Category Archives: Social media

Highlights from the Virginia Association of Museums conference

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Last week the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) held its annual conference at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, and I was fortunate to be asked to speak at their historic house forum.  It was my first time at their conference and I was so impressed by the quality of the sessions and the camaraderie of the participants.  I wasn’t able to stop by every session, but I wanted to provide some highlights from a few I did attend.

The Nexus of Art and Science.  Rebecca Kamen, professor of art at Northern Virginia Community College, talked about the ability of art to interpret historic scientific and medical collections found in museums and libraries.  Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder (1965) prompted her to work with such diverse institutions as the American Philosophical Society, Chemistry Museum, and the National Institutes of Health.  A recent work, “Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden,” explores the orbital rotations of elements in the periodic table through sculptures.  I’ve seen lots of examples of science being explained in new ways, but I’ve only encountered a few glimpses of it being done with history–anyone have any suggestions?

Using Social Media to Conduct Historical Research.  Lynn Rainville, a professor at Sweet Briar College, discussed how she used Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media to study Continue reading

WebWise Conference Coming Up in Early March

WebWise 2012: Project demonstrations

WebWise 2012: Project demonstrations

WebWise, the annual conference hosted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, will be held in Baltimore on March 6-8, 2013. This year’s conference is co-sponsored by the Roy Rosensweig Center for History and the New Media and is being organized and presented in a very different manner.  In advance, participants (anyone, actually) voted on the proposed workshop topics and then the conference organizers recruit speakers to fill the slots. For the project demonstrations, the participants will be divided into three groups and then rotate through three different sets of presentations. In addition, there will be a series of three-minute lightning talks over lunch, facilitated project/partnership incubator groups, and one-on-one speed consulting sessions. Indeed, there’s only one plenary session scheduled for the entire conference–Audrey Watters of Hack Education–as a keynote on the last day.

I’ve attended as many WebWise Conferences as possible because the content has been outstanding and I often come away with new approaches and strategies, even from the sessions that are far outside my field. This year’s reformatting seems intriguing, but much of the content remains a mystery so Continue reading

Predictions for Education Technology in 2013


Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

T.H.E. Journal brought together five technology experts who work in schools to predict the future of technology in the classroom–and may help you decide where the opportunities lie for your museum or historic site as you work with students and teachers. Here’s a quick summary, and if you want more details, check out the entire article in the December 2012 issue.

  • HOT: Common Core Online Assessments. “As more and more curriculum departments align their learning resources to the Common Core, the next step will be to create the systems for implementation, including content management and new methods of assessment. Mobile devices will play a role in Common Core assessments.”  [Every history organization that works with schools should notice that this issue not only suggests following and understanding the Common Core but that schools continue to have inconsistent and unreliable computer technology, so providing information only online may hinder students and teachers, rather than help.]
  • HOT: iPads. LUKEWARM: Tablet Computers other than iPads. “iPads will continue to Continue reading

History News looks at Historical Interpretation

History News, Autumn 2012

History News, Autumn 2012

The autumn 2012 issue of History News arrived in my mailbox a couple weeks ago and its four feature articles on interpretation that will be of interest to historic sites:

  • “From Quiet Havens to Modern Agoras:  Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture” by Nancy Rogers, Susanna Seidl-Fox, and Deborah Mack is a report, including the key overarching messages, from an international seminar held in Salzburg, Austria in October 2011.
  • “‘No More Wiggle-Tail Water’: Interpreting the History of Morgantown’s Water Supply at the West Virginia Botanic Garden” by Barbara Howe is a case study on integrating history in a place that focuses on horticulture and nature.
  • “When Histories Horrify: Supporting Visitors’ Responses through Responsible Interpretation” by Linda Norris, Danny Cohen, and Stacey Mann is a continuation of a session at the American Alliance of Museum’s annual meeting on the roles and responsibilities of museums in preserving and mediating horrific histories of crimes, violence, terrorism, and oppression, with references to the Kilmainham Gaol, Majdanek, Robben Island, and the Greensboro Woolworth.
  • “Entering the Mainstream:  Interpreting GLBT History” by Ken Turino and Susan Ferentinos addresses four common challenges (institutional policies on discussing sex, lack of documentary evidence, applying modern labels to historical figures, pressure to avoid controversial topics) using examples from Pendarvis, Walt Whitman House, Beauport, Sarah Orne Jewett House, Alice Austen House, and Charles Gibson House.

Also included are Continue reading

An Interactive Holiday Calendar for Historic Sites

Make Your Holidays Historic at The History List.

Make Your Holidays Historic at The History List.

Lee Wright at The History List has developed a clever interactive calendar for the holidays which highlights events at historic sites around the country with changing images and sounds wrapped in an attractive bright red package.  It’s fun to play with it to find what’s hidden underneath each date and the best part is that any historic site or history organization can participate.  So far, it includes a Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House, a whiskey tasting at Jefferd’s Tavern, and a holiday masquerade at Tryon Palace.  If you’d like to include your event, Lee provides instructions for participating via History List or Facebook.

December’s calendar is part of The History List’s, “Make this Holiday Historic” campaign, however, you can include events from the rest of the year as well.  The History List is Lee Wright’s effort to create a one-stop place for history lovers to find places and events happening near them, whether at home or on the road, as well as provide a convenient, easy-to-use online calendar for Continue reading

The Many Flavors of Touring Historic Places

Monticello Explorer provides several virtual tours.

Monticello Explorer provides several virtual tours.

Although guided tours of period rooms is the most common form of interpretation at historic sites, audio tours, video tours, and virtual tours are growing in popularity thanks to technologies that are lowering the cost of production and increasing access to new audiences.  From a short list of examples, the students in my “historic site interpretation” class at George Washington University developed a list of ten best practices for different types of tours of historic sites.  You’ll discover that many of their suggestions emphasize the need for a plan, themes, and a focus–and projects that failed to have these elements were weaker and less effective.

A.  Guided Tours of Period Rooms

Reviewed by Johanna Bakmas, Melissa Dagenais, Emma Dailey

Suggested Best Practices

  1. Develop an interpretive plan and themes
  2. Consult primary sources for the property
  3. Decide whether to have reproduction or original pieces Continue reading

Report from the 2012 AAAM Conference in Baltimore

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Last week I attended the Association of African American Museums conference along with two hundred other people from across the country.  I’d never attended before but since it was close by in Baltimore, I decided to take a chance and it turned out to both educational and fun.  Although I only attended one day, I’d like to share some of the highlights from the sessions I observed.

In “Understanding Exhibition Design and Planning“, the panelists all stressed the importance of pre-design, which includes determining which spaces will be devoted to exhibits, visiting other exhibits to clarify what you like (and don’t like), conducting visitor research, identifying potential artifacts and images, roughing out a budget and schedule (is the exhibit feasible?), and determining the maintenance costs.  The Harpers Ferry Center of NPS offers an exhibit planning template for FileMaker Pro.  The panel also provided a rough estimates of exhibition costs for design and fabrication:

  • $150-250/sf: 2D items, graphics, pedestals for 3D objects, little to no media.
  • $250-350/sf: 3D object displays, more extensive use of graphics, some media elements
  • $350-500+/sf: custom cases, media, electromechanical interactives, theatrical lighting/projectors.

They stress that costs could be lower, but it will then rely heavily on reusing ideas or elements from earlier exhibits or projects.  The panelists also believed that better designs are the result of longer development schedules, not more money.  More time allows for more iterations of designs to refine ideas.  Finally, for new buildings, they suggest that exhibit designers be brought in early to the process because they help program the space because they tend to “design from the inside out”–but that will require that the architect is willing to collaborate.  For a copy of the PowerPoint presentation, contact Chris Danemeyer at Proun Design.

Claudine Brown, the Assistant Secretary for Education and Access at the Smithsonian Institution, was the luncheon speaker.  She laid out the new interpretive direction for the Smithsonian and why they matter to museums, especially those that focus on African American history and culture.  The challenges facing the Smithsonian is that they need to preserve the evidence of the past, be relevant in the present, and be prepared for the future [and these are ideas all museums and historic sites can follow].  The three big topics the Smithsonian will be interpreting are:

  • Americans All: a shared experience as immigrants, everyone came from somewhere else, but all share a common country.
  • Waterways:  Water is a serious problem and its estimated that 2/3rds of the world will suffer water shortages by 2025.
  • Creativity and Innovation:  With our current high unemployment rates, museums can be part of the solution by providing learning opportunities that simulate real life and helping the next generation learn how to organize, strategize, and act.

The session on developing mobile applications was led by the Digital Humanities Center at Michigan State University, which maintains an online clearinghouse of mobile museum applications.  The session provided some estimated costs for producing various applications, as follows:

  • $0-?: mobile-ready website (creating a website that can be easily viewed on a smartphone; most common solution)
  • $5,000-$60,000:  native application (self-contained program that’s downloaded and works without an internet connection)

The session stressed that mobile applications rarely generate revenue–the average return on investment is $688 and takes 51 years–so look for other benefits to the institution.  It may be possible to generate revenues from after-market sales, such as an app that promotes a book, photoprints, music, and attendance at an event.  When I asked about the effectiveness of applications, the person sitting next to me suggested I look at #SocialMedia Daily, a blog that aggregates news about social media and apps.

Remembering the 1,933rd Anniversary of the Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius

Animation still from “A Day in Pompeii,” You Tube video at

This may seem far-afield from the interests of most historic sites, but 1,933 years ago today, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city of Pompeii (resulting in one of the world’s most popular historic sites about 1,700 years later).  The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is marking the anniversary by tweeting the last day of Pompeii as it happened, starting at 10 a.m. today by @Elder_Pliny (formerly known as Pliny the Elder, who witnessed the events) in preparation for an exhibit on Pompeii opening on September 14.  So far, he has more than 3,000 followers and he just tweeted that he’s preparing his boat to get a closer look (should I warn him?).  Along with the tweets, the Museum has created a mashup with Google maps to follow Pliny around Pompeii, is hosting “Bacchus Raucous” (a fundraising gala dressed in a Roman toga) and is featuring a lecture on Ceren, a Mayan village that was also encased by a volcanic eruption centuries ago.

Thanks to Sandra Smith at the Heinz History Center sharing this clever approach in interpretation.

Google Expands its Access to Museums (but not yet Historic Sites)

Floor plan of the American Museum of National History displayed as a Google Map on a smartphone.

Google Maps recently expanded its capabilities of mapping indoor places (mostly  airports and shopping malls) by including two dozen museums in the United States (such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Indianapolis Museum, and the Smithsonia–the many museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution) and England (such as the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery).  Currently, this feature is only available on Android smartphones or tablets (that may seem limiting but nearly 2 million people have downloaded this app).  More museum maps are in the works but it doesn’t look like any historic sites are participating.  Consider how useful it would be to visitors at such places as Colonial Williamsburg, Gettysburg Battlefield, Sturbridge Village, the Huntington, and James Madison’s Montpelier.  If you’re interested in adding your site details to Google Maps, you can upload floor plans yourself or get help from Google.

In a similar vein, Google Street View just added 360-degree panoramic views of Yosemite and four other national parks in California.  And of course, these are nice complements to the Google Art Project.  It looks like Google is taking a much greater interest in museums along several paths, but historic sites currently seem to be left out of the mix.  I don’t think that’s intentional. I just think it’s a common oversight because most people don’t associate museums with historic sites.  Perhaps I’ll give them a call.

Thanks to John Durel for alerting me to this news item!

Amelia Wong Joins Museum Studies Faculty at GWU

Amelia Wong, currently the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s senior social media strategist, will be joining the fulltime faculty of the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University this fall as an assistant professor. Amelia holds a BA from UCLA in history and a PhD in American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park. Amelia’s scholarship focuses on how museums, especially those concerned with democratization, can engage critically with technology for their goals. Her dissertation, “Museums, Social Media, and the Fog of Community,” reflects her research interests and
is the first book-length project about social media in American museums.

At the Holocaust Museum, the Twitter community has grown from 2000 to over 100,000 people under her direction. Amelia also developed and produced an ongoing Web series, “Curators’ Corner,” which gives the public, donors and others an inside look at the
museum’s collections via short multimedia presentations narrated by museum staff. During her first year at the museum, Amelia proposed, Continue reading