Museum on Mainstreet is the Smithsonian’s attempt at preserving local culture and heritage by “bring[ing] traveling exhibitions, educational resources and programming to small towns across America through their own local museums, historical societies and other cultural venues.”
The Smithsonian has created connections with over 1,000 communities since 1994 when this program was started. There are two ways that people can get involved: first by visiting these exhibits created from the program and second by submitting your story to their website. Museum on Mainstreet is part of the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, which provides connections to the museum through exhibitions already.
So, what makes Museum on Mainstreet so different from other traveling exhibits?
They focus on rural communities!
They focus on broad topics!
They are free standing 500×800 feet exhibits!
They are designed as a “spring board” for future public history projects in the community!
Currently, there are several exhibits traveling the U.S. One called “Water/Ways” explores the complexity of the meaning of water from sanctuaries, politics, economy, and much more!
The website however includes more detailed exhibitation of the individual story. When the visitor clicks on it, they can read, listen, and/or watch media about this said story. Take for example Arianna Gomez from Maryland, who submitted her story on being Gen Z and being a first time voter in the 2020 election.
But, how do I get involved? How do I share my own story?
The pathway for this is quite fascinating and shows how the Smithsonian aids you in building public historian and folklorist skills.
You begin on the “Share Your Story” webpage where they provided you with a ton of information that may seem overwhelming at first, but will aid you in publishing your story.
It is also suggested you read their submission rules before you begin.
Here they help you in formatting your story, creating your story, and guide you in telling your story. It’s important to remember that the story needs to connect with their research topics at the current time (located here), they need to connect with local history and culture, need to tell a story, but need to be brief as well. They also suggest that you conduct an interview and/or provide video, but this isn’t necessary.
Once you have these things in mind and have gathered your materials, you will need to create an account. This is just so you can save your draft and so the Smithsonian can see who is submitting the content.
Now that you are in the site, you will need to fill out some information about yourself and about what you are uploading and contributing. For this example, I am going to be uploading a photo I took at Yellowstone National Park in 2021 to talk about visitors coming to the park. Forewarning, you will need to work quickly or the site will log you out.
Fil out your information above of yourself and the content you are contributing.
Hit “Next Page” and you will be taken to an empty block. This is where you enter your text. Forewarning, I would type it up separately and then copy and paste it into this section. After a certain amount of time, the website will log you off and you will loose your work. Trust me on this, I lost what I wrote above save for this screenshot (you will see that the text will change in the screenshots to come in this review of it).
Further down the page from the block text is where you will upload your content.
The last thing you will need to do is add media release forms for children under 18 that are included in this project. Additionally, there is a section for you to add a link if this project also exists elsewhere for you.
The last page is where you can review what you entered. Once you hit submit, you will wait for Smithsonian to get back to you for approval.
Overall, this website is very simple and is not a huge and extravagant thing that the Smithsonian is doing here. In fact, historically, this is something that has been done for hundreds of years, take for example the early recordings of folk music we have from Appalachia (termed “song-catching”) where people were desperate to preserve the music from Appalachia and considered it the last authentic part of America.
However, while there are evident concerns about bias throughout this, the project is a great way to gather material about rural America and about everyday individuals.