If you’re thinking of including QR codes in an upcoming exhibit as a portal for the students (in the streaker-stroller-student visitor continuum), this post is for you. NC’s own Michael Scott, Curator of Education at the High Point Museum has added comments from his past experience at the NC Museum of History to a fascinating discussion of the QR code issue that appeared on the AAM Registrar’s Committee listserv last week.
The QR codes that we used for the Watergate exhibit saw very low use…the highest usage numbers were for the codes at the edges of the exhibit and very little for the ones inside the exhibit.There [are] also some QR codes outside of the museum for garden plants. One of them had a song attached to it and had received higher use than some of the others, but it was still a low number.
[However,] I still like them. Not a lot of institutions can afford to buy devices or to build an app or to even redesign a full web site to be mobile friendly, but they can still link to a page either on their servers or to something that they have stored elsewhere online. There is a large bar of entry to using them (device, wifi, time, etc…) but I think that just means that whatever you’re wanting to link to needs to be very compelling material. Some information just might not be [attractive] enough for a QR code and not a high enough priority to be in the physical exhibit. Until the use of NFC/RFID becomes more widely used, I see the QR code as really the only tool available to [provide more in-depth information at the point of viewing]. Generally, it think that it’s a matter of finding a balance between content, access, and resources available to an institution. For the same cost (time, money, etc..) as generating a QR code that links it to a video you shoot on a iPhone that’s hosted on Youtube, what other options are there?
Let me be the anti-QR code curmudgeon here. Think about the last time you scanned a QR code? If you can’t remember, or you don’t have an app to do so, that should tell you something. As an iPhone addict, I haven’t scanned a QR code in…maybe three years? The last time I did it was because I was forced to in order to get the information I needed, and then the connectivity was miserable and the experience was ho-hum. If the institution [which] created this situation had just provided a short URL, I would have just opened my browser and gone there, without having to:
- Think about what I’m going to use for QR scanning
- Think about where that QR code is going to take me (and is that page safe to look at- nightmare scenariohere)
- Decide that yes, I want to take the time to connect to wifi, accept the wifi policy, connect, scan, go to the site, and then dig for whatever it is I’m looking for.
- Do all of the above.
QR codes work brilliantly for machines. They’re designed for machines to read quickly. Their applications for humans are, in my personal opinion, small. There’s a lot of maintenance that goes in to making them, a lot of vigilance needed to maintain good links to content, not to mention the creation of the content itself, and the hurdles of bad wifi- particularly if your building is a granite or marble bunker. Let’s add to that the hurdles of privileging content to those who have access to smartphones, and are savvy enough to understand the “scan QR code, get info” mechanics (of course, having on-campus devices to loan helps lower that barrier, but there’s another thing you need to maintain and track and charge, and train non-native users on how to get the content from the QR code).
Tracey suggests creating a web site with additional content and including a shortened URL on the exhibit labels.
You can also use an app to do this if you have one, but that requires a lot of hoops with iOS/android development, and again pushes out those edge cases. A responsive web site works on any device (tablet, phone, laptop, desktop) and can give more people more access (and provide loaner devices to get more people more access). Thus ends my rather long winded treatise against QR codes.
- Tracking numbers: “QR codes let you see what people are the most interested in, which objects draw more attention, where people are coming from and what devices they are using.”
- Shortening label text: “Studies have shown that beyond a certain word count, people move on. ([Microsoft] recently did a study that shows the average human attention span is now 8 seconds, one second less than a goldfish and four seconds less than five years ago).”
- Lack of meaningful insights: “What kind of people use their devices for QR scans? Does it really identify what you want to know about your audience?”
- Logistical problems: “If the QR code is too small, people will lose interest if it is difficult to scan. If it is too large, it can be distracting. You would have to find a balance. Too many QR codes in an exhibit can be overwhelming.”
In the end, Stalvey’s museum gave up on QR codes, in reaction to the low proportion of users to visitors. Tablets that the museum provided were more effective. “The app was built with layers and did not need a wireless connection. It was incredibly time consuming for IT to put together, but it was rare to NOT see people using those devices. We also had them locked so that was the only thing people could access.”
Has your institution experimented with QR codes? When was the last time you used one?
This week and into May, cultural heritage institutions of all types will be actively promoting preservation. Even though our C2C team is always preaching preservation, we try to make an extra push at this time of year. The American Library Association has decreed the last week in April Preservation Week. We are recognizing the campaign by meeting with the Mountain Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network at NCDCR’s Western Office in Asheville on Monday. MACREN formed 15+ years ago after the Wolfe Memorial fire and has been a model for us as we’ve tried to help establish regional mutual-aid networks for disaster recovery across the state. We’re excited to have the opportunity to help reinvigorate this group and tell them about CREST’s recent deployments in the mountain region.
This year MayDay synergistically falls on Friday, the end of ALA’s Preservation Week. Organizations that promote disaster preparedness for cultural heritage collections urge staff to “Do one thing” on May 1st to improve your institution’s disaster preparedness. It doesn’t have to be huge or involve much advance planning; you can still accomplish a worthwhile MayDay task. A few simple ideas with lasting benefits are:
- Update your institution’s emergency contacts on MayDay each year.
- Tune into the Foundation for the American Institute of Conservation’s FREE webinar this Friday, from 2:00 – 3:30 on disaster preparedness. http://www.connectingtocollections.org/after-disasters/
- Contact local firefighters to schedule a pre-plan for your institution, if you have not already been through this process.
- Order a Knox Box through your local fire station.
For groups involved with building preservation, May is Preservation Month. Old Salem and Historic Forsyth are offering a multitude of free preservation programs this month. Our state historic preservation office has organized a window workshop later in May in Black Mountain. The NC Museum of History has planned a Preservation Day for Saturday, May 9. The event will correspond with the museum’s quarterly Conservation Assistance Day and will include displays by representatives from preservation organizations from across the state (including Edgecombe CC’s Historic Preservation Technology Program) as well as special exhibits on the topic.
Does your institution have any special preservation-related activities this week or in May? How can you engage your community with this topic for next year? Take advantage of some of the programs other groups are offering now and use these ideas as a launching pad to plan next year’s preservation promotions!
Despite mandates to be community-focused, many historical organizations struggle to interest younger visitors. Family programming is a great outreach method to include small children, but as kids grow, hanging out with their peers usually becomes a stronger draw for them than parent-guided activities.
Many museums and historic sites currently support school groups by hosting field trips. Some even offer history-in-a-box kits to augment curriculum and serve students, while allowing the school to avoid the inconvenience and expense of field-trip transport. Many also offer enrichment opportunities for home school families. While this audience is often more convenient for standard museum hours and staff schedules, it excludes many youth who may be interested or could benefit from historical resources. The NC Museum of History, for instance, has a selection of programs available each month for school-age children during the school day. In addition to home schoolers, tracked out students are the only possible participants.
For the past 2 years NCDCR has been reaching out further to promote its facilities and services to the home school contingent by buying exhibit space at the annual home school conference in Winston Salem. NCDCR-organized programs such as Tar Heel Jr. Historians clubs and NC History Day have disproportionate numbers of home-school participants. The in-depth scholarly activities that these organizations nurture are often an easier fit for home-schoolers and may conflict with scheduling and test-preparation directives in standard public school classrooms.
Since many of the activities NCDCR and many other history organizations offer are not reaching the general population of youth enrolled in public schools, is there a way to bridge the gap and engage teens with programming at times that work for them? Can limited staff resources stretch to accommodate more after-school-hours activities? Even then, will kids care to show up? Here are a couple of ideas from other parts of the country that have been low-budget, widely accessible, and successful:
- A California organization set up several “Community Science Workshop” spaces filled with interactives and set up as a drop-in free resource in a walkable location to kid-filled housing areas.
- The Seattle Art Museum has used social media effectively to promote a regular teen night out successfully.
Could either of these model programs work at your institution? What does your organization do to engage youth? Which activities and methods of promotion have been successful? What could be improved?
Thanks to members of our cultural heritage community across the state for sharing these holiday photos. Our C2C team wishes you wonderful holidays and all the best in 2015!
A glimmering moon rises to brighten the dark solstice season sky behind the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The Keeper’s House in the foreground is decked out in Christmas finery. The Murrayville Middle School Jazz Band provided holiday musical favorites at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site’s Holiday Open House.
Santa rides a tractor at the Sampson County History Museum in Clinton. Meanwhile, the Winborne Country Store in Murfreesboro showcases seasonal greenery and treats. A gingerbread house-making event delights visitors of all ages at the Rowan Museum in Salisbury.
The Transylvania Heritage Museum hosted a traveling exhibit of mid-20th-century aluminum Christmas trees, coordinated by The Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum (ATOM). Visitors enjoyed the display from Saturday, November 29th until December 20th, when the museum closed for the season.
Beautiful decorations grace the dining table of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society‘s Latimer House. Not to be outdone in the realm of fancy adornment, Tryon Palace focuses its annual decorating efforts on a specific theme. This year the peacock (right) was the inspriration.
Simpler ornaments predominate at humbler sites. For example, candlelight illuminates a spinning demonstration at the Joel Lane Museum House in Raleigh. Stockings hang from the parlor mantle at Historic Edenton’s Zeigler House.
A parade of Santa Clause figurines ushers in the season at the Caldwell Heritage Museum in Lenoir. A tall Christmas tree brightens the stairwell at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh.
A crowd gathered around the pavilion on December 1st to sing carols at the Cashiers Historical Society‘s Lighting of the Town Tree in the Village Green. May your holidays be similarly filled with light, music, and many warm gatherings of friends and family.
Thanks to Professor Susanna Lee and her graduate students for the following guest post! Be sure to click on each artifact link to read and/ or listen to students’ interpretive discussions and ideas on how a 3D print could be useful for museum educational programs.
On October 7, 2014, students in Professor Susanna Lee’s Theory and Practice of Digital History class (HI 534) in the History Department at North Carolina State University went to the North Carolina Museum of History to participate in a 3D-scanning project. The project was an exploration into the cost effectiveness of 3D technology for museums and the methodological problems and challenges with using 3D technology to present historical artifacts. Students first used 123D Catch, MakerBot Digitizer, and other programs to capture 3D scans of four museum artifacts dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Students then posted 3D models of the artifacts to Thingiverse, an online space for sharing 3D printable objects. For each 3D model, students also provided an interpretation of its historical significance as well as an explanation of the scanning process. We welcome you to explore the 3D models that students created and interpreted.
- Butter Mold: This butter print was made in the late 18th century, and the hand-carved design appears to be a tobacco plant. The exact origins and uses of this butter print are unknown, but the artifact represents the importance of butter-making on rural farms in early America. Furthermore, the butter print emphasizes the role of women in farm production and income.
- Hog Scraper: This well-crafted hog scraper was likely made in the nineteenth century and used on a North Carolina plantation or farm. Little is known about the origins of the hog scraper, but this durable artifact is a great historical teaching tool for children and adults alike.
- Tea Caddy: According to the museum’s records, this tea caddy was used at the Edenton Tea Party in Edenton, NC in 1774. The Edenton Tea Party is widely recognized as one of the first acts of political protest associated with the American Revolution.
- Child’s Shoe: This leather children’s shoe was likely made by an enslaved craftsman named “Old Jack” in 1862 for the Nolan family of Cleveland County, North Carolina. Although little is known about “Old Jack” specifically, students used the shoe and associated records as a window into the lives of black and white Southerners on the eve of the Civil War.
Despite the high cost of 3D scanners (starting around $800), this exciting new technology may be possible for your institution to try, by partnering with area universities or other organizations. What artifacts from your collection would make the best candidates to reproduce this way?
This year begins the commemoration for the World War I centennial. The State Fairgrounds has a connection to that topic, since it was once the site of Camp Polk, a WWI tank training facility. The NC Department of Cultural Resources partnered with the State Fair and the NC National Guard Museum to create an exhibit on World War I as part of this commemoration. LeRae Umfleet, the department’s Supervisor of Education and Outreach and C2C’s Project Director, coordinated the project, which involved various divisions within NCDCR. She and Lt. Sean Daily of the National Guard Museum created the immersive environment—a trench. The NC Museum of History supplied some WWI artifacts and cases. Archivists, a videographer, and a graphic designer digitized historic images and produced photo blow-ups, retractable panels, and video footage.
Military Appreciation Day at the Fair (10/22) involved special programming tied to the exhibit and additional support from NCDCR staff and volunteers. About 20 NC Historic Sites staff members and a number of additional re-enactors dressed out in military attire, representing eras from the French and Indian War to Desert Storm, for a morning parade and an afternoon military uniform revue. People filled the exhibit throughout the day, and the programs drew crowds, including many veterans and their families.
Why go to the trouble of an exhibit for an 11-day event? Because the State Fair brings hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians from different walks of life together in one space. Some of those fairgoers are not regular museum or historic site participants. If the exhibits and programs pique their interest, they may be more likely to consider these institutions as worthwhile destinations. John Guss, Site Manager for Bennett Place dressed as a Civil War soldier and relished the day’s outreach opportunities. “I don’t believe there is any better collective way that North Carolina State Historic Sites can connect with potential visitors and supporters than by being at the NC State Fair each year,” he commented. Additionally, a history exhibit dovetails well with the Fair’s other educational features and helps to highlight the uniqueness of the state. Several of the exhibit’s components (specifically, the costumed manikins, graphic panels, and video) will be available to travel around the state for future WWI commemorative programs.
Did the numerous attendees absorb any of the exhibit’s information? Visitor timing and tracking studies can help answer this perennial question. The exhibit lined the pathway to the women’s room in the Dorton Arena. Consequently, many viewers were passersby and others may have enjoyed the learning opportunity while waiting for companions. A timing/tracking estimate suggests that about half of the people in the space paused to look. Most, especially younger visitors, were attracted to the trench scene and video footage. The graphic panels and artifact cases attracted fewer visitors, and these tended to be older and male. The one interactive component was a tablet for typing in “your World War I story” and contact information. Only one older woman within a 2 ½ hour period entered information. However, visitors regularly used their own mobile devices as ways to interact with the exhibit by taking pictures of aspects that particularly interested them.
What objects were most engaging? A pair of Vietnam War re-enactors had set up a 2-table display with equipment and supplies. A number of veterans of that war and their companions, often female partners, came to look closely at those objects. Many exclaimed how well they remembered something and the object prompted them to tell a story. Packaged food—“C-rations”—elicited the most reminiscing, perhaps because of the mundane and daily nature of those articles in wartime or perhaps because the memories surrounding food were less serious than those relating to weaponry and other equipment. Regardless, the objects functioned as portholes to the past for these visitors and helped them “bridge” with staff and other visitors.
Bringing historical materials out of your institution and into other community venues can have tremendous outreach benefits, in terms of both quantity and quality. Has your organization tried this? If so, how have exhibits been received beyond the museum walls?
Recently a colleague forwarded to me a string of emails about a potential danger lurking in museum collections, fire grenades. These items were sold from the 1870s until the 1950s and were used to put out a small fire in an enclosed area quickly. The idea was to throw the glass bottle at the base of the fire, where it would shatter and the contents would smother the fire. Early versions were filled with salt water, and later the chemical of choice was carbon tetrachloride.
I was familiar with these beauties; in fact I think I put the number on the bottom of the red one years ago during processing. We knew at the time that the contents of the grenade were still intact, but we did not know what they were. As it turns out, carbon tetrachloride is not a nice chemical to have around. According to the EPA:
The primary effects of carbon tetrachloride in humans are on the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system (CNS). Human symptoms of acute (short-term) inhalation and oral exposures to carbon tetrachloride include headache, weakness, lethargy, nausea, and vomiting. Acute exposures to higher levels and chronic (long-term) inhalation or oral exposure to carbon tetrachloride produces liver and kidney damage in humans.
At the NC Museum of History, we decided that we would deaccession these items from our collection because we did not have the proper facilities to store them. Several people have suggested trying to remove the contents in order to keep the glass bottles in the collection, but that is not a good idea. Even if you are successful in not breaking the fragile glass, how would you safely handle and dispose of the dangerous carbon tetrachloride? Our best advice is to seek out someone qualified to handle hazardous materials, like your county waste disposal director and see what options you have.
You can find additional information in these articles and more images of different types.
The good news is that new 3-D printing technologies may allow museums to tell this interesting story without the threat of dangerous chemicals.
Have you ever wondered why the biggest carbonated beverage companies (Coke and Pepsi) originated in the South (Atlanta and New Bern, respectively)? In the years before air conditioning, the longer and hotter the summer months, the more customers might seek out variety in thirst quenching. Also, suffering through days of high heat and humidity can squelch appetites. Dyspepsia, something we’d call general indigestion today, was a common diagnosis in the 19th century. So it’s no accident that pharmacists, especially in the South, developed appealing concoctions, often with medicinal ingredients, to entice customers. In fact, the name “Pepsi” came from pepsin, a digestive enzyme that was a primary ingredient in the New Bern-originated drink.
What do North Carolinians call carbonated beverages like Pepsi? There’s no consistent answer, although this study of over 5,000 people found that the majority of North Carolinians ask for “soda,” with the brand name “coke” used generically as a close second, followed by “soft drink.” Pepsi did not start out as a soft drink, since alcohol was another ingredient in its 1893 drug store recipe.
Prohibition, which North Carolina adopted in 1908, forced alcohol out of legally sold carbonated beverages and meanwhile encouraged the development of new varieties. Pepsi became the most internationally renowned soft drink with origins in North Carolina, but several others came along in the early and mid 20th century and garnered loyal consumers—even fans.
Created in 1917 in an empty whisky distillery in Salibury, Cheerwine’s name and redwine color nodded deliberately at the new alcohol restrictions. The Carolina Beverage Corporation, still based in Salisbury, is the oldest soft-drink purveyor continuously in the hands of the same owners—the Ritchie family. Distribution of the drink has expanded greatly over the past several decades, beyond western North Carolina and into 12 states. Cheerwine now boasts something of a cult following.
Similarly named, the Bludwine Bottling Company also began in 1917 as an independent soft drink bottler on Main Street in Gastonia. Decades later, in 1953 the proprietor developed Sun Drop. The brand’s official relationship with NASCAR boosted sales throughout the greater Charlotte region and beyond. The Gaston County Museum showcases more artifacts and details about Sun Drop here.
Does your institution contain soda bottles or related artifacts in its collection? We have started supplying Cheerwine for our workshops and found it to be the most popular canned drink among C2C participants. What brands are most popular with your community?
State and local identity is key to the appeal of cultural heritage institutions. The forces of globalization and mechanization seem to push communities toward standardization. Yet, for most of us, our ties to specific places remain important and historic preservation and historic sites can serve as a kind of “antidote to anywhere,” helping localities maintain their distinctiveness. Often state, regional, and local identities depend upon boundaries, whether geological, cultural, or a mixture of both. In the past few years North Carolina and South Carolina have worked jointly to re-delineate their shared boundary, using new surveying techniques, like the global positioning system. Like all resurveys, the process involves hardships as well as surprises. (You can read more about the fascinating resurvey here.) It turns out that some people living on or near the border of the Carolinas are now undergoing an identity crisis, along with logistical hassles. And, though the revised-boundary residents are not always happy about it, North Carolina has begun to welcome most of them into our state’s fold.
The blurred line between the two states has been problematic before. For instance, both states claim the 7th U.S. president, Andrew Jackson, as a native son. The resurvey reaffirmed that his family home was in North Carolina, but the Andrew Jackson Historical State Park is in SC, on the site of a relative’s house where he may have actually been born. Prohibition presented another point of controversy, since NC became a dry state in 1908–8 years before Prohibition in SC. Stores near the state line dispensing alcohol in those years had financial incentive to be on the southern side of the border. The resulting questions may well have been the impetus for the first NC-SC border re-survey completed 1928.
Before the current GPS-fueled resurvey effort, surveyors marked boundaries by geological features. They blazed trees, carved rocks, and documented existing natural features such as rivers and ridges, as well as man-made ones like the Salisbury Road or the Catawba Nation. The North Carolina Museum of History and the South Carolina State Archives house artifacts that testify to both the initial 1735 colonial survey and the early 20th-century re-survey.
The two cross sections of a longleaf pine came from the border of NC’s Columbus County near Tabor City. The brass plate affixed to the surface reads: “Section of long leaf pine exposing blaze made A.D. 1735 marking N.C.-S.C. boundry [sic] discovered in re-survey A.D. 1928 standing alive, 34.07 miles from the Atlantic ocean” (See a better photo of SC’s specimen here) According NCMOH collections files, by the time of the 1928 resurvey Tabor City area residents knew the old pine as the “state line tree,” long after the original blazes had healed over. Based on this community knowledge, Surveyors investigated the claim and cut down the dying tree, sawed it into blocks, and split the blocks until they located an old blaze within the tree. Evidence from the tree rings corresponded to the original 1735 survey. It was one of only two original landmarks found that allowed the original line to be remarked. The investigators also found evidence that the tree survived forest fires, turpentine tapping, and re-blazing by local landowners once the original marks had been obscured by new growth. Tree ring data indicated the pine originated in approximately 1570. Surveyors placed a stone marker in its place (below left).
What’s next for the NC survey work? State commissioners will look toward the other “mountain of conceit” in 2015.
Does your collection contain artifacts dealing with the boundaries of the locality it represents? If so, how do they correspond to notions of community identity?
As residents of one of the original thirteen colonies, many North Carolinians have celebrated and commemorated the involvement of their progenitors in the push for independence from England. Community leaders in the Coastal Plain as well as the back country resolved to fight for independence from the crown unless Parliament remedied colonial grievances. Disgruntled property holders in Mecklenburg County were the first to draft such a document in May 1775, though questions about this early revolutionary activity have lingered. Local leaders in New Hanover, Cumberland, Pitt, and Tryon counties soon followed suit in the summer of 1775 and later those in Halifax drafted an even more strongly worded petition in April 1776. Our state also boasts 3 representatives to the 1776 Continental Congress in Philadelpia. Read brief biographies of the North Carolina signers here.
Since the 1890s, at least, state residents have commemorated these events and heroes of the revolutionary era by paying homage to their houses, erecting monuments, and honoring their descendants. The Hooper-Penn monument at Guilford Battleground was created in 1897 upon re-interring the remains of John Penn of Granville County and William Hooper, who died in Hillsborough. (Hewes’ grave is in Philadelphia.)
A Fayetteville parade in 1909 celebrated the Liberty Point Resolves and included a float with young women, most of whom were descendants of the signers of that document. Nearly a decade later, the newly formed NC Museum of History collected objects from one of Hooper’s daughters (right). During the 1930s (at least) the town of Edenton organized a children’s pageant honoring Hewes.
Throughout the 20th-century and into the 21st, some NC businesses have featured the signers’ names to both commemorate and capitalize on patriotic sensibilities and local pride. The John Penn motel built in Oxford, NC in 1954 evoked Mt. Vernon with its white paint and cupola. Edenton Brewing Company (now Big Boss) of Raleigh once produced a “Joseph Hewes revolutionary ale.”
Does your collection include objects commemorating the pre-revolutionary resolves or the signers of the Declaration of Independence? If so, are these commemorative objects useful for exhibits or engaging to researchers?