July 12, 2015

Aboard the Hermione in Boston followed by a reception and lecture at the Shirley-Eustis House

The ship the Hermione made a port call in Boston as part of her voyage from France.  The organizers claim that the ship is an exact replica of General Lafayette’s 18th-century ship and is "the largest and most authentically built Tall Ship in the last 150 years."

The ship sailed from the mouth of the River Charente, in Port des Barques, where Lafayette boarded on March 10th, 1780.  (More information on the ship, the voyage, and the organization behind it all.)

As part of a special event that Patti Violette, Executive Director of the Shirley-Eustis House Association, organized, a few of us from History Camp toured the ship and later enjoyed a reception at the Shirley-Eustis House and a lecture in their carriage house.  More information on the house is on The History List.  

Pictures from both events are below.


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July 1, 2015

Putting research to work to attract more visitors

The Wallace Foundation funded various initiatives to improve the performance (i.e., attract more people) to selected arts organizations. 

A few observations on focus groups:

  • Proceed with caution.  Focus groups always generate results and because this is "research," these results may be assumed to be a meaningful basis for action.
  • Looking at the before and after examples of the collateral and some of the other insights, the new direction and other improvements are just common sense, though apparently not common enough.  In some insular organizations, focus groups end up being a way to force the organization to engage with people outside of their staff and existing constituency.  It is a mistake to spend tens of thousands of dollars, regardless of the source, to get the folks at the organization out and engaged with the public.  That shortcoming is a failure of leadership, and if this is the problem, the results of the focus group will be fleeting.
  • We should all be skeptical of self-reported behavior and intentions, especially when it comes to things that include widely understand societal norms (e.g., you’re supposed to be interested in the arts, you’re supposed to be interested in learning, you’re supposed to get off the couch and get out of the house).  Max von Balgooy, author of Engaging Places and the heads of a consulting practice that works with historic houses and other sites across the country explained his experience  this way: "I continually encounter the disconnect between what people say they want to do and what they actually do.  With my clients, I use the 'quit smoking' analogy to help them to understand that asking those types of questions isn't very useful."

Note that most of these are also applicable to survey research.

Experiments where you can test two approaches and compare the results would be interesting.  In other words, let’s not focus on what people say they will do, but rather on what they actually do.  The web is the best place to do this, with A/B testing for campaigns and landing pages, but we could figure out several other tests that would produce more generalizable results than the ones I read in the report.

Is there a foundation interested in underwriting research at historic sites and in historic institutions?

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April 30, 2015

Bumping into history wherever you go and whatever you do

An article in today's Wall Street Journal about a thriving carriage and wagon builder and restorer in South Dakota mentioned Wells Fargo.  (Check out the "Shop In-Stock Wagons" page.)  Their well-known stage coaches—they have 24—appeared in 800 events last year.  In addition, they have 10 Wells Fargo history museums across the country.

One of 11 Wells Fargo history museums across the country

In the case of Wells, their heritage is a brand asset and one that they have wisely hung onto and invested in. They even have a "head of historical services," Beverly Smith.

Before anyone dismisses what Wells is doing as "marketing" that will "make them money," realize that if more companies believed that there was a measurable ROI from investing in history, we'd have more historical iconography, more heads of historical services, and more (admittedly small) history museums and displays.

Surely all of us believe that understanding history is relevant and important in many ways. But where does that conviction start, and how do we get broader support for this view?

It begins with history being present:

presence → awareness → interest → engagement → understanding → relevance → action

From presence, to awareness, to something that sparks interest or curiosity, to learning more (engagement), understanding what you've learned, being able to connect it to decisions you make for yourself and in your family, community, state, country, and beyond (relevance), and ultimately action.  This action may take the form of reading, supporting historic preservation in your community, joining your local historical society, volunteering at your historic site, or helping instill an interest in history in your children.

Surely we all believe that history isn't just for the classroom or the history museum, historic site, or house museum. 

We need to encourage efforts to get history out and about so that people bump into it wherever they go and whatever they do.

Originally posted in the History Relevance Campaign LinkedIn group.  The History Relevance Campaign site.  Photo from the Wells Fargo site.

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April 18, 2015

The next History Camp: History Camp Iowa in November 2015

Updated August 13, 2015: Leo Landis and two presenters were interviewed by Charity Nebbe on Iowa Public Radio's "Talk of Iowa" about History Camp.  An audio archive is available.

Updated June 12, 2015: Registration is now open

The first History Camp was held in March 2014 in Cambridge.  That was the first time anyone had ever adapted the unconference or "barcamp" model to history.  The event filled up, there was a strong positive response at the event, and an anonymous survey after the event had very positive results.

A year later we held another History Camp, this time in Boston, and it got a a very favorable response, too.

From the outset, the hope has been that individuals in other regions would be interested in putting on a History Camp in their city or state.  And this fall that will happen.  The first History Camp outside of New England will be History Camp Iowa on November 14 in Des Moines.

The History Camp Iowa effort is being led by Danny Akright.  He's in the process of assembling his team, and earlier today we met in at the Iowa History Museum to kick off the process.  (See the photo below.)

It will be very interesting to see History Camp come to life in another region, and especially in this building, in this city, and at that time.  The space, rooms, and layout of the Iowa State History Museum make it perfect for the event, it's located just a few blocks from the beautiful Iowa state capitol building, and with the Iowa presidential caucuses just weeks away at that point, the state will be overrun with candidates and national news crews.

The first meeting to kick off plannig for History Camp Iowa

From the left: Lee Wright, founder of History Camp and The History List; Hope Grebner, an archivist at Drake University who is working on the Harkin Archives; Elaine Estes, former executive director of the Des Moines Public Library system, and the person who was instrumental in preserving the original downtown public library building, which is now the headquarters of the World Food Prize; Danny Akright, who works at Drake in communications and who has an undergraduate degree from Drake in history and has worked at history museums in Kansas City and London; and, Leo Landis, who has worked at several museums and living history sites, and who is currently the curator at the Iowa History Museum.

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March 30, 2015

History Camp Boston 2015

History Camp Boston 2015 took place at the Harriet Tubman House on Saturday, March 28. Despite a late change in the date and location, it was nearly full. Pictures from the day are below.

Other materials online include the session descriptions with speakers, the schedule for the day, slides from some of the sessions, and the post-event report, which includes the results of an extensive survey.

This was the second History Camp anywhere. The first was a year earlier in Cambridge.

The next History Camp is taking place in the Midwest: History Camp Iowa will take place in Des Moines on November 14. It's being organized by a group of local volunteers and will take place at the Iowa History Museum, just a few blocks from the state capitol.  And with the election in full-swing and the caucuses just weeks away, it will be an especially interesting time in Iowa.  Registration and additional details are online at HistoryCamp.org.

History Camp Boston 2016 is taking place on March 26 at the same location as we used this year. Registration is open and you can submit a session here.

If you're not familiar with History Camp, "This is History Camp" is a quick introduction.  


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