My hope is that the blog I created for Menokin, called Menokin Adventurer, will be used by the site in the future and will be a place where the museum can engage with the public. Menokin is the home of Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lightfoot Lee. The Menokin Foundation’s vision is to be an internationally known center for learning. I envision this blog that I created for Menokin to be a way for this museum to not only increase its online presence, but to also allow the Foundation to teach and communicate with the public (and potential visitors).
Menokin Adventurer should further in-depth learning of Menokin and its past. Through Facebook, the Foundation posts upcoming events and news. The blog, on the other hand, is a way for the Foundation to share educational information on the site’s history as well as on the other specialties of the museum, including conservation, preservation, and architecture. Further, posts on this blog should promote critical thinking. I inserted questions to have visitors critically think about the material or I gave examples of an historian’s process, such as explaining research behind an object found on site. The blog should be used not just as a news feed, but mostly as a place to educate the public while highlighting Menokin’s resources.
In order to create a blog that is interesting, but also engaging and informative, I researched blogs of similar historic house museums. Dan Brown, in Communicating Design, writes, “Like any deliverable, a competitive review must be actionable; the lessons learned from looking at other sites must be immediately applicable to the design endeavor” (Brown, Loc. 6604) I noticed that the best museum blogs had vibrant pictures and short interesting stories. There were blogs that highlighted the museum, such as Monticello where most posts were about Thomas Jefferson in the news. Other blogs had categories of different topics to appeal to a broad range of visitors, including the blog for James Madison’s Montpelier that had categories labeled “Museum Stuff,” “Slaves & Freedmen,” and “Trees & Plants.” Other blogs focus on educating the public about the particular historical figure at the site, such as Mount Vernon’s “George Washington Wired” blog where all posts center around Washington. Since Menokin is a small, not well-known historic house museum. I created my blog to combine all of these elements. The blog is intended to make Menokin more visible to the public, but more importantly to teach visitors of all different interests the site’s history.
Most importantly, the blog should further open communication between the museum and the public. The blog can further the museum’s mission to become an internationally renowned learning center. The Foundation can pose questions, spark critical thinking, and encourage discussion. Posts should encourage comments from the visitors. One area in particular that the Foundation could gain valuable feedback is for their upcoming “Glass House Project.” They plan to rebuild the house with glass and if the Foundation engages with the public now, it can include the public in this important process and growth. For example, I posted an announcement of the new architecture firm of the project, included links so people can research the firm further, and encouraged questions and comments.
The major indicator of success for this blog will be the amount of commenting on blog posts. This will reveal that the blog is engaging the public and has opened paths of communication. Hopefully, in the process Menokin will become more well-known and take steps toward its goal of becoming a learning center.
My greatest takeaways from this project is learning how to use WordPress and also critically thinking about how to reach an audience. Through creating this blog, I learned the ins and outs of WordPress. In fact, I am also creating a WordPress site to showcase the final portfolio of a group project.
For the blog I created for Menokin, I learned that theme and layout are important. After considering multiple themes, I decided on a theme that has a flair of historical type font, but is very streamlined and simple. I found this furthered my goal of opening communication with visitors. It is very easy for people to read and comment on the posts.
I also toyed with the idea of having different pages, such as an “About” page or an “Events” page. However, I found pages to be distracting. Furthermore, I wanted to connect this blog with the broader online presence of Menokin. As such, on the top of the sidebar, I placed an image of Menokin that links to its website and added a link to its Facebook page. This way, visitors can learn about the museum and its events by using these links and focus more on reading, learning, and commenting on the blog.
In order to cater to different audiences, I created different categories that could appeal to a variety of people. At first, I included in the sidebar these categories, recent posts, and archives. However, since my goal is to have people explore the site and learn more about Menokin and its resources, I decided to delete “recent posts” and move up “archives.” Since the blog is not intended to be an up to date newsfeed, the archives are important because they too reveal educational information about Menokin’s history.
I also learned how to cater to audiences while inciting enthusiasm about Menokin. In my research, I realized that the best museum blogs also promoted the museum and individualized every story to relate somehow back to the site. I at first strictly only posted stories that furthered learning, but realized this helped the visitor learn about Menokin’s history, but not about the museum. So I added a post about a big project at Menokin to garner excitement as well as included a countdown to big events in the sidebar. This way, visitors are learning about history, but in an individualized manner that is catered to the experience only one can receive at Menokin.
If I am to make a blog in the future, I would definitely more closely follow Brown’s suggestion in Communicating Design that “articulating the design direction benefits from moving beyond a simple bullet list. Examples are powerful; they illustrate elements of the design direction and provide context” (Brown, Loc. 6411). Before starting my blog, I listed ideas for the blog, including being a space for learning and engaging with the public, but did not expand on this list. As such, my design process was more trial and error and eventually I found the format that would further critical thinking. However, I had to go back and fix previous posts to fit this format. If I expanded my list to concrete examples, I would have been able to unify the project from the beginning.
Lastly, to further the blog to better be a learning tool, I believe even more public involvement is needed. I am intrigued by the crowdsourcing projects that are being done by the University of Iowa Libraries (Owens, Crowdsourcing) and the New York Public Library. This allows people to directly engage with historical material, help museums create collections, and garners enthusiasm for the material. For this blog, I would like to build off of the same involvement advanced by projects like crowdsourcing. I would like to include more posts on this blog that furthers immersion in historical texts.
I am currently working with the staff at Menokin who is hoping to take over the blog and add posts every week. This project has truly widened my perception of blogs to be an effective teaching tool and has enhanced my skills as a public historian. I am ecstatic that my work for this project might help a very special historic house museum augment its online presence and create more dialogue with its visitors.
Below is my poster:
Dan M. Brown. Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders Press, 2006), Kindle Edition.
Trevor Owens. “Crowdsourcing the Civil War: Insights Interview with Nicole Saylor.” Library of Congress. December 6, 2011. http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2011/12/crowdsourcing-the-civil-war-insights-interview-with-nicole-saylor/