Label This

Labels are one of the most important aspects of the museum experience in my opinion. The label is the guide to helping the visitor understand what exactly they are looking at, and without them its just another old thing behind glass. The language used, the placement, and the layout/design can make or break the labels within the exhibit.

Do’s and Don’t’s of the label world:

  • Don’t use jargon
  • Don’t use passive voice
  • Don’t make it too long
  • Don’t write to impress instead of express
  • Do use a lot of action words
  • Do make sure that the words are visible and contrasting on the design

Judy Rand speaks about labels in a way that could allow anyone who has ever been to a museum before to understand the difference between good and bad labels. A visitor shouldn’t need a glossary to know what is being said. They also shouldn’t have to have a magnifying glass to read the texts. Many of the things that Rand describes can be seen in the labels that were in the “Drill, Baby, Drill” exhibit. No one wants to have to sit on the floor or stretch their necks up to the ceiling in order to be able to be informed on what’s in front of them.

Lucy Harland speaks of the “mutterers”. These are the people that walk away from a panel or label muttering to themselves. She explains that when this happens you know its time for a change in your exhibit.

Labels should act as a docent for when the docent isn’t available. They should have a conversational quality to them. This makes the label easier for people to read and to discuss later with others members of their groups (children, classmates, etc). This also means that the ones writing the labels shouldn’t write them for their peers but for the intended audience. No jargon. No one should need a glossary to understand the simple panel in front of an object. Short, sweet, and to the point is usually the best bet.

 

Ethics Are Always Important

While reading the different ethics policies I started to wonder if all professions have ethical codes to follow. Obviously there rules that all people in professions should follow like equality, no discrimination, and others, but does every profession have a written out set of rules to follow with it comes to things like this. Reading these guidelines for public historians made me wonder if academic historians have the same or similar guidelines. If so I know a few people that could afford to read them.

NCPH’s “Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct” is laid out in a way that is very easy to follow. They all seem like super straight forward rules that everyone (not just public historians) should be able to easily follow. They are about helping your fellow historians, the public, and the employers that you are working for at the time. I like how it is broken down in a way that you know which rule goes to which type of audience, too (for example, “Responsibility to the Public” among others). This code of ethics focused more on the person and how they should act within the profession which sometimes needs to be defined (no matter how trivial you think the rule is).

AASLH’s “Statement of Professional Standards and Ethics” seems to be broken down more into who works at a historical site, as well as, the physical site and objects themselves. I think that our code for MOTM should be more like this one because it should include codes about the collection itself and how it should be handled.

AAM’s “Code of Ethics for Museums” is more similar to AASLH than NCPH. Because it is made for museums it breaks down the codes into categories like “Governance”, “Collections”, “Programs”, etc. These are all things that museums (not necessarily Public Historians themselves) would have to follow. I think that our code would benefit from modeling this set of codes as well.

Relevance is Key

In “Storytelling: The Real Work of the Museum” it is explained that museums should use storytelling (or narratives) to engage an audience and grab their attention. I agree that stories probably make the most sense when it comes to relevance. People should leave your museum with memories that will last, but what about the knowledge and teaching opportunities that sometimes don’t come with storytelling? In the article it is mentioned that sometimes storytelling comes above information and that’s okay. What is a museum if not a place for someone to learn? Obviously stories might work for smaller children but making up fictional characters to tell a story in a house museum that had actual characters could be confusing. I think that facts and factual information can be used in a way that allows a narrative but also educates in a memorable way.

There are ways (such as ones discusses in the Participatory Museum  by Nina Simon) to get an audience engaged and involved without sacrificing the learning of historical facts. By going out to the local communities and getting visitors to express their feelings about what they saw, the museum can learn what is needed and wanted by the people coming into its doors. Knowing that you had a part in the upcoming exhibit is extremely memorable.

Teamwork makes the Dream Work.

While reading the chapters for this week I could not help but think back to a series of meetings that I was able to attend this summer during my time in New England. The meetings were at Worcester Historical Museum (WHM) for a redesign of an old exhibit that they had.  The old exhibit was quite terrible in every sense of the word. They tried to fit over 100 years of history within a room the size of HLG 501, including every piece of technological advancement made in the town. There was some serious editing that needed to be done. I was excited to see how the meetings and process behind exhibit design and collaboration would work in a professional museum.

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The exhibit in question was overwhelming from head to toe.

Reading about collaboration in Creating Exhibitions was enlightening. Exhibit design teams should consist of members of multiple communities. The audience, the historians, the financial backers, the exhibit design team, members of the local community, and others should be present in order for a decision to be made that suits as many people as possible. All of these collaboration ideas sound great, but that is not what was happening at the WHM. The team that was present at the meetings I attended included historians (of the older male variety), members of a design team, and the two or three grad students that were invited (me being one of them). The historians each had their own agenda, each agenda was going to lead the exhibit right back to where it was now.

Attending these meetings with people who had been studying history longer than I had been alive gave me a new incite on what not to do in collaboration meetings. The grad students in the meeting (who were invited by different individuals within the group and not by the museum itself) were the only ones there under the age of 40. We were also the only ones there that could some what represent an audience. There was no one from the local community, there was no educator of any kind (even though they mentioned quite often that their biggest visitors were school aged children on field trips).

Pairing the readings along with what happened in this meeting allowed me to understand better why true collaboration is so important in the longevity of a exhibit or museum.

History from the People, for the People

The thought of doing a history harvest during Mardi Gras is what scary to me honestly. Taking oral histories from men who have been drinking nonstop since the Sunday before Fat Tuesday could be a very daunting task. When reading Doing Oral History: a Practical Guide, I understood better why oral histories might be better while the act was happening instead of taking them on a later date. In the section “Is it better to interview immediately after an event or wait until years later?” the authors describe the advantages and disadvantages of taking oral histories immediately or waiting a few years to do so.

I was really inspired by the “From Twitter to Spotify” article. The fact that the museum made their own Spotify playlist so that visitors could hear different songs in different areas of the museum was so cool to me. This summer while walking through the mansions in Newport, RI it would have been so awesome to listen to music that would have been played in the ballroom while walking through the ballroom. I liked how they used different social media platforms to show different aspects of museum life, Instagram being for behind the scenes content, Flickr being for the art lovers, etc.
We could definitely use some of these techniques when it came to museum on the move. Spotify could be used to show different music played at the different Mardi Gras events through out the state, Instagram could be used to show behind the scenes pictures and updates of what’s happening during the exhibit design and building process, and other social media platforms could be used for community involvement as well.

As stated in “An Introduction to Digital Strategies for Museums” it is important to engage the visitor by keeping up with the current trends. If you want people to enjoy the museum and/or exhibit, it has to be relevant and relateable to the incoming crowd.

Collections Management…the fun stuff.

This reading reminded me a lot of what Maegan Smith and Marianna P. Luquette spoke with us about during the Fall 2017 Public History Workshop. They pulled up PastPerfect on the projector and explained the importance of collections management. I have also dealt with this stuff during my graduate assistantship at the Hilliard University Art Museum and currently while working at the Center for Louisiana Studies.

Collections management is important for many reasons as the reading states. At the center we make sure that each collection given to us has the right documentation because without that the collection is pretty much useless. A collection given to the center, or anywhere, might be cool to look at privately, but if someone can’t use them to inform the public because the right papers were not signed then what good does that collection do? The reading explains the importance of having the right documentation on artifacts that you are borrowing, that is being given to your institute, or that your institute is loaning out, as well.

At the Hilliard I experienced preventive conservation, as mentioned in the reading, when one of the sculptures made out of gourds began showing signs of termite damage. According to the pictures taken when the collection arrived at the museum there were not little holes all over this sculpture until being in one of the galleries for a few weeks. The museum regularly sprays for insects so it was concluded that the bugs were brought over from the owners house. Once finding the holes the collections manager quarantined the sculpture in order to protect the rest of the collection and had an exterminator come out to spray the museum to prevent the spreading of the bugs any further.

Insuring that the collections is safe and preserved for future generations should be one of the most important parts within the museum and public history world.

Are you from New Orleans?

Growing up in Evangeline Parish I experienced Mardi Gras in a different way than the articles described. When I think of Mardi Gras I think of chasing chickens, standing on horses, eating gumbo at the end of the day, and dancing to Cajun music. I’ve never personally been to New Orleans Mardi Gras, I’ve only ever seen pictures or heard the stories. This makes it somewhat harder to understand that Mardi Gras is a billion dollar industry as stated in “Carnival and Katrina” I was shocked but not surprised.

Image result for mamou mardi gras

In “Marketing Mardi Gras” by Gotham it is explained what Mardi Gras has become. With floats being sponsored by Popeye’s and Coca Cola, it is easy to see how this yearly celebration has shaped the tourism industry of New Orleans. Gotham goes on to explain how Mardi Gras’ image is used to signify New Orleans and what it means to be in New Orleans. This can be seen any time you step foot in the city. There are beads, masks, boas, and other parade paraphernalia in every shop you go in. It also never fells that every time I leave the state someone will ask me where I am from, I will say Louisiana, and they will say “Oh, you’re from New Orleans” as they proceed to tell me about the one time they went to Mardi Gras there and got trashed. I enjoyed the explanation in this article on how culture and histories can be created because of signature images like a float rolling down Canal Street. No, New Orleans isn’t all about flashing someone for beads.

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“Carnival and Katrina” by Reid Mitchell explained why the Gotham was correct in saying that culture can be created through tourism.  Mitchell explains that with or without the parade rolling after Katrina people were still going to take to the streets dressed up in the costumes because that’s what they do. This is more like what I am used to when it comes to Mardi Gras. We don’t need fancy floats, tourists, or anyone else for that matter to tell us when we can celebrate. Mitchell explains that Mardi Gras is beyond the Popeye’s float mentioned by Gotham. It’s about the people of New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole.

 

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“Using the Bow and the Smile” reminds me a lot of the festival pageant world. Women are meant to be seen not heard, you are a reflection of your family. It was crazy to me to read about the girls who were literally raised to be queen of a krewe’s ball. Schooling and hobbies were centered around being the queen of a ball that would not matter if you left the state. While reading this article I often wondered how many people that celebrate Mardi Gras every year know about how some of the oldest krewes got started. These women were mostly chosen to sit on a thrown and be only looked at as a glimpse of the Old South still being relevant.

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Oh the things I’ve learned.

When starting this final project I was scared beyond belief. I don’t know how to make a blog post much less an entire website full of documents that obviously mean something to someone or they would not be in an archive. I knew that I wanted to do something that was eye catching than someone’s old papers that sat in a closet for twenty something years before they were given to UL to do something with. I immediately began asking my boss in the Center for Louisiana Studies (just the Center for short) if he had any ideas of a cool topic that I could do that would interest people. Shortly after this conversation I was on the track of Clementine Barnabet (or Bernabet, it depends on the newspaper that you look at) and the ritual ax murders of Louisiana and Texas. I was super excited and nervous to start working on this case.

ax

I began by speaking with James Wilson who also works in the Center because I was going to use all of his research and papers in order to have content for my website. James was excited for someone to help put his research on the web because, according to him, a lot of people contact him looking for the information that he has on the murders and the case. He gave me a stack of scanned documents about two feet high and said good luck.

paper
Me leaving James’ office

Once I stopped freaking out because of the amount of scanning and fishing in the microfilm of UL library I was going to have to do over the next few weeks, I got to work sorting out the documents. Most of them were newspaper articles that covered the murders, the case, and the trial of Clementine Barnabet and her so called accomplices. There were also court documents that James told me no longer existed because of a major fire that had happened to the court house which housed these documents originally. I was excited to read through these documents as I was scanning to see the kind of reporting that was happening in the early 1900s. In the few months that I’ve had to do this project I have not even made a dent in the stack of documents presented to me. I chose to show a variety of things from James collection to show that it entails more than just newspaper articles.

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me excited to read this stuff.

Once I figured out that Omeka would probably be the best option for me and the website at hand, I got started with crafting my website and deciding what I wanted it to look like. I chose my themes and googled all of the plugins that were available to see which ones would be the best for me. I learned that the Simple Pages plugin would allow me to make different pages in order to show off the documents in the best way possible. I also chose to use the Exhibits plugin to give the viewer a different way of looking at the documents other than just searching through them. I uploaded a few documents and started to play around with how I wanted everything to look.

Once I got my website to look how I wanted it to the next step was to start uploading my scanned documents. After scanning documents all day at work, the last thing I want to do when I come home is scan some more documents. Thankfully the items that I am working with for this project are more interesting to read than aerial pictures of the swamp are to look at. After I get a few documents scanned to my jump drive I take a break to start uploading them to the site. I’ve learned that it’s not that hard to do just tedious and repetitive. (I’ve taken LOTS of breaks).

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Through this project and class I’ve learned that digital history is something that public historians of this time period should focus more on. Digital anything is not going away so we need to learn it now before it’s too late. I’ve also learned that no matter how scary it sounds I can totally make a website filled with documents (which is pretty cool).

Digital Exhibit Evaluation

I chose to look at Colonial Williamsburg’s (CW) online exhibit which features their collection of clothing from the 18th and 19th centuries. I love the idea of this website’s content. Who doesn’t love looking at old dresses, clothes, and accessories to imagine themselves wearing them? There are a few things however that I didn’t not care for or that I thought could be done better.

home

Visually the website pops with the color and details which draw in the viewers attention. Personally, when I go on to a new website if the first page is not interesting I probably won’t stay on it for long. There’s a clear message from the first page and clear directions to take once you get there. The content is amazing and the pictures show the great details of the articles picked by the viewer. There is also a wide range of clothing and accessory options to pick from.

explore

By clicking the explore tab on the first page, the viewer is taken to a page where they can choose from options including women’s, men’s, or children’s clothing or accessories from within the CW collection.

explore1

The display is easily understood and can be navigated fairly easily, it seems. As shown above in the image of the “Purse or ‘Sweet Bag,'” once the viewer chooses an image there is a little bit of information about the image and zoom functions. The zoom functions (seen in the example below) work really well in allowing the viewer to be able to see the article up close and personal.

explore1

One thing that I was disappointed in was the fact that the viewer could not turn the item or see it from all angles. To me that is what makes an online exhibit so great! Online/digital exhibits should allow the viewer to be able to see the article better than in person (personal opinion).

Altogether the online exhibit is great. It gives an insight into a collection that would not normally be seen by the general public. This is a way to get people interested in Colonial Williamsburg without the history online being about war or other colonial things.

 

We get to play games for class?!?!

I pretend that I don’t like to play games but let’s be honest who doesn’t like to mindlessly play games from time to time?

cat

Sometimes games are a good way to “trick” people into learning without them knowing that it’s educational (like brownies made out of veggies *Insert Gag*). Some games are obviously more fun than others though.

eyeWhen I played Jamestown Adventure I wasn’t very impressed. You get to make decisions in order to support your colony. The information is interesting to me, but to a 10 years old who doesn’t like history…I’m not sure. There isn’t really a fun interactive aspect to the game.

The second game I picked to play was Argument Wars. I really liked this game. There was ahappy-childrens-day-cute-girl-graphic visible point system, there was a good guy/bad guy, and fun interactions between the two. I think this game gives information on court cases in a way that makes it interesting and fun to find links between the arguments happening within the case. I’m obviously not a preteen, but I think that this game would be more successful in getting a younger crowd to engage with digital history.

While playing the games I kept thinking back to Jeremy Antley’s article “Games and Historical Narratives.” In his article he writes, “Games can be platforms for building, and not simply consuming, knowledge.” I love this idea! I think that history is sometimes seen as boring by non-historians because people think that history can only be told one way. It can be malleable or changed depending on different sources, artifacts, theories, and by using games (and Jeremy’s quote) a historian can show an audience how their decisions in what to include or not to include can impact the way that history is told.