From Interpretation to Conversation

The video with Dr. Nancy Proctor was interesting because of the new ways of thinking about mobile in the museum that she brought up (well, new for me). I found it remarkable that the Smithsonian had 30 million physical visitors in 2010, but 180 million virtual visitors. With those numbers alone, institutions can no longer ignore their virtual presence. I appreciated her point that a museum should also model the internet as a network, meaning that no one point can destroy it. I think this is especially needed today with the shaky economy—we need to make sure that one weakness will not bring the whole museum down.

Despite needing an online presence, Dr. Proctor also said that it is not about the technology, it’s about the content. This is reassuring for my group’s mobile project because it is not about what platform we choose, it’s about the information we are sharing. And it is also about providing a place for people to share their experiences with local food, and going from “interpretation to conversation.” I was also pleased to know that our mobile project is targeting a growing niche market, but has not reached a mass market yet. Since we are thinking about continuing our project after the class, I will be working on making sure that we keep in mind the 6 principles that mobile projects should be, including being aligned with our mission and strategic goals, continue to create new opportunities for engagement, and be sustainable. Our liabilities for mobile devices in our project are similar to what museums face: how will we find funding to keep up with the next best thing in mobile? How will we make our project a network so that one thing cannot destroy us?

As far as how graduate and undergraduate public history courses can use mobile devices, I would suggest continuing to encourage large projects that require the use of the devices, including writing blogs, designing tours in gowalla, and creating websites that are mobile-enabled. Just encouraging students to think about mobile projects can go a long way in helping students to think creatively and innovatively. By training students now, they will bring all of this mobile learning to public history projects in general. I know that as I have been working on the Department of Arts and History website, I have tried to think about ways I could make it easier for mobile visitors, and for people using the website on regular desktops.  I think we all need to remember though that it is still the content or knowledge that we are passing on that is the most important aspect, and the platform is second.

One thought on “From Interpretation to Conversation”

  1. While I agree that content is important I think it is also the museum and public historical professions biggest liability. I suspect that what makes mobile devices, the internet, and software so popular is that they are content neutral or content free. They are instead mediums for sharing content. In order to safegaurd the museum and public history industry I suspect there is a need to package content as a medium of some sort. This will be especially helpful for museums whose content is relatively static.

    One fear I have is that technology might eventually lead to the end of the museum and public history professions. While it seems that everyone in the class wants to eventually make money in the public history field, our group projects are actually undermining the profession. As more and more history can be done (by students like ourselves) and presented for free (online)–govenments, donors, and the general population will have to decide why money should be spent on museums and employing people to run them. This is also true of the academic historical profession and the humanities generally-why should a large class of tenured professors be financially supported by American society. The creation of some sort of plausible justification seems extremely important as growing global economic competition forces a reevaluation of America’s secondary education system. It’s fundamentally important (for my future career) that history continue to be taught since the size of humanities departments seem to closely mirror the number of years their subject is taught in high school.

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