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.

Building Project Infrastructure

In planning for an online exhibit, the steps are extensive.  First comes figuring out what should be displayed in the exhibit.  Then assessing why certain things should or should not be included.  After that gets sorted out, playing with the design of the site comes next.  Within that, the creator must storyboard and plan, while also trying to decide what is important to include in each page.  Why would a user want to continue from page to page, getting lost in your exhibit on purpose?  Or would they be better off going down the black hole of the Internet on some other tangent?

In planning for Rowing to Greatness, I’ve had to think about what pages would help draw the user in, while maintaining his or her freedom to venture about the exhibit at the own pace and on their own beeline.  I want to give the viewers ownership in their own journey through the artifacts I have carefully pulled together on the 1936 United States Olympic Men’s 8+.  In doing so, I’ve had to think about the best groupings for the artifacts, so that the stories are presented in a way that makes the most logical sense.  One page will include an interactive map, depicting the locations these men trained, raced, and traveled on their journey to greatness.  Another page will include the individual biographies of the men, so as to give the users an idea of where these men came from before they became one team.  Yet another page will include a contribution section, where rowers from today can insert their own stories, images, videos, etc., and comment on others stories as well.  As I continue building my project, I will keep in mind the way a user’s mind might travel through the information and how best to present it so that they stick around, and not venture out into the black hole.


Screen shot of the “Biographies” section of the project.