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.

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.

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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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