One of the big challenges in interpreting history is conveying the uncertainty of the future. When we look back at the past, the decisions around the pitfalls seem so obvious but at the time, it’s hazy and unclear.
My recent visit to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas presented an effective technique using a “touch table” to explore LBJ’s response to the Vietnam War, putting visitors in the hot seat. In this interactive activity, the President is faced with a decision, such as increasing U.S. ground troops in Vietnam, and you’re asked to advise him yes or no. On the screen you can explore primary documents, watch news reports, and when the phone rings, overhear LBJ talking about the issue. In the upper right hand corner, the clock reminds you that time matters and you can’t dawdle. After you provide your advice, you’re told what actually happened. I seemed to never give the right advice (or my good advice was ignored, depending on how you look at it), but nevertheless it was fun to have a glimpse of the moment (and thankful I didn’t have to make these decisions).
Gallagher and Associates designed the exhibition and Cortina Productions developed the interactives.