“Throw Back Thursday” – Previous Articles

For those who do not know, “Throw back Thursday” is a trend that has moved its way to Facebook resulting in the sharing of older photographs. Well, as many of us history minded folks do, I have twisted the idea a bit.

For this “Throw back Thursday” I am sharing with you a piece of my Google Drive, a folder of “older” articles I wrote from 2010 and before.

Anna’s “Older” Articles Folder

This is partially me wanting to make sure this old work isn’t collecting digital dust; I want it to be useful. This is also me making friends with Google Drive, seeing what it can do so I can actually use it for work/school.

Be sure to read the READ ME file first.







Working with Teaching Methods

 Over the past half century or so, educators have worked with a learning pyramid to aid in understanding learner retention. At the top of the pyramid are techniques with the least retention while the techniques at the base of the pyramid provide the greatest amount of retention. Over the years this pyramid has evolved as new techniques develop through evolving technologies.

This Learning Pyramid is my design for techniques in the living history environment. As with the traditional pyramids, at the top are the techniques with the least personal connectivity with visitors/learners. At the bottom are those techniques providing the best connections with visitors/learners. The strata of the pyramid do not represent good to bad. They represent the varying ways to connect with visitors at different depths. The top of the pyramid can give a good over view of a subject, while the base of the pyramid can provide visitors with an in-depth, personal experience and ingrained understanding. By utilizing a combination of the techniques the full height of the pyramid, visitors are offered a  complete experience, which through their choice meets their particular needs.  


Let us examine the pyramid from the top down.

Lecture Style Presentations  can include most presentations where a single or small group of interpreters talks to a group of visitors in a stagnant setting such as a classroom, gallery or auditorium, or in a mobile setting such as in guided or even self led tours. (In self led tours, the presenter and setting changes while the presentation style remains the same.) One can also include introductory videos in the category as well. In this technique, the visitor is primarily a listener and observer with the occasional opportunity to ask questions. (I will say in hind-sight of the visual presentation of this pyramid, I would like to have made the top level longer as there are so many formats which fall under the lecture style presentation.)

Self-led Inquiry includes examining original artifacts (or in some cases reproductions), reading original documents such as diaries, letters and ledgers, and looking at original images such as photographs or genre paintings. Self-led inquiry does not include significant guidance from a knowledgeable person or source. Instead, it is entirely learner/visitor led. 

Interactive Exhibits are guided inquiry. These exhibits use instruction, often through text and visual panels or other media, combined with hands-on examination. They are organized to lead the learning and exploration process.

Demonstrations and First Person Presentations are live-action multi-sensory learning experiences allowing visitors/learners to see, hear and smell how something works or is done. These are meant to be interactive (If they are not interactive, they belong further up  they pyramid.) where visitors can ask questions, feel samples, examine tools, etc.. These techniques use multiple senses in connection with a live, interactive education source.

Hands-On Activities and Play to Learn opportunities go one more step beyond the above techniques. The focus transitions from the demonstrator showing how to the learner/visitor learning how. In this technique the learning process is guided according to the project or activity.

Role Playing and Experimental Archeology because wholly learner centered. Here, the learning process becomes learner lead.  Granted, event or site staff are present for consultation and to ensure the safety of participants and the site.

Originals verse Repros

The recent discussion of buckles on the SA led me to want a buckle. Than want of a buckle has led me to revisit the original verses reproduction debate.

I am one who has long since adamantly apposed the use of original/extant garments. Simply handling many garments can cause irreparable damage. It is impossible to wear any piece of clothing, whether a petticoat or shawl, without causing wear and damage.

 I’m also not fond of the use of original housewares in most event situations. Originals are ideal for stagnant museum displays or in-situ museum displays. In each of these situations the items have been placed there for an extended period of time by curatorial staff trained in their care. In most cases, visitors are not invited to handle the items. (Some specially designed exhibits provide for controlled handling with appropriate protection for the collection.) At most LH events items are brought in for a day, two day or week long display or interactive interpretation. The best case scenario will see each piece unpacked from mobile storage, handled gently, displayed, not touched through-out the event, then repacked and stored at the end of the event. While this can seem harmless, when this is multiplied by several events throughout the year and unpredictable weather conditions are considered, none of us can guarantee the safety of any item.

At the same time, I want visitors to be able to handle items in order to satisfy several learning styles. Many reproductions can be used to replace originals such as pottery, clothing or a quilt. But, so much more can be learned from the original in many cases. There are also items which do not have any or adequate reproductions available. In such cases, where is the line for using the original for hands-on education verses a hands-off display verses not using the item at all?

Of course I’m missing several aspects of this discussion this morning. There is the ‘abundance verses rare’ perspective as well as the ‘balanced representation verses over representation’ perspective. I’ve also heard a ‘level of risk’ perspective in respect to how easily damaged a material can be.

Bass Pro Shop

You are probably wondering what this vegetarian, non-hunter was doing in a Bass Pro Shop. We needed to replace our shredding tarp during our cross-country move. Even with that answer, I’m sure you are wondering why I’m writing about a sportsman store on a living history blog.

Simply – If you haven’t been to a Bass Pro Shop, you need to go.

Bass Pro Shops are an excellent example of an extraordinary customer experience. From the moment you approach the store with its undeniable presence the stage is set from more than just the purchase. Their signage at the entrance is more like what you would see at a theme park than a store. As you cross the parking lot and drive you are guided by fish stamps for the cross walk and various animal prints to the door. Through the door the space opens to a full view of the multi-story water fall and mountain-side feature. The similarity to a park is continued with the turn-stile about 20-25 feet inside the door. This space is important because it emphasizes the vastness or openness of the stores while providing a great view and a ‘welcome, we’ve been waiting for you’ feel.

At the center of each Bass Pro is a colossal rock wall and water feature that looks exceptionally natural. So far, from what I’ve seen, each store’s monumental earth and water structure is different. They incorporate a waterfall, ponds with large fresh water bass and trout, large and small animal mounts, and details in the wood work of the stairs.

The experience is optimized by the various hands-on opportunities. Traditional galleries are just like those at amusement parks. Digital games include both shooting and fishing using X-box and Wii . They also hold classes.

As you wander the store, you find pleasant looking mounts of just about every animal you could imagine. The walls are covered with photos from around the world. There are seating areas with comfortable chairs, tables and lighting simultaneously embracing their brand and conveying that ‘at home’ feel. Take a look at this photo of the chairs with the real tree or mossy oak pattern set nicely with the original trunk as a table. This comfortable area is something many men would love to have in a cabin. It invites visitors to sit while shopping. Incidentally, this seating area is in the midst of the toy area.

There is a children’s tree, on the other hand, in the ladies’ clothing area. This tree, while a play area doesn’t come across as but a natural feature blending in. (sorry I lost that photo)

Their attention is right down to the details. I love this trash can, which has a rustic, earthy feel yet is clearly marked and clean.

 Their bathrooms are immaculately clean while continuing the branding/theme onto the walls and fixtures.

The Bass Pro we stopped at had a restaurant inside the store as well. The front sign included a sign for the Grill. But, what I really liked was the eye appealing menu on the wall of the elevator. This placement is great. It is one spot where visitors are going to stand in one place. The menu tempts people’s appetites, reminds them they can eat in-house and invites them to stay longer. I should also point out, I like being able to look at a menu before going into a new restaurant. If it hadn’t been for our wind induced scheduling problem, being able to look at this menu would have allowed us the opportunity to decide to eat there.

Food for thought

What do you call the people who pay as they walk through the gates to learn about history from you?

Here are some definitions thanks to dictionary.com

Visitor – “a person who comes to spend time with or stay with others, or in a place. A visitor  often stays some time, for social pleasure, for business, sightseeing.”

Guest – ” is anyone receiving hospitality, and the word has been extended to include anyone who pays for meals and lodging.”

Spectator “a person who is present at and views a spectacle, display, or the like; member of an audience.”

Customer – “a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron.”

Optimizing the Visitor Experience at Living History Events

Part 2

The details can greatly improve visitor experience. These are often the things that we don’t want people to find fault in. But, to really enhance the visitor experience at LH events, we need to give them what they ask for before they ask for it. Ideally, they will never notice they needed it in the first place or be completely “wowed” by the fact we thought about it.

Let us start with one of the biggest needs people will have at every event…. the bathroom. Did you know there are actually blogs which discuss the conditions of bathrooms and what they mean in terms of customer service? There are. While we likely can’t have beautiful spa bathrooms at events, we can strive to have the best services available. But, I hear you. What can we do to make porta-potties nice? First and foremost… Keep them Clean!!! To do this, there needs to be the right number of potties for the people. To few potties makes for messy potties and long lines. Next, a solid cleaning schedule. Potties must be professionally emptied every morning or more frequently if there is non-invasive access. But, don’t leave the cleaning to the service. A housekeeping staff needs to check on the potties throughout the day. I know, ick. Who wants to do that? You do, because that means happy visitors and happy attendees who will return and spend money. Now, how do we improve the bathroom experience when dealing with porta-potties? Don’t just line them up out in the sun. Be smart. Find a way to turn the potty set-up into a more pleasant bathroom type experience filled with the amenities a bathroom would have. One method I have seen which does this well uses the back of a barn which creates shade and wall-type fencing. The potties are lined up in the shade of the barn with the truck access point on the far side. The side towards the event has a wall made of fencing. From the outside, you just see the wooden fencing. From the inside, you see a counter filled with “running” water, paper towels, hand sanitizer and mirrors. Benches were provided for those waiting in line. A curtained changing area provided a private area for infants. While not an indoor bathroom or a period correct one, this provided a well improved visitor experience.

Another must for visiting an all day event is food and water. Well fed visitors stay longer and remember the event well. Hungery visitors are tired, cranky, irritable and just want to leave. You must include on your advertisements and website whether food will be available. If it is available, mention what kind of food will be there. This will help those with special diets or allergies determine if they will be able to eat and plan accordingly. If food will not be available, invite visitors to bring a picnic. This way they know to bring food. Provide picnic space whether it is on tables, under a large tent or simply on a blanket on the ground.

How many times have you been asked if you are hot in your clothes? Chances are if a visitor is asking if you are hot, they are also hot.  Not everyone has the constitution to walk for hours and hours through an event, standing in the sun watching demonstrations. Events need to have places where visitors can sit down in the shade. This could be where there is natural shade along a tree line or under a tent. Presentation and demonstration areas need to be placed where natural or building shade is available. Seating should also be provided for those who get tired or can not stand for an extended period but still wish to listen and watch. This seating should be well placed with a good view. Seating could be wooden benches or even building steps if need be.

A few weeks ago I had some very puzzled looks when I was asking at a meeting about quiet areas during a different kind of event. It was okay; they didn’t understand. Once you hear a toddler burst in to blood-curdling screams at the sound of a cannon or see an incredibly grateful mother as you welcome her and her terrified child into a quiet gallery, you will never forget just how important a quiet area is for children. Cannons and gun-fire can be loud and scary. Every event should give parents of small children an alternate option to battles and louder demonstrations. Otherwise, families heading to the solace of the car may leave and be leery of returning. If there is an onsite house or gallery building, these will be ideal for reducing the sound. If such a space is not available, a children’s area with a moderate size tent and shaded fly set a good distance from the battle or in a comfortable area can be made to work. In either type of area, provide comfortable places to sit, small water bottles, ear-foams in their packages, and a variety of toddler safe toys. Also have items for older kids who may be frightened as well.

If at all possible, alternate transportation should be available at larger events despite issues with being an anachronism. Older individuals and families with children will greatly appreciate the availability of a trolley or wagon. There are many medical conditions that decrease a person’s ability to walk long distances or be in the sun. These visitors will also appreciate being able to access parts of an event they would not otherwise be able to reach. A trolley can circle an event stopping at designated points or criss-cross an event.  

I think this is all for now. Please stop back for additional thoughts on planning events looking at the visitor experience.

The Power of Myth – Part 2

As educators, interpreters or reenactors we often encounter myths while working with visitors. These myths can range from a long propagated mis-truth to a family story. When facing these myths we need to find a way to educate while ensuring a good visitor experience.

In my opinion, the type of myth you need to be the most careful about when addressing it the family myth. This is a myth a person has grown up with, believing about their family. It is one which may or may not be rooted in fact, developing or evolving through the years. A family myth can come up at almost any time in a discussion with visitors. They may believe they have a connection with a person, a building, an artifact or a moment in history. The catch is, you have absolutely no idea whether their story is history or myth. With a visitor centered approach, I suggest you listen to what the visitor has to share. Even if everything they are saying doesn’t quite fit with what you know, listen. If you don’t listen to what they are saying, chances are they aren’t going to want to listen to you either. While you are listening, really listening, try to determine what level of additional information they will be receptive to. Some people will be open to a whole different version of the story, the researched and documented research you can provide. For these individuals, first compliment a specific aspect of what they shared, hopefully a piece that is documentable; then offer additional information beginning with a phrase such as “my understanding….” Be certain to offer the visitor a resource or two to go to for their own research such as a book at the library or website that is easy to find. For others, who are significantly attached to their story, possibly in an emotional way, an “opening the door” approach will allow the visitor to hold their story while you offer them a direction for self- inquiry. After acknowledging their story and offering a specific compliment, you could open the door with “have you looked at….?” or “I would be curious to know more about…” Yes, this is an extremely soft approach. But, you are allowing the visitor to retain the integrity of they family myth while encouraging research based education and giving the visitor a good customer experience increasing their likelihood of returning.

I’ll confess, teacher led myths  are the ones that really push my buttons. It is exceptionally challenging to have a tour designed for a class when the teacher continuously interrupts, pulling the students in a different direction filled with inaccurate information. It is also challenging to be giving an in-class presentation only to find the teacher has or is instructing with inaccurate information. Whether you are in their arena or yours, the key to avoiding these issues is communication before the visit. Provide the teacher or teachers with an outline of the tour or presentation as part of a teacher packet with grade specific information and resources. Most museums have a teacher packet for visits and outreach which include pre, during and post visit materials. If you are working with/for a museum, be sure to know this packet well. During one of your initial conversations with the teacher(s), ask about where your talk will fit into their teaching plan or curriculum mapping, what the students will have already learned, what points he or she would like you to address. This is an ideal time and way to focus or tweak your presentation plan and identify any potential areas of inaccurate information and provide the teacher with correct information and/or resources prior to being in front of the students. Of course, you may still have a surprise in the middle of a great talk with a group of students. In these cases, you need to convey the correct information and the importance of documentation all while still supporting the teacher. Yes, it is possible. You can start with something like “That information/story comes from ____. But, new research shows _______” or “That is true for these instances _____ But, at this time ______” (Teachers are one of the few groups you can get away with using the word “But” with without being defensive. They teach the use of the word. For most other people do you best to use words such as “and” to redirect the information.) Be certain to provide the teacher with resources to further research the information new to them after the conclusion of the talk.

Enough typing for tonight. I guess there will be a part 3. In the meantime, for regular postings regarding history myths, subscribe to History Myths Debunked. I enjoy the weekly posts.

The Power of Myth – part 1

In a field where we focus on research, facts and supportable evidence we often come across stories or explanations that are less than true. At times we find these un-supportable, un-documentable, un-researched tales to be irritating, unsettling or just pressing a button. I’m sure for many of you a particularly popular or unpopular myth often used as a marketing ploy comes to mind.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a Myth is “1) a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events; traditional stories or legends collectively:the heroes of Greek myth. 2) a widely held but false belief or idea:he wants to dispel the myth that sea kayaking is too risky or too strenuousthere is a popular myth that corporations are big people with lots of money; a misrepresentation of the truth:attacking the party’s irresponsible myths about privatization; a fictitious or imaginary person or thing; an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing:the book is a scholarly study of the Churchill myth.” Comparatively, Folklore is the “traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth; a body of popular myth and beliefs relating to a particular place, activity, or group of people.”

Our world is full of myth, folklore and tall-tales that have a great impact on how we perceive the world around us. There are monumental stories we learn in school or through progressing media, books, television and movies. How many of us remember being intrigued by a tale from Arthurian legend or the stories of and Robin Hood? There has been a recent resurgence of Greek and other ancient mythology seen in our movie theaters and working its way into television story-lines. While this grabs the newest generations so captivated by media, we all can see how mythology has worked its way into the art, architecture and stories of almost any generation. Looking at a more personal level, we each have the deeply personal family stories that may have a foot-hold in truth or may not. This could be a story about great-great-great-grandpa discovering gold in the back field of the family’s farm or the story of how the family came to live here or own “this” artifact.

As historians and interpreters we come across a few different types of myths we encounter.

  • There are the myths and tales of folklore which have grown with our nation similar to the monumental stories mentioned above. These include stories about our founding fathers, presidents, and iconic leaders such as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. We could also include stories such as those about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox. Many of us in my generation learned these stories in school as a precursor to learning chronological history.
  • There are the family history myths which include stories of family history and what a family memento might be. Often times we here that a great-great-aunt so-n-so was at the first Women’s Rights Convention or that on a family dad’s-dad’s-mom’s-mom’s side they are related to someone important. These stories may or may not be true. But, to the individuals who grew up with them, they are extremely important.
  • There are the stories or explanations for something that developed about an event or item well after the contemporary era. In the areas of material culture we see this a great deal. This would include the previously alluded to marketing motivated myth above which began in the 1990s, nearly a 150 years after when the myth addresses with no plausible documentation. A good many myths about the 1700s and 1800s developed during the 20th century . In some cases the propagation of myth was unintentional due to research flaws whether narrow information, anomalies, or a missing piece. In other cases, the propagation of not-true, un-documented information was intentional.

In part 2 we will look at techniques for dealing with these myths.

Additional resources for “Connecting With Your Audience”

Additional Resources for the Citizen’s Companion article “Connecting With Your Audience”

Exhibit and Program Development:

Designing Exhibits for Kids: What Are We Thinking? by Gail Ringel, Vice President, Exhibits and Production, Boston Children’s Museum

Visitor Understandings About Research, Collections, and Behind-the-Scenes at The Field Museum by Eric D. Gyllenhaal, The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois, and Deborah Perry and Emily Forland, Selinda Research Associates, Chicago, Illinois. This includes a discussion of Heirarchy of knowledge for children.

Teaching With Historic Places – The National Park Service. Check out Teaching Teachers the Power of Place resources, “It’s History, Just for Kids”, “Visualizing History”
Conference Proceedings: Interactive Learning in Museums of Art
Education In Museums: What Should Happen Next?
A list of reports on Learning and Interpretation from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Of particular interest: 2002 Arts and Crafts Demonstrations, 2004 Every Object Tells a Story Half Term Events, and 2005-6 Image & Identity – Identifying with Objects.
Helping Your Child Learn Historywith activities for children aged 4 through 11 by Elaine Wrisley Reed

Child Development and Education:  

The Body’s Role in Our Intellectual Education by Anne Chodakowski and Kieran Egan, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University

Exhibits and Materials:

Forgotten Gateway: Guide for Educators and Communities. Very large pdf file cut in smaller sections. Interesting material.

Learning from Go East!This website includes materials from three presentations by Selinda Research Associates about their research on the Go East! Asian Exhibit Initiative.

Helping Your Child Read History (be sure to open the pdf as well)

There are several chapters in this ebook from Australia’s National Centre for History Education: Making History

Interpretive Resources

Stuff and Nonsense: Myths That Should by Now Be History by Miley Theobald


Talk on Helping Children Connect with History

This morning I was the guest speaker at the Alamogordo Kiwanis (different then the Noon Kiwanis I belong to.) I had planned on there being some children in attendance but due to testing there weren’t any. Here is some of the presentation:

While in college taking education courses we were taught children needed to have an established understanding of time and how time passes to begin to understand history. This concept of time is said to have developed by grade 4. But, if we look at history as a Story rather than a sequential timeline of events, children can embrace history at a far younger age. After-all, how many of our favorite childhood tales begin “Once upon a time…”? The US Department of Education in its 2004 publication for parents Helping Your Child Learn History points out this phrase captures the two essence meanings of history. History is a story of people and event. History is a record of times past, “Once upon a time.” Further, they acknowledge that “Although it is important for citizens to know about great people and event, the enjoyment of history is often found in a story well told.”

Children begin to thing about their own story, their place in history and society as they begin to ask “Who am I?” and “Where do I come from?”. This personal inquiry develops into wondering about their family and community. As this continues to develop, children create their own “usable history”. This is the history that pertains to them, that is important to them, that has meaning to them. Most often this “usable history” includes stories of family, friends, and community rather than “school history”, that which is taught in books that children find less or little connection with. Living history museum and historic sites, along with their outreach programs, provide children with the opportunity to experience history which becomes part of his or her “useable history” because they are immersing themselves,  in the context of the story that is history.  

When working children, museum educators want to engage children to help them connect with history. We do this through the use of story and hands-on opportunities where they can explore and investigate. Dewey refers to these hands-on opportunities as “Learning by doing” theorizing that “experience is key to learning and knowledge. When and experience is acted on it becomes knowledge. Abstract ideas need to be applied to life experiences to have meaning. Meaning is developed when connections are made between prior knowledge and between prior experiences.” (Connecting Kids with History through Museum Exhibits)

 [discussed examples of how children can take part in hands-on and history through story – dressing in clothing, games & toys, ‘a day in the life’, connecting a single experience with a multitude of subjects]

Children bring to their understanding and learning of history their own personal experiences, their own history. This was very evident to me early in my experience as a museum educator when I was teaching a school workshop on tin punching. My students usually were from rural or suburban schools. We would begin each session by looking at an assortment of tin items discussing their uses, unique characteristics and comparing them to what the students knew. This included a pierced tin barn lantern where I pointed out how the piercings let light out but kept the wind from getting in. This particular morning the class came from an inner city school. When I raised up the lantern for the kids to see, instead of hearing “lantern” as usual, I heard “cheese grater”. After a moment of pause I realized, yes this lantern does look like a cheese grater. Nutmeg graters are made the same way. I discovered talking with the kids that this group hadn’t brought the lack of electricity into their understanding of history or what they were seeing that day. Rather then discussing the rest of the tin items, we talked about candles and lanterns along with what would be different about their day without electricity.