Category Archives: People

Interpreting Bondage and Freedom in the Chesapeake

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Visiting Annapolis a few weeks ago, I had a chance to see the nearly completed installation of Freedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake, a year-long exhibit about the resistance to servitude and slavery in the Chesapeake Bay region from the colonial period to the Civil War.  Heather Ersts and Ariane Hofstedt of the Historic Annapolis Foundation graciously provided a personal tour of the exhibit, which is installed in several museums and historic sites around the city.  It’s an exhibit worth seeing not only for the content, but also the design, and several items jumped out at me:

1.  The exhibit looks at the varied experiences of people through nine persons.  Seven of these persons were enslaved Africans, but two are white–a convict servant and an indentured servant–which will surprise most visitors.  It complicates the usual narrative that only Africans were held in bondage (of course, being owned as a slave is very different from being incarcerated as a convict) and it’s by encountering the unexpected that people are more likely to learn.  The typical exhibit about slavery trots out the same 1850 drawing of the slave ship Brooks, a pair of iron shackles, and perhaps a tag from Charleston.  Yes, those are all authentic and true, but the constant repeat of these items renders them Continue reading

Historic Visitors Help Connect to Today’s Visitors

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Modern visitors encounter historic visitors in Annapolis, Maryland, a clever way to connect people to the past.  In their visitor center on the waterfront, the Historic Annapolis Foundation installed a wall of life-size images of famous and popular celebrities who have visited Annapolis during the past two hundred years.  The main label reads:

Who are these people, and why are they here?

You may recognize a few of them, or perhaps all of them.

Each of these people is famous for one reason or another, and each spent time in Annapolis.  Some were here in the recent past, while others many years ago.  Some passed through the city on a whirlwind tour, and some called Annapolis home.

But what does George Washington have in common with Sarah Jessica Parker?  The Marquis de Lafayette with Mark Twain?  Amelia Earhart with Michelle Obama?

Their common bond is that each of them could return to Annapolis today and recognize downtown because of Historic Annapolis.  Thanks to historic preservation, Annapolitans Continue reading

KCET Launches Online Neighborhood Field Guides

The Highland Park Field Guide by KCET.

KCET, a public television station based in Los Angeles, has been working for the last few years on Departures, a project designed to engage “community residents, non-profit organizations, schools and students, in the creation and procurement of relevant and relatable content.”  Included in this work are a series of online interactive field guides to various neighborhoods in their region, and most recently launched is one on the historic community of Highland Park (which features the Lummis House, Heritage Square, and the Southwest Museum).  Given that KCET is one of the major public tv stations in the nation, the field guides are beautifully produced and include lots of video.

According to Kelly Simpson, associate producer of the KCET Departures, “The Highland Park Field Guide was produced in partnership with the Highland Park Heritage Trust and the North Figueroa Association. In six categories (with two more coming soon) we feature fun, informative and adventurous activities for Continue reading

Field Trip: Homestead Museum in California

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Last week I had a chance to visit with my colleagues at the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, California.  I was the assistant director there a decade ago and it continues to be a special place to me (if you haven’t visited, it has great architecture and a great story).  After a generous lunch with the staff, director Karen Graham Wade and some of her staff took me to see the Workman House, the earliest house on the site.  It’s undergoing extensive interior rehabilitation to make it more suitable and attractive as an exhibit gallery.  It’s part of a major effort to respond to the changing interests of their visitors by increasing the self-guided experiences.  They are also reducing the number of days per week the Homestead Museum will be open for walk-in public tours and  increasing the number of days they’ll be open for tours by appointment and for other activities.  At La Casa Nueva, the second house on site, they are Continue reading

Pine Point: Interpreting a Vanished Town

Pine Point, an interactive Web documentary by The Goggles.

Last week I had a chance to visit Bill Adair, director of the Heritage Philadelphia Program and one of the co-authors of the new book, Letting Go?:  Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World.  As usual, we had a wide ranging discussion which included his interest in the work of The Goggles, an award-winning Canadian design group headed by Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons.  He was particularly taken by “Pine Point,” an interactive web documentary about a northern mining town that closed in 1988 and was demolished.  Through oral histories, documents, video, and artifacts, the story of this ghost town is told in a mesmerizing scrapbook style.  If you’re looking for a way to interpret a place in a new way on the Web, this might provide some inspiration.

Laurie Ossman Departs Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House

Laurie Ossman and Max van Balgooy meeting serendipitously in San Francisco in 2011.

Laurie Ossman has recently departed as director of Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site in Virginia, to advance her interest in re-imagining historic sites for today’s audiences through project-based endeavors and writing.  Her innovative work to reinterpret and reprogram the site has been featured by the American Association of Museums and the Washington Post, including the path-breaking Arcadia partnership with the Neighborhood Restaurant Group.  During her tenure, she also completed two major books with Rizzoli–a survey of Great Houses of the South and a study of the architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings (selected as the Washington Post‘s photo book of 2011)–which will be focus of several lectures in the coming month at Vizcaya, The Flagler, and the Sulgrave Club.  Laurie received her PhD. in architectural history from the University of Virginia and was previously responsible for the collections and scholarship at such nationally renowned historic sites as Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and Ca’ d’Zan at the Ringling Museum of Art.  She can now be reached at

Susan Hellman has been promoted to Acting Director of Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House and can be reached at  Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House are owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is one of 23 National Trust Historic Sites.

El Morro National Monument Damaged by Vandalism

In October, two international students from the University of New Mexico went behind a split rail fence and carved their nicknames on the sandstone walls of El Morro National Monument.  They knew enough English to write “Super Duper Dana” and “Gabriel” but claimed they didn’t know enough English to read the sign posted just a few feet away that said, “It is unlawful to mark or deface El Morro Rock.”  Now their graffiti joins “Pedro Romero 1758” and two thousand other signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs that have been left over hundreds of years by Puebloans, Spaniards, and Americans.  They were recently charged with damaging an archaeological resource on public land and face fines, prison, and repair costs of nearly $30,000.   For more details, see the Albuquerque Journal and Cibola Beacon. Continue reading

Engaging Exhibits: An Experimental Approach at the Smithsonian Institution

Andrew Pekarik discussing a new theory of visitor typologies to the education staff at the National Air and Space Museum.

Yesterday I had lunch with Tim Grove, the Chief of Interpretation at the National Air and Space Museum and author of the History Bytes column in History News, to catch up on various things.  We were discussing my current puzzling out of methodologies for my book on interpretive planning for historic sites and discussing Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences,” when he mentioned that I might be interested in joining his staff meeting that afternoon.  Andrew Pekarik in the Office of Policy and Analysis at the Smithsonian was giving a presentation on a new theory for visitor engagement–would I like to come?   Absolutely!

Andy’s presentation was a short 30 minutes but was incredibly intriguing.  It’s based on dozens of evaluations on various exhibits at several different Smithsonian exhibits and is currently being independently verified, but the framework is public and was published with Barbara Mogel in the October 2010 issue of Curator as “Ideas, Objects, or People?  A Smithsonian Exhibition Team Views Visitors Anew.”  Here’s the new framework in a nutshell: Continue reading