Reflecting on Modules 4 and 5

Throughout Modules 4 (Collections) and 5 (Narrative Interpretation), the readings have been focused on the best ways to present our projects, and information to help us through that.

In Module 4, the readings I found most helpful were about collections that have experienced trial and error, and how I can learn from their experiences.  “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5” by Sheila Brennan and T. Mills Kelly was a case study in what has worked and what hasn’t worked in public history for them.  Their first-hand experiences quickly got added to my list of thoughts on my project, specifically with always adding more time to the project than I originally think necessary.  Brennan and Kelly also demonstrated the importance of having a backup plan for individuals lacking access to technology, that way they are still able to contribute to the public history project.  “It’s All About the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People” from Tim Sherratt opened my eyes to thinking about projects as all having a bias and an institutional power.  He made me think long and hard about the allowances of keyword searching to break free from the set path that institutions can force.  Sherratt drove home the point about not becoming mindless sheep, and thinking outside the institutional box.  Mitchell Whitelaw furthered this point in “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections” by allowing for browsing of collections as well.  Users don’t always want a linear path through history.  Sometimes, they want to forge their own way, and public historians should adapt enough to let them do that.  Allow every man to become his own historian.

In Module 5, “Telling an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield, The Many Stories of 1704” by Lynne Spichiger made me examine using multiple perspectives within my own project, and how that might appear.  Spichiger emphasized the importance of collaboration within that project, and it made me consider collaboration in later steps of my project as well.  Richard Rabinowitz had a statement in “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition” that has strongly resonated with me and my project since reading it (p. 44).

“As interpreters we create the devices that we hope will bridge this divide – the artifacts, images, and documents of the history and the interpretive media that make them accessible to our audiences.  In sum, the form of the exhibition is another kind of narrative, perhaps as important as the ‘content’ it is designed to communicate or the stories visitors are inscribing as they move through our galleries.  Public historians need to understand how and not merely what exhibitions mean.”

I am looking at my project now more with a lens of how my exhibition means.  I also have been thinking about how I want my project to be non-linear in its storytelling, thanks to Juan Sanabria (“Particle or Wave? Linear and Non-Linear Storytelling in Museums”).  The rest of the articles in Module 5 revolved around the curation of digital exhibits (what to do/what not to do).  Those are highly valuable too, but they were not as influential in shaping how I thought about my project as an overall.  Those are more along the lines of fine-line editing, after the big picture has come into view.

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