November 30, 2015

History 2.0: Tools and platforms for increasing access to historic archives

The announcement of a new initiative, Open Lab Workshop, focused on GLAM (galleries, libraries, museums, and archives) that is being led by Michael Edson at the National Endowment for the Humanities, who showed such leadership on many of these issues in his previous post at the Smithsonian, got me thinking about this presentation, which I gave at an O'Reilly Ignite series at the MIT Media Lab three and a half years ago.  

Unfortunately, my observations in this talk are just as relevant today as they were in the spring of 2012.

The organization is hosting an unconference and Ignite talks on December 1 in Washington, followed by an invitation-only meeting that is no longer accepting participants.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of their effort. 

There are an impressive list of organizations participating in the December 1 open meeting: 

American Alliance of Museums
American Council for Learned Societies
American Library Association Center for the Future of Libraries
American Museum of Natural History
Anacostia Community Museum
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Architect of the Capitol
Association of Research Libraries
Austrian National Library
Balboa Park Online Collaborative
Baltimore Heritage
Baltimore Museum of Art
Capitol Visitor Center
Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh Innovation Studio
Center for History and New Media
Center for the Future of Museums
Central Connecticut State University
Chicago History Museum
Council of Independent Colleges
Council on Library and Information Resources
Data & Society
DC Public Library
DC Public Library Foundation
DC Public Library, Special Collections
Digital Library Federation
Digital Public Library of America
Do Space
EPAM Systems
Ford's Theatre
George Mason University
George Washington University Libraries
George Washington University Museum Studies
Georgetown University
GW Libraries
House of Representatives, Office of Art and Archives
Innovation Studio at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
Institute for American Indian Studies Museum
International Spy Museum
Johns Hopkins University
King's College London
Library of Congress
Longwood Gardens
MacArthur Foundation
Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities
Metropolitan New York Library Council
Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture, University of Maryland, College Park
Minnesota Historical Society
Museum of Impact
Museums and the Web
National Archives and Records Administration
National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
National Endowment for the Humanities
National Gallery of Art
National Library of Medicine
National Museum of African Art
New York Public Library
NHPRC, National Archives
National Historical Publications & Records Commission, National Archives
Oculus Digital
Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
Open Knowledge Foundation
Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Society of American Archivists
Sunlight Foundation
The Extroverted Museum Initiative
Tulane University, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library
U.S. Capitol, Visitor Center
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
United States Senate Historical Office
University of Delaware
University of Maryland
University of Maryland Libraries
University of Virginia
Virginia Department of Historic Resources
2040 Digital

This is the list on the site today.  It doesn't appear that the National Council on Public History, the American Association for State and Local History, and the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums are involved, or that individuals from those organizations are attending.  

According to the wiki, these are the organizations that have taken the lead in this effort:

The Openlab Workshop is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities and Division of Public Programs in a cooperative agreement with The Council on Library and Information Resources.

Workshop organizers and co-conveners are the American Alliance of Museums Center for the Future of Museums, The American Library Association Center for the Future of Libraries, The Digital Public Library of America, the Digital Library Federation, the Metropolitan New York Library Council, and [new] the Society of American Archivists

Workshop partners support the Openlab Workshop through leadership, participation, and/or financial support for the Unconference and Ignite talks: Balboa Park Online Collaborative, The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh Innovation Studio, Data & Society, Europeana, Historypin, Smarthistory, U.S. Capitol Visitors Center



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November 22, 2015

Touring the State Historical Museum of Iowa—and ideas you can use

During History Camp Iowa, which was held at the State Historical Museum of Iowa on November 14, curator Leo Landis gave a tour of the museum's newest exhibit: "First in the Nation: Shaping Presidential Politics Since 1972," which is about the Iowa Caucuses.  (The caucuses happen in February 2016, and the presidential campaign in Iowa is in full swing, so the exhibit is very timely.)

I returned a few days later to meet with Museum Director Susan Kloewer and with Leo, as well as take a closer look at some of the other exhibits.

I originally met Leo at the American Association for State and Local History's convention in Salt Lake City in 2012 when he was the education director and curator at Salisbury House in Des Moines.  He and his colleagues were at the next table at the awards banquet, and I became aware that an institution from Iowa was at the conference when they were called up to accept an award.

A few years later I saw that he'd been appointed the curator at the state museum. In fact, it was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in a story about one of his curatorial decisions, "Fans Want Floppy the Dog to Sit and Stay, but Museum Won't Roll Over—After Beloved Beagle Puppet Is Removed, Iowans Howl; Decades as TV Star."

Leo brings great energy, experience at a wide variety of history institutions, and a deep love of Iowa history.  He was also instrumental in the creation of the first History Camp Iowa. History Camps are organized by volunteers. Leo joined the organizing committee and advocated for History Camp Iowa within his organization, which eventually made the decision to host History Camp at the museum. He also recruited speakers, helped spread the word about the event, and secured valuable media coverage. Thanks to Susan, Leo, and all of the staff at the museum for supporting History Camp Iowa.

Here are five ideas from my discussions and tour that can be put to use by many other history organizations and that are included in the photos below:

  • Building exhibits around noted local or statewide events. In the case of the State Historical Museum of Iowa, the two notable ones are the caucuses, which came to national prominence in 1976 following Carter's victory, and an annual bike ride across the state, which was first held in 1973.  (Pictures of both exhibits are included below.)
  • Drawing people into your building and exhibit halls, including promoting your exhibits in creative ways throughout your site or museum (such as on elevator doors) and with exterior signage.
  • The creativity and new ideas brought by engaging an outside designer who works with institutions across the country, as shown especially in the caucus exhibit and the exhibit on movies filmed in Iowa.
  • Representing the entire range of candidates and campaigns in an exhibit on politics, as shown in the caucus exhibit.
  • Embedding additional information into signage without adding words or images, also from the caucus exhibit.

The last one needs some additional explaining. It refers to the signage that runs in a circle around the upper perimeter of the room housing the caucus exhibit.  When I first saw the text, I didn't pick up on the fact that the choice of italics and bold were anything more than design decisions. Now that you've been tipped off to the fact, you can probably figure out the key based on the picture immediately below: The candidates who won their party's caucus are in bold, and the candidate who won the presidency is in italics.

This is really well done. The only thing was missing is a small key somewhere in the display to clue viewers into this fact that there is additional information embedded into the text.   


Tour of "First in the Nation" exhibit with curator Leo Landis

"First in the Nation" exhibit at the State Historical Museum of Iowa


Tour of the rest of the museum

The State Historical Museum of Iowa


Behind the scenes: Touring the archives with Curator Leo Landis

The Archives of the State Historical Museum of Iowa



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November 17, 2015

Marketing and communications tools for historical societies and other history organizations

Event marketing and tools, research, and case studies to attract and retain visitors and members to historical societies, historic sites, and history museums, including getting started with The History List, participating on the new weekly statewide guides to history events, taking advantage of the campaign for history at the holidays, website tools and insights, social tools and insights, advertising tracking, and more. 

Subscribe to Marketing Tips for Historic Sites and History Organizations, a newsletter that comes out a few times a year, for more resources. contains links to dozens of free tools, case studies, and other resources specifically for marketing historic sites, organizations, events, and exhibits.

The presentation below was given at History Camp Iowa on November 14, 2015 at the State Historical Museum of Iowa.


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November 14, 2015

Photos from History Camp Iowa at the State Historical Museum of Iowa on November 14, 2015

The first History Camp outside of New England took place on November 14, 2015 at the State Historical Museum of Iowa. With more sessions and attendees, and great coverage in the media (bottom of this page), this was the most successful History Camp yet. Learn more about History Camp and browse presentations from this and past History Camps (when posted) at  Sign up for updates on History Camp Iowa, including information on local events and the next History Camp Iowa in 2016. There you can also sign up to receive the new weekly "Guide to History Events in Iowa."

My presentation, "Marketing and communications tools for historical societies and other history organizations," is available above.

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November 14, 2015

Updated schedule for History Camp Iowa

Here's the latest schedule.  Hope to see you there—here are still some spots to left, so you can still register—and if you're a volunteer with or staff person at a history organization, such as a historical society or museum, I hope you'll attend my session at 11:15 am: "Marketing and communications tools for historical societies and other history organizations." Download the latest schedule from the History Camp site.

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