Digital History

Guest post by Emily Dunnack, Connecticut Historical Society

Today marks the halfway point of SHA! I think all of us are at the point where we are beginning to take some of the information we’ve learned and examples we’ve seen and thinking about how everything fits in (or doesn’t) in our current institutions and jobs.

The theme for today was DIGITAL HISTORY. Our faculty was Tim Grove, Chief of Education at the National Air and Space Museum and Lisa Fischer, Director of the Digital History Center, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

We started off with the YouTube video Social Media Revolution, which was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying and pretty much set the tone for the day:

It was a day full of information, discussion, and examples and while I would love to be able to write a nice little blog wrap up, the biggest thing I took away were questions. These are the questions I’ll be thinking about, talking about during SHA, and taking back with me to my institution:

– What are the benefits and risks of cultivating a culture of user generated content?
– How are museums using technology on-site? Via mobile devices? Online?

Materials from Rev Quest- a great example from Colonial Williamsburg of a game using web technology and mobile texting to enhance to online and onsite visitor experience.

– What are the advantages of using the technology available? What are the limitations?
– How does your web presence impact the overall visitor experience to your institution?
– Where does social media fit into your staff and how is it handled?
– How do you prioritize digitization projects?
– How do you build into your budget the necessary maintenance costs for technology?
– Where do our objects fit into all of this?
– How do small museums with limited staff and budgets begin to implement some of these new ideas?

We ended the day on a lighter note with an activity to show how people navigate websites. One of us volunteered for our institution’s website to be the guinea pig and Maureen and Leo were tasked with navigating the website, narrating out loud as they searched for the answers to a series of questions. What are the hours? Where is a specific teacher curriculum? What is the museum’s mission? This simple activity very effectiviely demonstrated some major flaws in the demo website and would be a great activity to take back to your staff and begin the process of rethinking your website.

Posted on November 7, 2012, in Change, Museums, Seminar for Historical Administration, SHA, shared authority and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great questions. I think conversations between a museum and its visitors about these issues could be a good way to connect the museum’s mission with current trends, innovations, even fads, that are affecting visitors’ lives. For example, maybe ask visitors:

    “Do Objects Matter?”
    “Is the REAL THING Important?”

    Juxtapose the questions with a manuscript or object from the museum collection that has already been digitally scanned and available to examine online. It costs the museum (and donors/taxpayers) X amount of money to keep and preserve this physical item.

    “Is that necessary now that we can digitally preserve these artifacts?”
    “Why come to the museum when you can see the information on our website?”
    “If you had to make a choice, would you preserve the real manuscript (which a limited number of people will ever see) or would you preserve the digital version (with potentially unlimited viewing opportunities)?”

    A museum showing that it is grappling with these issues and asking for dialogue could be an effective way to demonstrate relevancy and and opportunity to make the case for the value of its mission. Promoted through social media, of course!

  2. Thanks for the additional resources Tim! I really enjoyed your presentation and the discussions it illicited from our group.

    Ben- I enjoyed reading your thoughtful comment and the questions you posed. I think it’s an exciting challenge for museums to be grappling with these issues and the dialogue surronding them is where I’ve learned the most.


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