Menokin Adventurer: Final Thoughts

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.

Next Steps

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.

Show and Tell: Google Trends

Since we are on the topic of searching databases this week, I thought I would share another Google database: Google Trends.

Google Trends is a database of Google web searches and of Google News.  Type in a word or words into the search engine and Google generates a chart, similar to Google Ngram, that displays how often these terms have been searched over time on Google. The bottom of the chart shows how often these terms have appeared in Google News.

Since Google Ngram and Corpus Time focuses on books and the written word, Google Trends is a nice complement to searching what ordinary people (i.e. non-authors) have been interested in over the years.  Another great aspect of Google Trends is that it ranks regions, cities, and languages in which people have searched for certain terms the most.

I did a Google Trends search on “Barack Obama” and most people searched for “Barack Obama” during the 2008 election. Since his inauguration, interest in Obama has steadied with a peak around the time Bin Laden was killed. After Americans, the Irish search the most for “Barack Obama.”  Interestingly, Swedish is the second most language in which people search for Obama.

Google Trends is relatively new and you can only see trends in Google searches since 2004.  As time goes on, it will be interesting to see how this tool evolves and what trends in web searches develop over time.  Do you think Google Trends is a valid historical methodology? Do people’s web search interests merit historians’ attention?



Go Wayback with the Wayback Machine

Google's home page, November 1997

Retro Google?! This is one of the first Google home pages circa November 1997 courtesy of the Wayback Machine. Wayback Machine is an internet archive of web pages from 1996 to the present.  It is run by Internet Archive, a non-profit organization that began archiving web pages in 1996. Internet Archive collects web pages through web crawling. Web crawling creates copies of web pages and Internet Archive archives these copies. The public can access this archived material through the Wayback Machine. The name comes from Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show.  Today, the Wayback Machine contains two petabytes of data–more text than is at the Library of Congress.

The greatest asset of Wayback Machine is that it is extremely easy to use. On the home page, type in any URL of the website you wish to see. You are then taken to an interactive calendar.  Pick a year at the top, and click on a month and day on the corresponding calendar.  Click on a date and go back in time and view what a web page looked like on that date. An interactive calendar on top allows you to surf between pages quickly and easily. One drawback of the Wayback Machine is that you cannot search full text or by keywords. You can only search by typing in a specific URL. They hope to implement these features in the future.

The Wayback Machine is an invaluable source for historians. In fact, the mission of the Archive is to preserve digital artifacts for future use by researchers, historians, and scholars. The general public can also use and research this archive because it is extremely accessible and easy to use. Visitors to the site can look through hundreds of web pages, if only to gawk at how far the internet has come (just look at how far Google graphics have come with their Halloween images!).

Google's home page, October 31, 2002
Google's home page, October 31, 2008

Nostalgia aside, the Wayback Machine is not only a great asset for current research, but will be a wonderful source of research material for future researchers. However, after reading Roy Rosenzweig’s “Scarcity or Abundance,” we have to be wary of these web archives.  In particular, these web crawls archive sites in their original format. If technology evolves too quickly, will future historians be even able to access these pages? home page, December 12, 2007

There is so much source material on Wayback Machine that can be used by future historians.  For example, you can look at what President Obama advocated for in his 2008 campaign by looking at his campaign website. On the flip side, the Wayback Machine also has compiled collections on specific archived material, such as Hurricane Katrina.  Public historians, then, can also use this archive to display certain materials.  How else can historians use these digital archives?

Cruisin’ Route 20…with History!

Have you ever been driving in what seems like the middle of nowhere and passed by a placard, statue, or house that looked important, but did not quite see the historic significance of this place as the car zoomed by?  Haven’t you wished that you could quickly look somewhere that would explain to you the significance of that place?  For many busy historic roads, there are definitely places where you can find this information. But for the lesser known highways in America, this information is hard to come by. You really are in the middle of nowhere.

For my digital project, I hope to rescue New York’s Route 20–my local, hometown highway– from this oblivion and create an interactive map that denotes and explains the historical significance of certain sites along this route. This site will allow people to engage in the travel and learning experience while driving.  Maybe drivers will even stop at some places along the way for a longer gaze, or even visit a local museum that is situated along the route. This site will transform driving along Route 20, which many regard as just driving through cornfield after cornfield, and will rescue this route from historical oblivion.

New York’s Route 20, formerly known as the Cherry Valley Turnpike, is host to a plethora of historical sites, including the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the William Seward House in Auburn, and the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls.  Route 20 enthusiasts have set up their own websites about the route, including the Route 20 Association of New York State and an amateur’s site titled “Historic U.S. Route 20: The Main Street of Upstate New York.”  These two sites, however, do not offer much historical interpretation, the former more concerned with tourism and the latter lacking scholarly methodology. These sites also do not include an interactive map where drivers can quickly locate sites or where travelers can research the map before they head out on their drive. All in all, the current options on learning more about Route 20 are limited.

I will use Viewshare, Flickr, or Historypin to create an interactive map that marks different sites along the highway.  California Route 66 Preservation Foundation runs a website that includes an interactive map. My Route 20 map will link to descriptions of the historical significance of different sites along the road and will display different photos (historical and current) of these sites.  For my digital project, I will start with the three historic sites mentioned above: baseball in Cooperstown, William Seward House, and Seneca Falls convention.  I will follow Dan Brown’s suggestion, in Communicating Design, and create personas that will guide my design decisions.[1] My website will cater to three different personas: spectators (who just want a quick description of what they are passing), enthusiasts (who can read the whole story on the site), and tourists (who want the full story and might even want to stop and visit the site).  I hope to cater to these different personas by using a similar format as Philaplace where the spectators get a few lines on  the historical significance, enthusiasts click more to get the whole story, and tourists can scroll down to see recommendations for books to do further research or recommendations for local museums to visit.

Since New York’s Route 20 does not have nearly the renown as Route 66, outreach will be vital to this project.  My main audience is interested tourists and so I will link my site to travel review sites, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. Route 20 already has a page on TripAdvisor.  In addition, I will inform local preservation and history organizations, such as the Route 20 Association of New York State and “Tour Auburn,” of my site.

For the evaluation of my project, I will have different users test the site. As Brown emphasizes, planning for usability tests are as important as gaining feedback from the results of these tests.[2] I will create usability tests for someone who is driving the route as well as for someone who is interested in the route and planning to travel the highway in the near future.  Hopefully, these people find this site easy to use and easy to understand. More importantly, I hope this site will further interest in the local history of upstate New York. Instead of driving through the middle of nowhere, travelers (and even just web browsers) will gain an appreciation of the rich history of the area and realize its important place in history.

[1] Daniel M. Brown, Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning (Berkely, CA: New Riders, 2007), 18.

[2] Brown, Communicating Design, 51.

Is Bigger Always Better?: How the Public Views Large and Small Museums

“Do you like us on Facebook?” is a common question on museum websites today.  In the current digital age, many organizations are concerned with how to better represent themselves through social media.  On the flip side, through sites such as Tripadvisor and Yelp, organizations are being represented through people’s reviews.  Museums can use these reviews to gain public feedback on how well the public likes the museum, engages with the museum, and considers the best assets of the museum.

For my print project, I would like to research the differences in how large and small museums are represented on Tripadvisor and Yelp. I would like to see if people have different experiences at smaller museums versus bigger museums. Do people feel a more intimate connection with small museums? Do people find large museums impersonal?  I would also like to discover if museums get their central theme across to visitors and if reviewers comment on this theme. In the more intimate setting of a smaller museum, do visitors understand the central theme better?

The idea that visitors who have a more engaging experience become more interested is well-supported by the University of Iowa Libraries’ successful experiment with crowdsourcing, as described in “Crowdsourcing the Civil War: Insights Interview with Nicole Saylor.”  I will use Saylor’s insight on when people more intimately engage with history, such as transcribing Civil War letters, they become more engrossed in the history.  I would like to see if people’s experiences at small museums reflect this intimacy and thus heightened interest and connection.

These reviews can also provide insight into the many different ways museums reach visitors.  Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, in Digital History, illustrate how the web connects people with history in more ways than ever and museums should find ways to better reach audiences through this new medium.  I will also research if people comment on the presence of museums on the web. Are larger museums better represented on the web given their greater access to more resources? Does this provide people with a different experience than smaller museums? Does an online presence decrease the intimacy of smaller museums?

To study if there are differences among how smaller and larger museums are discussed on social web sites, I will concentrate my study on six sites (three small, three large) in Washington, D.C.  I will look at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the Newseum, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The smaller museums I will look at are the American Red Cross Museum, Frederick Douglass Historic House Site, and Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture. If there is a large amount of comments, I will use the digital tool Voyer to find repeated themes.

My hope is that this study will reveal the differences between small and large museums and how all types of museums can engage with social media. These museums can realize their uniqueness and understand what visitors take away from their visits . Even though smaller museums will be less represented on these travel sites, this study might reveal how these smaller museums can appeal to more people by emphasizing what reviewers found most compelling. Museums can further their appeal when they consider public input.  These social web sites allow museums to understand how visitors think of a certain museum, what they find most meaningful, and what they connect with the most. Isn’t it every public historian’s dream to better understand how to connect with their audience?!