December 18, 2015

The innovation imperative and the pace of change, from Facebook's "Little Red Book"

Facebook's "Little Red Book"—really an unfortunate title for anyone aware of history—helps reinforce the company's philosophy, including on innovation and the pace of change.  Two excerpts below, and more here.


Running a historical society, history museum, historic house museum, or historic site is much different than providing an app or social service or other online product. And yes, there are a billion differences between Facebook the company and what we do as volunteers at or employees of history organizations, but there are some good ideas here.  

Granted, some will react reflexively and negatively, but perhaps that means helping people move out of their comfort zone, or at least getting them to think about change and innovation.

Not suggesting change for the sake of change, or that the new thing is better than the old thing—far from it—but rather that we need to be thinking about why we’re doing what we’re doing and the possibility, and ability, to do something new.

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December 17, 2015

Putting historic objects and exhibits in places where people already are

Yesterday in downtown Boston I saw this sign on a busy sidewalk:

The street sign for the Historic New England display at BSA Space in Boston

Inside BSA Space, owned by the Boston Society of Architects, was "White on White: Churches of Rural New England," a display of photographs of churches throughout rural New England along with several panels explaining the history of the preservation movement in Boston and the excellent work done by Historic New England.


While I don't know how many people are drawn into the upstairs gallery to see this free exhibition, it's another example of putting history, and historic objects and exhibits, in places where people already are, as opposed to always relying people to come to your site or museum.

I earlier wrote about Wells Fargo and their use of their heritage, including their famed stage coaches and the 10 small museums they have across the country, as examples of getting historic objects and displays out in places where more people will encounter them.  While their motivation is somewhat different, the result is the same: More people, including those who may not go to history museums or historic sites, have the opportunity to learn about history.

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December 2, 2015

The History Gift List for 2015 and promoting gift memberships with #MembershipMonday

To help raise awareness of the many great gifts for history lovers available from historic sites, history museums, historical societies, and artisans across the country, we are going creating The History Gift List for 2015 ( and promote it on social media.

We're looking for unique items.  For an artisan, things that are made by hand.  For an author, signed or inscribed editions. For a gift shop at a museum, historic site, or historical society, an item that is only available there.

To have yours considered, send an e-mail message with a link to the item.  Make sure the link includes a photo and description, as well as the ability to buy it online.  Also include the “order by” date to ensure Christmas delivery anywhere in the country. If you have a very limited quantity, note that, too. Send this information in and put "The History Gift List for 2015" in the subject line.  Note that we'll link to your site. You keep all the revenue; we're just trying to help get the word out.

As we get close to the Christmas, we’ll promote things that can be downloaded or ordered overnight, so include those details if they are apply to your item.

And what's the best really-last-minute gift?  A gift membership.

Let's start a new tradition: #MembershipMonday on the Monday of the week of Christmas.  We'll make it the day to promote giving gift memberships and to market and promote them creatively.

This Resources post has several ideas for marketing gift memberships, including examples of the way several different types of history organizations market their gift memberships.


The #MembershipMonday Marketing Bundle

We've added a special #MembershipMonday marketing bundle you can download.  It includes JPGs, such as the one on the right, that you can use in any of your materials, as well as PDFs you can print out and use as tabletop signs.  

"Make this holiday historic!"

More information on the overall campaign is on the "Make this holiday historic!" campaign page, including a link to download additional marketing material, as well as market research. 






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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 21, 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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