these tools constitute the main source of authority for any given piece of scholarship. However, the public’s reliance on reference works, such as encyclopedias, is contingent on their reputation, which in itself is built upon its editorial processes and the people they employ. Wikipedia’s model of open collaboration encourages the use of citations and references, but also allows the public not only to participate in the editorial process, but to see what changes are being proposed for individual articles and to discuss said changes with other individuals also involved in editing a page. This opening-up of the editorial process adds, in my opinion, to the critical apparatus of Wikipedia articles. 

The examination of the “Digital Humanities” article in Wikipedia serves as a good illustration of how tools such as the “Revision History” or the “Talk History” expand our ability to evaluate the quality of a page. A cursory read of the Wikipedia article on “Digital Humanities” shows a reasonably well-organized article with numerous references, a bibliography and recommendations for further reading. Given what we have learned about the field of Digital Humanities, it is reasonable to ask how complete and how up-to-date the article is, how recently, and how often has the page been edited and to what degree. When we looked for a term or topic in a traditional encyclopedia we would accept that, many topics, would be out-of-date given the time lag between when an article was written and published and when it was read. The level of authority on any given piece decreases as time passes. However, as my father used to say about  national Constitutions, the authority of any set of statements requires a balance between stability and flexibility. I would argue that the authority of an encyclopedia article is also contingent on how stable and flexible they are. The fact that an article can be updated as new information becomes available, but not change radically from one version to the next, is a factor that adds to its authority.

The “Digital Humanities” article was last edited on October 2023 but, for the past two years the edits have been relatively minor. One can appreciate this by looking at the revision history tool, where it is possible to see when the page was first created and one one can examine every single version of the article. The revision history will show the date when an edit was done, how many bytes were added, how many words were added or deleted, and there will be a brief description of the changes. One also has the possibility of comparing two versions. Although this particular feature was difficult to use because the changes appear out of the context of the larger page. I found it easier to specifically open different versions and then choose what versions I wanted to explore further. 

Other important information that can be ascertained from the revision history is included in the the Statistics information. Here, one can find how many times a particular page has been edited and at what rate. In the case of the “Digital Humanities” article we can see that since 2006, when the page was originally created, it has been edited 1009 times, 459 editors have made contributions. In average, each user has done 2.2 edits and the page has been edited, in average, every 6.4 days. However, most of the most substantive edits took place in the earlier years of the page. During the past 365 days, only 7 edits have taken place and these have been relatively minor. 

As a reader one can take some confidence of the fact that the page seems that have reached some stability and that further changes to it seem to be of a minor nature. As a student in the Digital Humanities one could wonder whether this means that debates about the definition, history, and scope of the field have been resolved. For this, the Talk History tool may prove very useful. Here, one can see what have been the issues that have preoccupied the editors, how the explain an edit, when they seek comments or advise on a particular change. In the case of the “Digital Humanities” article we can see that the “Concerns” section of the talk history, includes a lot of comments about the history and the definition of Digital humanities. There are also questions about balancing the different types of tools that are included in the Methods, and Projects of Digital Humanities.

Traditional encyclopedias presented themselves as sources of authority due to their editorial processes. Some were open about who were the authors of their articles, others kept those anonymous. In an attempt to foster participation, while also maintaining transparency and accountability, Wikipedia offers contributors both options . One can add an edit to a page without disclosing a name or without creating a user profile. In this case, the edit is recorded under an ISP. But many contributors do create a user name and a profile, and this can be used as another means to read and evaluate a particular entry. By looking at the Statistics page one can determine which contributors have made the most contributions and when. From there one can also see their profiles, if they have created one. From the ten most prolific contributors to the “Digital Humanities” article (at least in terms of words); two are just identified by their ISP, and two have profile names but no information under their profile. Two more are students participating in a Wikipedia-related curriculum. Only about five of them have been active within the last five years. Which again speaks to how relatively stable the page has become. Only one of the contributors, its creator in fact, identifies himself as a scholar and professional in the digital humanities. A couple of contributors identify themselves as scholars in computing or the humanities. 

Learning about the identities, and maybe even qualifications, of contributors may be more relevant to students and/or scholars that to the casual visitor. The latter can rely on the general Assessment of a page which can also be found in the Statistics page and explained in the Assessments page. But for scholars, students or other experts, learning about the contributors to a page is very useful to contextualize and understand the criteria they use when explaining and justifying their editorial decisions. The revision history and the talk history enable us to do a historiographical analysis of any given article, the more we know about the authors of these versions the more informed our analysis and evaluation will be. 

As an organization, Wikipedia has made substantial investments in building a critical apparatus that supports its reputation as an authoritative source of knowledge; not because Wikipedia articles are perfect, but because anyone can identify its sources and follow the process by which they have been created. In contrast, ChatGPT has stayed closer to a notion of “the wisdom of crowds” in that its source of authority is contingent upon the vast volumes of information used to teach be chatbot. In the case of Wikipedia, the crowds involved in creating its articles are people, engaged in an ongoing discussion of what to add, delete or change. ChatGPT uses much of this knowledge to produce elegantly explained answers in a way that seems very simple and clear to the reader. However, we do not get any sense of the sources that were used or the criteria used to select information. In this case ChatGPT lacks a “critical apparatus” on which to rest its authority. It purely relies on a crowd of anonymous sources. ChatGPT is able to elegantly synthesize large bodies of knowledge in the most clear and simple way. However, sources like Wikipedia demonstrate that even a work of synthesis needs to make choices and it is important for readers to understand what are the justifications for these choices. The questions of accuracy that we used to have about Wikipedia are multiplied in the case of ChatGPT since we have no mechanism to assess its accuracy, completeness, or judgements. ChatGPT can produce very clear explanations and narratives, but in this case, clarity may obscure the inherent complexity and messiness of knowledge production.

Review of ARTStor Digital Library


The ARTStor Digital library includes close to 300 collections with about 2 million images. The Digital Library consists of Private Collections held by many prestigious museums, universities, artists’ libraries, and photo archives. One can find images of objects contributed by The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Peabody Museum for Archaeology and Ethnology, The Warburg Institute, The Rijksmuseum from the Netherlands, among many others.

The Digital Library also includes several Public Collections that store some 1.3 million images, videos, documents and audio files from libraries’ special collections, faculty research, and other institutional materials. Public collections are cataloged, managed, and shared by institutions such as Cornell University, Colby College, RISD, and MIT using JStor Forum.

Here you can find a complete list of the Collections included in the Digital Library.


ARTStor was first started by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation during the 1990s. The initial goal was to facilitate the use of digital images for research and teaching in the arts and humanities. Since then, the number of contributors has grown to include some of the most prestigious museums in North America, Europe and Asia. Here you can find more on ARTStor’s Mission and History.


Materials available in the database range from antiquity to the twentieth century and include objects from all five continents. The Digital Library includes digital versions of a wide range of objects from paintings and sculptures, to photography, architecture, audio, and video. Some collections consist of more than 10,000 items, while others can hold less than 100.

Each collection is curated to include a selection of objects held at particular institutions. These items have been selected for their importance to the educational mission of ARTStor. According to the “About ARTStor” page, items included in the collections have also been “rights-cleared for use in education and research”. However, items held in collections outside the United States may still be protected by the laws of the countries where they are held. Users are advised to check the Terms and Conditions of each collections to ensure proper use if individual items.


ARTSTOR is published by ITHAKA a non-profit organization that aims to facilitate the use of digital technologies for researchers and teachers. 

Search and View Options.

  • It is possible to run both Keyword and Advanced Searches of the Digital Library. An Advanced search can be done by Creator, Title, Location, Repository, Subject, Material, Style/Period, Work Type, Technique, Number, SSID, and Repository ID. It is also possible to narrow searches by date, collection, classification, and geographical location. 
  • The “About ARTStor” page in the site states that “images come with high-quality metadata from the collection catalogers, curators, institutions, and artists themselves.” Given the diversity of objects and repositories, there are some differences in the types of Metadata used in different collections. Equally, not all collections provide the same degree of information on their Metadata practices.
  • ARTStor images can also be found through JStor.
  • The Support page includes detailed instructions on how to conduct different kinds of searches.
  • The Search options in ARTStor are useful and easy to use. There are many ways to expand and limit searches. There is also the possibility to browse collections, which I found very useful.
  • The ease for Browsing and Viewing items in the Private Collections is not always consistent. In some cases, when a user chooses to explore a particular collection, they are directed to an institutional site outside of the ARTStor interface, where there browsing and viewing experience is different from what is the standard in ARTStor. I found that a couple of the links to external sites were no longer active. There is a way to contact ARTStor to inform them of these problems.

Other tools and features.

  • Powerpoint Assistance: It is possible to download images directly into a Powerpoint presentation together with citation data.
  • IIIF Image viewer: this allows to see images in full screen and compare up to ten items at once.
  • Groups: It allows the user to organize groups of images for specific lectures, courses, or to share through a course management system. Groups of images can also be turned into flashcards to help students study and also create citations in different citation styles.


  • Access to the Private Collections is granted to contributing institutions and libraries through subscription. Pricing for institutions in the United States is calculated using the Carnegie classification and is as follows: Very Large: $16000, Large $11,500, Medium $6,950, Small $4,250 and Very small $2,500. 
  • In 2018 ARTStor started to offer free access to its public collections and to the collections from JStor Forum contributing institutions. 

Other Reviews

Terms of Use and Citation.

  • Given that individual items have been contributed by different institutions, there are also different citation requirements. Fortunately, it is possible to have the site generate the correct citation.
  • Each collection has been curated to include items that have been cleared for educational, research and other non-commercial uses. However, items from foreign institutions may still be subject to different copyright laws and rules. Individual items include the necessary information about rights and permissions.