No photography allowed in the exhibits at the National Archives?
Last weekend I went to see “Spirited Republic,” a temporary exhibit at the National Archives about the history of alcohol in the United States. I’m interested in the history of food and knew the Archives would dig up some interesting materials. It was a worthwhile visit but ugh, right at the entrance is a sign declaring “no photography.” This isn’t unusual for temporary exhibits because they may contain materials that are protected by copyright or have objects on loan. In this exhibit, however, everything was drawn from the collections of the Archives or had fallen out of copyright. If I went around the building to the Research Room, I could retrieve any of the items on display and make photographs without question. Secondly, most of the items are historic governmental or administrative documents, which don’t encourage selfies or other distractions. Photographs would most likely be taken by people who were really interested in the subject and wanted an image for reference. If they’re worried about light damage, people can be warned not to take flash photos (and studies by conservators show that flash photography has to reach excessive levels to cause significant damage, so this is usually an unfounded concern). If they’re worried about security, everyone has already been screened in the usual DC way and guards are posted throughout the exhibit. Finally, photography is one of the only areas of creative activity that’s growing in the US (bucking the declines in sewing, painting, pottery, or music according to studies by the National Endowment for the Arts) and the Archives has a rich trove of content for inspiration (and it helps publicize their exhibits and collections). The “no photography” makes absolutely no sense at the National Archives. Instead, the National Archives should assume that photography will be allowed unless there are specific and legitimate reasons not to do so. Just follow the same rules as in your Research Rooms.
Prohibitions on photography isn’t the only stumbling block to public access and historical interpretation at the National Archives–I’m sensing a growing use of Continue reading →
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum by Brandon Bartoszek
The May 2015 issue of the Public Historian was just released and provides a dozen articles related to historic house museums. Lisa Junkin Lopez, associate director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and guest editor of this special issue, provides the criteria that helped her select the articles and her vision of historic house museums:
Though a number of sites have turned to revenue-generating activities like weddings and farmers’ markets to stay afloat, rigorous historical content has not necessarily been quashed in favor of parlor room cocktail hours and heirloom tomato beds. Many sites have recommitted to the project of excavating their own histories, digging deeper to find relevance with contemporary audiences and identifying new methods for engagement along the way.
The individual essays are case studies of various projects at historic house museums, but many question and even break the basic assumptions of museum practices and historic preservation standards. This shift will need to be watched because Continue reading →
Mindfile Multimedia produced this 0:30 video as one of a series to prevent the proposed building of a casino less than a half-mile from the historic site of the Battle of Gettysburg. On April 14th, 2011, the Pennsylvania Gaming Board rejected the proposal to build the casino.
The September 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review features four articles on women in leadership, which will be of interest to many people who work at historic sites and museums. The first is on the subtle gender bias that obstructs women’s access to leadership in even the most well-meaning organizations (and how to correct the problem), the second article describes companies who have successfully incorporated inclusivity, and the third reveals the way women make buying decisions differently in a business-to-business (B2B) setting from men. The fourth article is a roundup of recent research on women in the workplace, such as women receive less criticism but also less challenging assignments. Of course, the museum and historic site field is dominated by women, so I wonder what these statistics would look like for us.
There’s also a good article on “customer journey mapping.” It’s a relatively new method of studying a customer’s buying experience by identifying all the places that a company interacts with a customer and evaluating each of these “touchpoints.” By mapping the customer’s journey to buy a product from their initial search for information to its delivery and installation, a company can better understand the Continue reading →
History organizations choose the impact they want to make. Sometimes the choice is intentional and brought in by a visionary leader or strategic plan, but it can also come about through organizational confidence and maturity. These transitions can occur quickly or over many years, and unlike puberty, there’s no guarantee that an organization won’t return to its previous condition. In my work with dozens of history organizations over the past thirty years, I’ve witnessed three typical turning points that resulted in extraordinary activities and programs.
The first turning point occurs when history organizations practice history. If we are in the “history business,” history should permeate and inspire everything we do. Fifty years ago, historian Barbara Tuchman asserted that, “Being in love with your subject. . .is indispensable for writing good history—or good anything, for that matter.”
Evian's Roller Babies commercial demonstrates what makes an ad go viral.
The March 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review focuses on U. S. business competitiveness in the world and won’t interest most readers of EngagingPlaces.net, however, there are a few smaller stories scattered around that are relevant. Thales Texiera’s article on “The New Science of Viral Ads” lays out five techniques that encourage people to watch and share their commercials (in other words, “go viral”) and I’ve modified three of them to address the needs of visitors at historic sites:
Play down the logo, play up the brand. If your logo is too dominant or intrusive, visitors will be turned off by this obvious attempt to manipulate them. A few places are fine and expected (e.g. letterhead, entrance sign, mugs in the store) but I’ve visited sites where a logo is on every sign, including the one pointing to the bathroom. It may make your board happy, but it’ll turn off your visitors. Instead, unobtrusively weave your brand (not logo) throughout the visitor experience. Texiera uses Coca-Cola’s “Happiness Factory” ad as an example (how was the Coca-Cola logo used?).
Create joy and surprise right away. Visitors stay engaged in large part if they encounter joy or surprise. So in tours, for example, add an element of joy or surprise into the introduction rather than saving it only for the conclusion. Each site will need to figure this out for themselves, but it can be a surprising fact or an earnest welcome. Bud Light’s “Swear Jar” ad is an example of delivering humor and surprise to maintain viewers’ interest (and just a warning, this ad may offend some people and because it promotes the drinking of alcohol, you’ll need to register as an adult on YouTube to view it).
Build an emotional roller coaster. Just as in a good novel, the rhythm or flow helps carry the visitor along and keeps them engaged with fresh twists and turns. Tours too often are presented as just one fact/object/room after another. Instead of building a tour solely on cognitive elements (e.g. facts, names, and dates), integrate some affective ones (e.g., humor, surprise, suspense, drama, fun)–just make sure it’s appropriate, authentic, and based on fact. Evian’s “Roller Babies” cuts between scenes for an emotional roller coaster of continual surprises. With more than 50 million views on YouTube, it’s a major hit.
For more, read Thales Texiera’s article on “The New Science of Viral Ads” online or watch the five-minute interview that accompanies the story.
JWT Intelligence has just released its Ten Trends for 2012 based on surveys of Americans and Britons and interviews with experts and influencers. If you can’t afford to buy copy of their full report for $250, here’s a summary plus some suggestions for taking advantage of them:
Navigating the New Normal: The economy won’t be back to the way it was for some time, so consumers are now becoming price conscious by habit. Consider stripped down offerings (such as smaller sizes of products in your museum store) or some access at lower cost (such as a “grounds only” admission fee).
Live a Little: Although they don’t want to pay a lot, visitors are becoming anxious to splurge on a few good things responsibly. Adjust your programs so they promote both the fun experience and extraordinary aspects of your site (and be sure you can deliver it–just saying your tours are fun and extraordinary doesn’t make it so).