How Pinteresting…

Last Monday in Clio we discussed usability and design considerations when creating a website. The image sharing site Pinterest was brought up as an example of historical / educational institutions using a commercial site, and the question was raised, is Pinterest helpful to historians? This is a question that has come up a few times for me at conferences and in discussions with peers. I am usually shocked at the answer. As an avid user of Pinterest for classes, I use Pinterest to create visual notes and reminders, bookmark articles, and keep track of ideas. But it turns out most people don’t see this potential or don’t see a reason to use it in this way.

As soon as I learned about this site I was super excited. I’ve been looking for a way to organize and collect images from the web since I started internetting in the mid 1990s. What’s not to get? You can save (almost) any image from the internet and write notes under it and then save it on a “board” with other images. The board is populated in chronological order and once the image is pinned there is no way to rearrange where the pin appears on the board. But that is what makes Pinterest a lot like Twitter. There is a constant waterfall of posts that you can try and keep up with or you dip into once in a while. And then also like Twitter you can go to certain peoples / institutions pages and see what they have posted.

For this blog post I want to highlight some interesting history boards, how I use Pinterest, and why it is a useful tool for me to use at work.


When creating a board there are a number of categories to choose from on a pull down menu. History is one of those categories. It sits snuggly with Hair & Beauty and Health & Fitness above it and Holidays & Events and Home Decor below it. But it’s there! Just begging historians to collect some images and make a board about it. Here are some examples:

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 1.08.13 PM
1930s Cityscape by Chris Koch
Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 1.23.14 PM
World War Two Aviation by Roy Gooden
Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 1.28.42 PM
Cowboys, Outlaws, Law Men and the Old West by Laura Yoder


One way that I use Pinterest is for class boards. I like to keep track of class discussions and readings using Pinterest. I will invite others from my class to participate if they wish but usually there is limited involvement. I think a reason for the limited involvement is that it is hard to keep track of a board you did not start. You don’t know if what you want to pin has already been pinned to it, or if you will pin something inappropriate to the theme. You have to get over this of course if you are going to participate freely in a group board, but there is a sense of ownership that comes with being the person who set up the board to begin with. My most recent class board is for the class Gender and Material Culture that I’m taking this fall.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 1.51.08 PM
Board for Gender and Material Culture class with two icons of the people who can pin to the board on the left hand side.

The first class board I made was for the class Antiquities and the Museum. I still add to this board images of ancient art or the rediscovery of ancient art. The board doesn’t end, it can forever be added to and the images from the class will be buried at the bottom.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 1.56.57 PM
Screenshot of Antiquities and the Museum class board.


At SC&A we use Pinterest boards as a way to look at digitized collections quickly. Images from our collections may be scattered as they are a part of online exhibits and blog posts, are available on Flickr, or are stored in MARS (the Mason Archival Repository Service). This distribution of images makes a quick scanning of all content impossible. Linking the images to Pinterest allows us, as well as anyone else, to see the images all on one page. We can also create boards around a theme that relates to our collections but isn’t actually from our collections. Putting images online where people already are is a smart way to engage users and aid find-ability.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 2.07.32 PM
Screenshot of the board page of SC&A’s Pinterest account.

Overall I really do love Pinterest and think that it is a great way to organize, collect, and share images. It could be more academic and it could be more customizable. But the barrier to entry is incredibly low and that is an important part of its success. A key point for organizations to keep in mind is the need for good descriptions of images. There are a lot of images that one would only come across through serendipity due to the lack of description. Pinterest lets the user become the collector of images, it is not an exhibit platform, and I would barely call it an exercise in curation (though there are a few examples of pins added to boards in a very deliberate manner to achieve a certain look), but it is definitely a finding, labeling, and storing activity that could be beneficial to historians if they are so inclined.


8 thoughts on “How Pinteresting…

  1. How has pinterests recent practice of hiding item descriptions on older pins affected your use of it as a note taking tool?

    My issue with using pinterest in any kind of scholarly way is the inconsistency of pin sources, and my own laziness in keeping up with boards. The sheer volume of pins on my “feed”(?) makes it hard for me to really engage with pins on an individual basis. That said I have used class boards and follow a number of museums etc, but I’m still not totally embracing it as something that helps me with research.

    In reference to your last point about curating/collecting I disagree. I’ve curated (and I deliberately use the word curate) my list to be more of like an aesthetic relaxation tool, I follow who I follow because they post beautiful pictures that adhere to a “certain look” I prefer. Many of my boards like wish you were here are vaguely themed and are more images I group together based on a mood/feelings/whatever they evoke. Pinterest is very much an aesthetic “tool” for me personally, but I follow many people who seem to feel the same way.

    1. I haven’t noticed the hiding of item descriptions. I just checked a couple of my boards and scrolled down for a while and still saw all the descriptions. Maybe this is a new feature that hasn’t caught up with me yet, or maybe it’s only on mobile? I would miss the descriptions as I think for some of the pins they add a lot – especially with art history boards meant to help with identification.

      I think the collecting vs. curating argument is worth having. To me, I see a need for differentiating between the two because it can get confusing if every collection is considered an exercise in curation – which I can see how it is to a certain extent. But I would consider something curated to be thoughtfully and fully described, and arranged in a certain order – whether that be chronological, by theme, etc. much the way an exhibit is curated. Personally I see my pin boards to be collections of images and articles, the same way that in the analog world I might collect photographs or articles in a shoe box. They are there for further consideration, but they are a ground floor development – a collection. The example I was thinking about when I said sometimes pin boards can be curated, was a board that was populated purposefully so that the pins would be in a certain order, tell a story, and would not be added to in the future. This involves more reasoning and planning than simply pinning images with no thought to description or order. But in popular parlance “curate” has been the go-to term for any sort of collection of images. And I think it happens more with images than articles. No one says they are curating a Zotero account.

      1. After leaving that comment I noticed that it’s only some of my pins where the description is hidden. I have no idea why those pins are special but I have been noticing it more.

        But I would consider something curated to be thoughtfully and fully described, and arranged in a certain order – whether that be chronological, by theme, etc. much the way an exhibit is curated.

        I agree that this is not the way the majority of people use pinterest, I like to think that curating by theme is how I approach my boards. I don’t think you necessarily need order to tell a story. That could be a whole other debate. The thing about Pinterest is that it was conceived as a digital pin/inspiration board, which traditionally have been used to tell “inspiration stories” (full disclosure I haven’t had any coffee yet) right? Those images are very deliberately chosen to express the feel/theme/story of a particular project, and are meant to be viewed as a whole as opposed to one at a time from a shoe box. I think that’s very much curating. Also I don’t see the need to impose time limits.

        I have no thoughts on Zotero

  2. A lot of tips for businesses using Pinterest emphasize “curating your content” for Pinterest. Curating is def. something that business are thinking about when adding pins.

    Pinterest uses the word curate to describe the adding of images –

    There are a lot of examples like this article (Using Pinterest Analytics to Curate Your Content Marketing – that focus on strategic pinning, which I think is more curation than what I do with my pins.

    Pinterest can be a big marketing tool and that also may make it not appealing to historians or academics.

  3. I tend to use Pinterest for less academic pursuits. However, one tool I’ve found quite useful is Tumblr. Like Twitter and Pinterest, it shows a constant feed of posts, so there is always something new to see. Since I do naval history, I follow many of the naval archives. Doing so has allowed me access to numerous images I would never have seen otherwise, due to the limited-access nature of the government collections.

    That being said, I would never go to Tumblr specifically to do research, primarily because of the difficulty tracing an original source (similar to Pinterest). Instead, I use it for a kind of casual research. When useful items pop up, I’m able to reblog them, comment on and tag them, and save them for later. I suppose in that way it’s rather like Pinterest.

    Has anyone else used Tumblr as a type of casual research tool?

  4. Admittedly, I tend to use Pinterest for less academic pursuits. However, I have found Tumblr to be an extremely useful tool for my research. Like Pinterest and Twitter, it provides a constant stream of new posts to sort through. I use Tumblr in much the way you seem to utilize Pinterest. It allows me to reblog, tag, and save various items for later use.

    This is an important tool because of the type of research I do. Naval history collections tend to be rather difficult to gain access to, especially because the Navy’s archival collection website is incredibly unworkable and overwhelming. In contrast, on Tumblr, the Naval History and Heritage Command and the Naval Historical Foundation make images available slowly over time. Thus far, I have found numerous images I would never have seen otherwise.

    So I’m curious – does anyone else use Tumblr as this type of casual research tool?

    1. I also like to use Tumblr for a casual research tool. I was hoping to use it for some German vocabulary practice, but I think that’s really an excuse to collect German related posts. I like the focus you can have with Tumblr.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s