Category Archives: Resources

Wikipedia Welcoming Historic Sites and Landmarks This Month

wike-loves-monuments-2016Wikipedia, the most frequently used source for information on the Internet, just launched a month-long campaign to improve its coverage of historic and cultural sites in the United States.  Called, “Wiki Loves Monuments,” it is an international photo competition where participants capture cultural heritage monuments and upload their photographs to Wikipedia. For the first time in several years, Wiki Loves Monuments is back in the United States. The contest is inspired by the successful 2010 pilot in the Netherlands, which resulted in 12,500 freely licensed images of monuments that can now be used in Wikipedia and by anybody for any purpose. The 2012 contest in 35 countries resulted in more than 350,000 images submitted by over 15,000 participants, adding to the sum of all human knowledge gathered on Wikipedia.  The contest ends on September 30, 2016.

Anyone is welcome to contribute to the project by uploading photos they’ve taken of cultural and historical sites throughout the United States. Once September is over, the best photos will win cash prizes and will be submitted to the international competition.  In addition to taking photos, Wikipedia is also encouraging editors to write Wikipedia articles on historical sites and monuments as part of the event.  They are also developing state-level guides to historic sites and have already created versions for California, Ohio, and Washington.  Here’s a chance to fix that skimpy or inaccurate entry about your site or show a stunning photo (in my home state of Maryland, Belvoir is a particularly awful example).  Better yet, engage those photographers among your members to help you promote your site and others in your community.  Just remember, you’re putting this into the World Wide Web, so content will be freely and easily used by others (what will Getty Images do?).

If you’re looking for inspiration, Wikipedia is providing links to the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks, and Daughters of the American Revolution Sites (hey, where are the Colonial Dames?).

IMHO: Historic Preservation Needs to Move the Goal Posts

Goal posts movingOne way to measure the success of historic preservation is to count the number of listings on the National Register of Historic Places. In its first year nearly 700 properties were registered, and today the National Register has more than 90,000 entries representing nearly 1.8 million buildings, sites, and structures and is growing at a rate of about 1,500 listings annually. We could easily celebrate that as an achievement of the National Historic Preservation Act, however, the sobering truth is that fewer and fewer Americans find historic sites “inspirational” or “beneficial,” to use NHPA parlance. In the last thirty years, the number of adults who visited an historic park, monument, building, or neighborhood has dropped, from 39 percent in 1982 to 24 percent in 2012. A similar pattern appears in a study of cultural travelers in San Francisco, which showed that while 66 percent said that historic sites were important to visit, only 26 percent had actually visited one in the previous three years.

There are probably several reasons for this decline, including the near-elimination of history from public schools and a decreasing amount of leisure time, but our own field of historic preservation may also be at fault. Over the past fifty years, historic preservation has become more complex, often requiring expertise in legal strategies, real estate development, fundraising, and architectural conservation. It’s become more focused around technique, such as how to designate a property, navigate Section 106, or repair a double-hung window. It’s become more intellectual, with battles fought over statements of significance, National Register criteria, and applicability of the National Environmental Policy Act. It’s become an endless circuit in which we seem to fight the same battles and hear the same objections: “We can’t save everything,” “It’s not historic,” “We can’t stop progress,” and “You’re taking away my rights.” Historic preservation seems to have become less, rather than more, relevant and meaningful to Americans since the passage of the NHPA.

Maybe we’ve confused the ends with the means and are chasing the wrong goals. Preservation is not a destination but a means of reaching a destination. So what is the goal of preservation? According to the NHPA, it’s a “sense of orientation” and a “genuine opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the rich heritage of our Nation.” We need to rebalance the term “historic preservation” so that there’s equal emphasis on both words, rather than just the latter. We need to move the goal posts so that historic preservation is not about something but for somebody.

As management guru Peter Drucker reminds us, the nonprofit organization’s “product is a changed human being. Non-profit institutions are human-change agents. The ‘product’ is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adults, a changed human life altogether.” Historic preservation is not just about saving buildings; it’s about changing the lives of people.

Protecting, preserving, and interpreting is not sufficient. These are simply methods, tasks, jobs, works, or actions that define a purpose and explain how it will be accomplished. What is needed is a goal, a destination, a target, an idealized description of the future that explains “why.” To borrow from grammar, we need Continue reading

What Does Relevant History Look Like? There’s a Podcast for That!

Mutual-SignificanceHistoric sites are usually skilled at explaining the history of a place, event, or person but when it comes to relevance, it can be a mixed bag.  They often can’t make the leap from sharing information about the site to sharing information that’s meaningful to visitors. Historic sites have important messages to share (i.e., why does this place matter? why is it significant?). They just need to find the spots where it overlaps with issues and topics that are meaningful to visitors (what is significant to them?). That overlap is the “mutual significance” or relevance.

Relevance isn’t about topics that are “interesting.” That’s such a vague term it can be used to describe a Pulitzer prize-winning novel, a Hollywood cocktail party, or a wedding where the groom’s ex-wives are bridesmaids. Relevance isn’t about an amusing fact or story that leaves visitors smiling.  “Relevance” is something that meets current needs in a practical and useful manner. It finds its origins in the Latin word for Continue reading

How to Evaluate the Visitor Experience with Journey Maps

A journey map can show you the strengths and weaknesses of the whole visitor experience at a glance.

A journey map can show you the strengths and weaknesses of the whole visitor experience at a glance.

When people visit historic sites, they not only take a tour but they probably explore your Web site, buy tickets for the tour, shop in your store, and use the restroom. While the tour might be outstanding, the entire experience can be spoiled if the visitor couldn’t find a parking spot, got soaked in a thunderstorm, was frustrated by a broken credit card machine, or encountered a dirty restroom. For most people, a visit to an historic site isn’t just about the tour, but the whole experience from beginning to end. If one element goes awry, the entire visit can go bad—even if you had absolutely no control over it (like the weather).

To improve visitor satisfaction and increase attendance and impact, historic sites are now examining the entire visitor experience to be sure every part functions well and works seamlessly from beginning to end. One of the best ways to analyze and improve the experience is through a “journey map,” a diagram that lays out every step in the visitor experience from home to historic site to back home. It can help organize planning and evaluation; simplify understanding of complex processes; and easily show how different parts of the organization contribute to an excellent visitor experience. For the past two decades, hotels, airlines, and other customer-oriented businesses use this technique to generate higher satisfaction rates and build stronger relationships for increased profitability. Only recently have non-profit organizations adopted mapping as a method for analysis and planning.

mentioned journey mapping previously but because there continues to be so much interest in the topic, I’ve Continue reading

Vision Statement: Encyclopedia Edition

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

Carol Kammen and Amy Wilson are preparing the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History for publication in early 2017 and invited me to update my entry on “Historic House Museums in the 21st Century” as well as contribute a couple new entries, including “Vision Statement.”  Businesses and nonprofit organizations have been adopting vision and mission statements for the past two decades but drafting this encyclopedia entry gave me a chance to step back to look at its evolving history and see where they might be headed.  Here’s what I submitted (and remember, while books have been written about this topic, I have to condense it into a short summary):

Vision Statement. A vision statement describes a business’ or non-profit organization’s long-term major goal or desired end state and directs the planning, implementation, and evaluation of its programs and activities. There are many definitions for vision statements, some that conflict with each other, but the consensus is that they describe an ambitious but achievable long-term goal (10-30 years ahead, beyond the term of the current board or tenure of the executive director); that the statement is clear, compelling, and short (about 25-50 words); and yet is sufficiently vague and abstract to be unaffected by typical economic cycles or social fads.

An often-cited example of a vision statement is found in John F. Kennedy’s address to Congress in 1961 on urgent national needs: Continue reading

Values of History: Encyclopedia Edition

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

Carol Kammen and Amy Wilson are preparing the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History for publication in early 2017 and invited me to update my entry on “Historic House Museums in the 21st Century” as well as contribute a couple new entries, including “Values of History.”  Businesses and nonprofit organizations have been adopting values along with mission and vision statements for the past two decades but drafting this encyclopedia entry gave me a chance to step back to look at its evolving history as well as include the work of the History Relevance Campaign.  Here’s what I submitted (and remember, while books have been written about this topic, I have to condense it into a short summary):

Values of History. Values are beliefs shared by an individual or a community about what is important or valuable. Although values and ethics are terms used interchangeably at times, ethics are the action and manifestation of values. In addition to a mission and vision, some history organizations have adopted a statement of values or a code of ethics to clarify their identity and guide decisions. For example, Society for Historical Archaeology includes in its code of ethics that members “shall not sell, buy, trade, or barter items from archaeological contexts,” an action based in part from their belief that “historical and underwater cultural resources” are a “valued resource for knowledge exchange.” The importance of values was underscored nearly a generation ago in Museums for a New Century (1984): “An effective museum leader—whether scholar or M.B.A. or both—must first understand, believe in, and speak for the values of the institution.”

A common challenge for state and local history organizations is explaining Continue reading

Mission Statements: Encyclopedia Edition

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

Carol Kammen and Amy Wilson are preparing the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History for publication in early 2017 and invited me to update my entry on “Historic House Museums in the 21st Century” as well as contribute a couple new entries, including “Mission Statement.”  I’ve long been familiar with mission statements (who isn’t nowadays) but drafting this encyclopedia entry gave me a chance to step back to look at its evolving history as well as a today’s context to see what’s happening.  Here’s what I submitted (and remember, while books have been written about this topic, I have to condense it into a short summary):

Mission Statement. A mission statement describes the purpose of an organization and directs the planning, implementation, and evaluation of its programs and activities. These statements can vary as seen in these two historic sites that are adjacent to each other in Hartford, Connecticut:

  • Mark Twain House and Museum: to foster an appreciation of the legacy of Mark Twain as one of our nation’s defining cultural figures, and to demonstrate the continuing relevance of his work, life, and times.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe Center: to preserve and interpret Stowe’s Hartford home and the Center’s historic collections, promote vibrant discussion of her life and work, and inspire commitment to social justice and positive change.

Had Twain or Stowe heard the term “mission statement” in their lifetimes, they probably would have regarded it as Continue reading

Video: “Every Student Succeeds Act” Overview

In this 3:38 video, Education Week’s Alyson Klein provides an overview of the changes brought by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in the 2017-18 school year.  Responsibilities for performance, curriculum, and testing shift from the federal government to the states.  For museums and historic sites, that means that your local school district may be adopting new standards of learning, which could prompt you to revise your school programs.  States are required to adopt “challenging” academic standards, which could be Common Core but it isn’t required.  For more details, take a look at Education Week’s written summary or the analysis in The Atlantic.

 

Looking for Exhibit Ideas? Check Out These Online Files

Exhibit Files 2016Looking for an idea for an upcoming exhibit? Need some alternatives for an interactive activity? Want to know if anyone else has installed an outdoor exhibit at a bus station? You’ll want to explore “Exhibit Files,” a free online collection of exhibition records and reviews for exhibit designers and interpretive planners.  The Association of Science-Technology Centers launched this website in 2007 with funding from the National Science Foundation, but despite those affiliations, you’ll find plenty of files related to history, including a case study of Lewis & Clark (the national Bicentennial exhibition); a review of Terror House in Budapest by Daniel Spock of the Minnesota Historical Society; and a case study of a low-tech document-based interactive exhibit at the Missouri State Archives. Because most exhibit techniques can be used with any subject, you can adapt many ideas for your specific needs. The files can be searched by title, date, tag, or topic (such as history or architecture).   And if you have an exhibit experience to share or you’re looking to solve a problem, you can join for free and become one of the nearly 3,000 members.

Webinar: The Five Forces Affecting House Museums

Five Forces 2015This Friday, April 8, I’ll be discussing the five forces facing historic house museums in a free webinar hosted by the Wisconsin Historical Society.  It’s based on simple and incredibly useful framework developed by Michael Porter at the Harvard Business School more than 30 years ago but little known outside the corporate business world. I’ll not only examine how the five forces are affecting history museums and historic sites on a national level, but how we can harness those five forces to improve and enhance tours, events, and other public programs.  The webinar starts at 10:30 am Central/11:30 am Eastern for about an hour with time for questions and discussion. Registration is free and available online but limited to 100 people (and you don’t have to be from Wisconsin!).

It’s part of series of local history webinars offered every spring for staff and volunteers at local historical societies, historic preservation organizations, and museums.  In April and May they are offering nine different webinars, including an introduction to PastPerfect 5 with Sarah Kapellusch, the basics of collections care with Craig Deller, and a fresh look at walking tours with Anthony Rubano.  Hats off to the Wisconsin Historical Society for providing this service to museums and historic sites not just in their state, but the rest of the country.