Design

For this week we are getting into the actual design and layout part of the exhibit.  The readings highlight that the actual physical space of the exhibit is integral to the experience.  There was a traveling exhibit at a museum that I interned was set up in a room that was in my opinion, was too large for it.  I’m not sure how the visitors felt about it, but there seemed to be a lot of empty space, and for me it was noticeable enough to distract from the actual content on display.  The curator actually agreed, so I’m not sure if they couldn’t find another room to set the exhibit up in, but this is one example how an awkward layout can divert someone’s attention away from the presentation.

The McKenna-Cress and Kamien reading discusses how a place can greatly shape the experiences for viewers and how they can help dictate the path that visitors take as they travel throughout the exhibit.  The space used for example, can be chosen to evoke a certain tone, or emotion in the visitor or enable them to engage in a certain type of experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere.  The layout of the exhibit can direct the viewer in a certain direction or allow them to complete freedom to choose what path they would like to take.  Although I would think that we are somewhat limited in this regard considering the size of the trailer.

Other aspects of the design include the color and font of the text, the lighting, and the role that images play.  As mentioned in the reading certain colors can also help set the mood or tone of the exhibit and font size can help accommodate different types of visitors according to the pace they move.  The type of audience that the exhibit is geared toward is also a factor.  I helped design a few exhibit labels at the museum that I interned at and because many of the visitors tended to be older and their eyesight might not be perfect, there was a particular amount of emphasis placed on making the color and font stand out.

 

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Label Writing

As evident from this week’s readings there are many factors to take into consideration when writing labels.  This includes making sure that the labels tell a story.   Some of the elements listed that are components of a label that tells a story include a narrative arc, thematic unity and a provocative first sentence.  It would seem like a provocative first sentence would be particularly crucial because it is of course, the first thing that captures as soon as they start reading.  If I visit a museum and have a limited amount of time, I might read the first sentence of a label and then move on if it seems like there doesn’t seem to be anything special about it.  I think that making the labels captivating and intellectually challenging is difficult when there is a particularly amount of limited space offered.  It should provoke thought in the viewer while instilling them a sense of desire to see what’s next.  Some of the ways to provoke interest that is listed in the readings is to ask questions and correct common misconceptions.   Even though I have not done any of these things so far in my labels, asking questions would definitely be one way to engage the viewer’s attention since many people will want to find out the answer in contrast to immediately revealing all of the information to the viewer.  As far as correcting common misconceptions, even though not every single person is like this, I enjoy having certain things that I thought were true challenged during an exhibit because it makes me want to figure out what the truth is.  If the exhibit is already reaffirming what I already know or believe, and I don’t see the point of attending it.  I think that this is why it’s significant to try to incorporate the different variations or perspectives a way of to challenge certain pre-conceived conceptions of what the celebration entails and not just reassert what they already know.

Other topics in the readings include considering what an audience wants or does not want, how to decide on what vocabulary and length to use and how to position the exhibit in a location that draws attention to it.  This means not using overly sophisticated vocabulary, but not coming off as condescending.  Likewise writing too much text will also alienate the viewer.  One common assumption that the readings mentions is that by throwing a bunch of information on a panel, everyone will find something intriguing, when in reality many people don’t want to spend hours reading text and might find it overwhelming.  Lastly, the video also makes the point that the exhibit should be placed in a position where it is easy to read and not so far out of reach that you have to strain to see it.  At museums most people are going by their own free-will and do not want their time wasted by making them work to figure out what is being presented to them.

Organization, Content Sections, and Component Plans

Some of this week’s readings offered some productive methods on how to produce ideas for an exhibit.  Some strategies in the early planning stages include The Charette, Brainstorming and Reflective editing.  A charette brings together various experts with different skills with the goal of producing a wide range of ideas in an effort to solve a specific problem.  Brainstorming, which I’m sure everyone has heard of consists of a group of people who bounce ideas off each other but is shorter requires less planning and usually includes fewer people.  Rapid brainstorming is when ideas are quickly thrown out by group members, while reflection and editing involves reviewing a group of ideas and contemplating which ones will work the best.  I think that these suggestions are helpful as each strategy can be advantageous in different stages of planning or the situation that exhibit designers find themselves in.  For example, I would think that brainstorming would work in trying to come up with some general ideas, while reflection and editing might be the next step to take after this is accomplished.  A charette might be useful in addressing a problem that may come up along the way after producing those general ideas.  The reading also comes up with some various visual diagrams that can be used to map out how the actual exhibit is going to be laid out.  They seem like a helpful way to ensure that the content is organized, and the sequencing of the artifacts and panels will make sense to the audience.

Some of the rest of the readings are on Interpretive strategy and writing text panels.  The thematic frameworks stood out to me in particular which presents some ways to structure an exhibit.  Of course, there is linear and non-linear but there are subcategories that fall underneath these including chronology, spatial structures, focal specific structures, parallel thematic structures and Independent structures.  I thought the book presented some intriguing options of how to design the exhibit that enables the designer to be creative beyond just a strict linear chronological format.  For example, a focal specific structure would involve organizing a number of subthemes around a major theme which would allow the exhibit designer to explore a number of different aspects of a particular topic.  The section on text panels includes some suggestions such as being relatable to viewer, not using too much text to the point that it might not test their patience and not using language that is engaging without using complicated jargon.

I think the museum on the move article provided a useful example of how museum workers might effectively formulate ideas and outline general goals concerning what it wants to accomplish and convey.  The article on the American transportation exhibit for instance, explains how the staff decided that they did not just want it to be on transportation in of itself but emphasize how it corresponded to larger issues pertaining to America, such as race relations and urbanization.  Although I’m an outsider when it comes to Mardi Gras, as we mentioned in class the celebration can bring up larger questions that revolve are racism and gender discrimination.  The designers also wanted the exhibit to focus around people themselves rather than artifacts.  One potential problem that seems to come up among museums is how they can incorporate objects in a way that enhances the narrative without getting in the way of it.  Their third goal was to tell stories that were typical not exceptional.  I think that this is something that that should be taken into consideration.  In some cases, visitors should be able to relate to the stories that are being told.  Even if it is an exceptional story, it is probably important to try to effectively communicate why it matters. May be this seems obvious, but as someone who’s interested in history I might not stop and think that it might not be as inherently appealing to someone else.

Objects, Artifacts, and Ethics

This week’s readings focus on collection display, objects, and ethical practices in museums.  One of the ideas that I have took away from the reading is that exhibit collections are becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex in order to reach the demands and expectations of modern museum audiences.  Much of this depends on the way that the collection is arranged.  Manual of Museum Exhibitions outlines several modes of display that include aesthetic, contextual, and process.  Aesthetic is where an individual object stands by itself to be admired.  There is not as much interpretation and context provided because the meaning relies on the object itself.   Contextual uses an object to communicate to the audience a broader theme and narrative that it fits into.  Finally, in the process mode of display the object is used to reveal how something operates or to explain a certain outcome.  I would think that the obvious choice of display for a history exhibit would be contextual.  Historian museums should use every opportunity to try to communicate to the audience the meaning behind the display and how it is connected to various historical events.  Part of the mode of exhibit may be dependent on who the museum is geared toward.  The readings reference children’s exhibitions, living history exhibitions, science exhibitions, virtual exhibitions and traveling exhibitions.  The aesthetic mode of display for example, may not work as well in a children’s museum and might be geared toward older audiences who might be more likely to possess the background knowledge to appreciate the value of the object itself.

According to Steven Conn in Do Museums Still Need Objects? History museums are increasingly using strategies that present a certain argument, theme, and narrative that does not depend as much on objects and they are rendered as secondary to other means of communication.  They also speculate that some history museums may fear that the objects may prove to be an obstacle that gets in the way of the story that they are telling.  It may be necessary to rely more on digital technology for example, to attract modern audiences, I think that a successful exhibit should still be able to incorporate objects into an exhibit that complements the other content on display rather than serving as impediment to it.  There still might be individuals who want to see the “real thing,” and that means providing genuine historical artifacts, while integrating other forms of technology to help provide meaning and context to it.

The articles on the Enola Gray exhibit examined the controversy surrounding an exhibit that on the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, that was eventually included in the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.  The American Air Force Association and the United States Senate alleged that the exhibit was revisionist history and was offensive to veterans and too sympathetic to the Japanese.  Many of these criticisms was based on the script of the exhibit before many of them actually saw the final product.  Like one of the historians mentioned that bottom line is that the bomb regardless the conflicting views regarding whether it would have actually saved lives in the end.  A smaller display eventually replaced it that did not rely on “interpretation.”  In reality there is no way for an exhibit to not have some interpretation attached to it.  Even if the museum tries to audience members are going to draw their own meaning and interpretation from it.  I’m not sure what the exhibit said but it seems like some of the controversy was over the idea that our government and soldiers may have committed some atrocities of their own.  World War II may still evoke a certain amount of patriotic sentiment in a certain segment of the population.  We are supposed to be the good guys that defended the world from tyranny and any story that might be seen as contradicting that might be problematic for some individuals.  In the case of this controversy the ethnic guidelines are probably a useful way to approach topics that are controversial.  For example, the AASHL Statement of Professional Ethics and Standards mentions that interpretation should “take into consideration both its intended audience and sound scholarship and research,” and to ensure the breadth of American cultural experiences and perspectives represented accurately…”Therefore, interpretation should not just concern itself with pleasing one audience or viewpoint but also if the interpretation is accurately reflected in the research that is brought forth and that there should be a variety of experiences and perspectives presented on the topic even if the museum itself doesn’t endorse all of them.  There is no one single American experience or perspective.

 

Narrative and Audience

Some of the main themes for this work’s readings were participation, interpretation, and storytelling.  The Ham article defines interpretation as “an approach to communication.”  The interpretation of an exhibit will ultimately define the story that the exhibit wants to tell and who it is meant for.  There are three primary outcomes that are listed goals that many interpreters hope to achieve with visitors.  One is to instill in them a sense of intellectual curiosity concerning the interpretation and to make them what to think critically about it.  Another is to form a “positive evaluation” of the interpretation.  The last one is to promote ethical behavior among certain people.  The author notes this is less common.  I would regard the first outcome as the most significant.  As the reading mentions some of the deepest experiences that a viewer can have is when they draw connections with what is presented to other concepts and idea.  Achieving this would probably be a sure way to reach the second. I’m not sure if the third outcome would be one that is commonly sought after in a history museum.  The author explains the significance of knowing who your audience is in a museum setting.  A captive audience is forced to sit through the experience and expect to receive a concrete award, such as money or career advancement, while non-captive audiences are there voluntarily for their own fun and enjoyment.  As the reading mentions when visitors attend museums, they are generally not forced to attend.  Therefore, it is particularly important that the subject matter is interpreted in a way that is intriguing since there is no other motivation for them to pay attention.  This is contrary to a classroom setting, where people (at least some) are motivated to make an effort to pay attention in order to pass the class.  As a result, those in the museum field who interpret material for non-captive audiences might have to be more attuned to what will captive their audience and entertain them in addition to educating them.

The Bedford article covers how storytelling has been integrated in museums and some strategies of how to better communicate the story to visitors.  One example was the use of object theatre, which uses multiple forms of media to create a multi-sensory experience.  A type of this exhibit titled “Everything must Change” tells the story of an individual’s life cycle uses first person narratives.  At a particular point an object or photograph lights up that corresponds to a particular part of the story.  The exhibit makes the experience for the visitor more engaging by displaying how the objects fit into the narrative rather than letting them stand on their own.  In contrast, the author notes that Holocaust Memorial Museum tends to rely more strictly on the narrative by editing out any “affective language” or suggestive words” as a way for the visitor to formulate their own opinion.  In some cases, this may be an effective strategy for some emotionally charged topics that may invite serious thought and contemplation and attempting to do too much with the exhibit might get in the way of this.

The rest of the reading how to select content and how to create a more interactive experience for visitors.  For the content, one of the major considerations to keep in mind is what the museum professional is trying to communicate to the audience in the first place.  This begins with each individual artifact and extends to the exhibit as a whole.  This involves the museum worker asking themselves what the object means for them and what it could offer other people.  Nina Simon provides a nice overview of what she refers to as social objects that stimulate conversation.  These include “personal objects” that visitors are more easily able to form a personal connection to, active objects that physically situate themselves in between visitors, “provocative objects” that are meant to serve as a “spectacle” and relational objects that “invite personal use.”  What I think is a particularly important concept to figure out in the McKenna-Kress reading is what voice the exhibit has, such as who should be telling the narrative and the tone of it.  This would in turn, dictate the type of the objects, the content and subsequently the direction of the exhibit.

Another question regards how to interact with the audience and captivate their interest.  One of the ways mentioned is through the use of story booths that invite that document the stories of various visitors and staff and integrate it into the exhibit.  This would allow visitors to fell like they have a say in the narrative constructed.   One last, example, that stuck out to me in the readings is the use of bookmarking where visitors “tag” a specific object (s) or content that they find intriguing through the use of mobile device that allows them to retrieve the information later on.  This may enable them to develop a personal relationship with the content or object and share it and hopefully generate interest in the institution they visited.

Exhibit Creation

My copy of Manual Museum Exhibitions has not arrived in the mail yet, but the focus of the chapters in Creating Exhibitions is on collaboration.  The author notes that collaboration involves “different parties” “sharing information and developing ideas to produce something.” The reading offers some reasons on why collaboration in a museum setting is absolutely essential to its success.  The author asserts that many quality museum exhibits are highly collaborative affairs that are the product a diverse group of individuals with varying skills and opinions.  A key point that the reading makes that I don’t think about as much when I think of collaboration in a museum setting is treating visitors as part of the collaborative process.  I agree with the author’s assessment as well that society has become more “user-centric” it’s increasingly significant for museums professionals should take into consideration visitor feedback.  Especially in the age of social media, museums should be able to make it easier than ever before to accept input from their audience.

The author also makes the point that collaboration is distinct in some ways from team work.  Collaboration involves various individuals creating something new through the process of exchanging ideas, opinions, and knowledge.  Team work often involves these individuals going off and performing tasks or assignments that work toward a common goal after a certain set of guidelines have already been set.  I think that this is a useful distinction to make because the term “team work” may evoke the idea of merely cooperating and working together and is not as descriptive of the multi-faceted process required that the term collaboration denotes.

The other two chapters are on advocacy.  An advocate is described as someone who is in charge of carrying out some of the more “higher-level” tasks of the exhibit.  There are five different advocacy positions listed including “advocacy for the institution,” “advocacy for the” “subject matter,” “advocacy for the visitor experience,” “advocacy for the design,” and “advocacy for the project team.” The author puts a particular amount of emphasis on the advocacy for the project team and outlines some skills that they will need, such as managing a schedule and creating a budget.  These are tasks that obviously need to be completed at almost any institution or place of business but may be particularly crucial in designing a large exhibit that involves a lot of money and manpower.  A museum can have all the experience and talent in the world, but if everybody is not on the same page as far as who does what when and money is continually being mismanaged then things are probably not going to run smoothly.

Oral History

The first chapter from Doing Oral History examines what constitutes oral history, offers a brief history of it, discusses what differentiates oral history from other professionals such as journalists, and issues regarding the reliability of interviewees.  The author notes that some historians remain skeptical of oral historians that they may be too “subjective” in the narrative that they are constructing, which stands in contrast with written sources which some historians may view as more “objective” in nature.  Some allege that oral historians are too trusting of their interviewees, and that their memories may fail them.  Some potential factors that the author brings up is some individuals may romanticize the past or they may remember what they think is significant even though another occurrence around that time may have impacted more individuals and may have had more for lasting consequences.  I have never done an oral history before but I would assume that if you interview enough people regarding a historical event that took place the interviewer would be able to pick up on some main themes from the interviewees that would enable them to grant them some general insight into a topic that might not have been written about extensively, even if some of the more minor details vary.  Chapter 2 concerns itself with the more logistical side of public history such as how to receive funding, the cost of doing an oral interview, and the ideal length of a historical interview.  Methods for conducting an oral interview and preparing for one is the subject of chapter 3.  These include everything related to how to find potential interviewees, the type of questions asked (open-ended, specific) and where the interview takes place.  The actual interview that takes place should be a two-way process where the interviewer should be able to coax their subject along while allowing them to speak their mind.

The Shopes article analyzes the various types of limitations of oral interviews.  The author highlights that locally generated history tend too narrow in its approach, by focusing on the life story of specific individuals and minor details rather examining what they say about the community or society as a whole.  One the other hand Shopes argues that some scholarly oral histories tend to pertain to much on a specific area of research and some practitioners of it may use some of the answers from the interviews they completed that supports their own narrative or may ask questions that are too specific to their area of inquiry.  As a solution to these problems, the author suggests framing the questions around a historical problem or issue, include a diverse group of interviewees, and to ask questions that requires a critical response from an interviewee that gets at the heart of the problem or issue.  I think that the part the article where Shopes talks about avoiding approaching oral history as a series of interviews about different members of the community’s “life stories,” and to frame interviews around a particular problem is particularly helpful.  It sounds similar to the way I would go about writing a paper using primary sources.  You would try to tie them all together and examine what they are telling you about the topic you are writing about, rather than have them each exist in an individual vacuum.

Collection Management

As the article states, collection management is obviously crucial for a number of reasons outlined in the article.  A significant amount of time that I spent at my internship over the summer involved filing condition reports, assigning accession numbers to objects, cataloging objects and photographing them.  Some of the time I spent consisted of re-writing accession numbers on certain objects that were either labeled incorrectly or were wearing off due to an incorrect method being utilized when assigning them, such as not applying a proper coating.  Some of the accession numbers were also placed in areas that were readily visible to visitors, whereas they should be in an area that is relatively inconspicuous but can be easily found by workers.

Something that stuck out to me, was the second paragraph in the section “Acquisition Accession” concerning whether an institution has the resources to take care of the object.  Unless this institution somehow has a limited amount of funds and storage space, this would definitely be a factor to take into consideration.  During my internship, my supervisor mentioned a particular object someone donated.  My supervisor and I had a conversation with each other regarding an object that would have taken up a significant amount of space and would have required additional resources to put it on display.  Ultimately, we decided that it was not an ideal fit for the institution and would be better served elsewhere.  I think that this is particularly important because some museums receive quite a few donations and the workers have to take into consideration how relevant it is to the institution and whether they have the time, space and money to preserve the item.

 

Mardi Gras, Community and Identity

The article “Singing Outlaws and Beggars with Whips: Variety in the Louisiana by French Mardi Gras” by Jean Ancelet provides an overview of the different traditions and characteristics of Mardi Gras celebrations.  A certain aspect that I find intriguing is covered in the article is how community oriented these festivals are and how there are variations on common themes that can be found in different towns that celebrate Mardi Gras.  The author makes note for example that even though horses are utilized in most celebrations, the Mardi Gras participants engage in the processions mounted on horseback, unlike Mamou and Church Point where many ride wagons (Ancelet, 5).  Many Mardi Gras celebrations also feature “capitaines” who lead the procession.  However, according to Ancelet there are masked riders present but no capitaines present (Ancelet, 6).  The article makes clear that Mardi Gras is ultimately an event that brings members of the community together and is infused with both ancient and contemporary practices.  These aspects stand out because it seems like the common perception among many Americans is that Mardi Gras is simply an excuse to party, but in reality, it is much more multidimensional in nature and in many cases, seems to fulfill a variety of needs that the particular community has.

A private organization composed of elite, white primarily Protestant men is the topic of the article “Using the Bow and the Smile”: Old-Line Krewe Court Femininity in New Orleans Mardi Gras Balls, 1870-1920” by Jennifer Atkins, showcases the connections between Mardi Gras and concepts of gender, race, and, culture.  This group held Mardi Gras celebrations, oftentimes with the purpose of reasserting their authority and identity as upper-class white southern men.  Likewise, women, who participated often used Mardi Gras as a way strive toward achieving the ideal of wealthy southern white femininity.  The celebration was dominated by men who held authority over the procession and the women in it.  The author argues that significant amount of emphasis was placed on the visual presence of the women involved while remaining subservient to the men involved.  As the author points out this representative conservative family values during his period in which the men retained power over their female counterparts, while their body language was intended to be emblematic of upper class white womanhood in the south.  Often times, during these Mardi Gras balls a king, queen and court woman would be chosen.  These practices strengthen the solidarity New Orleans elite class and was one way that they could symbolically uphold their prestigious position that they held in southern society.

“The Presence of the Past in the Cajun Country Mardi Gras” by Carl Lindahl discusses two different perspectives on Mardi Gras celebrations; ancient and modern.  What the author refers to as “ancients” are more heavily focused on the origins of Mardi Gras while the “moderns” view the practices as consisting of a series of contradictions that balance each other out (“public and private space,” “respect and aggression”) Therefore, one perspective seems to be more concerned with abiding by tradition, while the other is more focused on the actions themselves that are performed.  The author argues that the not enough attention has been paid to how Mardi Gras participants themselves have remembered the past that has determined how the present practices have been carried out.  Lindahl examines the oral accounts of several participants.  Somewhat similar to the Atkins reading the participants are acquiring a specific identity during the celebration that determines what role they play.  In turn, this helped them bond with other members of the community.  The primary purpose of Mardi Gras in my opinion reflected in the readings is to foster a certain sense of identity and in the process, solidify their standing in their own community.

Final Project

To be honest there is considerably more that I have liked to add to my final project that I have not, the choices that I have made for my project however, are basically meant to increase accessibility for the user.  I featured an introduction on swamp pop describing some if its influences, where some of the artists originated from.  From what I have read about swamp pop, it is a difficult genre to describe.  There does not seem to be any one single definition, therefore much of the introduction is about various interpretations about what swamp pop is.  The collections on the website are categorized according to type, which includes magazine and newspaper articles, photographs, and flyers and other promotional items.  Since my archive collection is small at thirty one items, I think splitting them up into further categories would not be as convenient for viewers when they can relatively quickly look over them simply by type.  Many of the tags that I used link various swamp pop artists together along with artists that they are mentioned along with.  The reason for this is because oftentimes the articles cite prominent artists that were influential on them.  In this way hopefully, viewers will gain an idea of how much of an impact some artists have had on swamp pop musicians by which ones are tagged the most in each article.  My goal of the website is to provide a basic introduction to swamp pop.  Looking back on it I would probably add more text describing the different artists, at risk of sounding lazy, I think that the newspaper and magazine articles however speak for themselves.  Although I would like to add more visuals to the websites, many of the magazine and newspaper articles are adequate at providing some basic information in regard to swamp pop.  Many of them appear to assume that the viewer does not have a thorough grasp of what swamp pop.  Therefore, many of the articles do not just provide information on the artist for example, but also on what swamp pop is in general.  The articles are also meant to show how swamp pop has still managed to garner a significant amount of attention, at least in Louisiana, despite not being as well-known nationally as Cajun and Zydeco.  In addition, to learning how to compile a basic archival collection, one of the things that I have learned is how many different factors need to be taken into consideration when designing a website.   One of these, factors for example is how much text should be use.  When designing the website, I obviously want there to be enough text for the audience to grasp what the web site or a particular item in a collection is about, but not too much too to the point that the audience feels like it’s a burden to get through.  As I mentioned before, even though the website obviously needs some type of introduction, I think in archival collection the sources should be responsible for telling the story. In my opinion, this is what primarily sets it apart from an exhibit where the designer puts more of their own spin or interpretation on it.  Another issue that I had to consider is how much the site’s home page should stand out.  I have basically gone with of the plain designs that Omeka has to offer with featured archives on the front of the page.  In the very near future, partially because to be honest I have had difficulty in figuring what to put on the homepage and actually posting in, I will try to make it flashier.  However, the purpose of the site is also for educational purposes and intended for those who want to find out general information about Swamp Pop.  Therefore, once again I would like the articles and photographs themselves to be the focus of attention.