Digital History Two Ways: The Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana State Museum

21 Feb

 

The Indiana Historical Society (IHS) and the Indiana State Museum (ISM) both feature digital technologies and displays in their exhibit spaces. Each museum has taken a different approach that reflects the mission of their respective organizations. IHS’s use of technology is most evident in their standalone exhibit Destination Indiana, while ISM has integrated digital methods throughout their traditional cultural and natural history exhibitions.

The Indiana Historical Society considers itself to be “Indiana’s Storyteller” and strives to connect “people to the past by collecting, preserving and sharing the state’s history.”[1] As a result, the bulk of the exhibit space at IHS is devoted to their unique You Are There experiences in which a historic photograph is recreated and brought to life for visitors. However, IHS also offers a completely digital space called Destination Indiana. Destination Indiana consists of eight “time-travel stations” which include a large touch-screen display and guest setting.[2] Visitors can explore several themes important to Indiana history and can select specific stories to learn more; each story features images from IHS’s collection including historic photographs, maps, and letters. The technology behind Destination Indiana is intuitive and user-friendly; to operate the stations, visitors need only know the swiping and pinching motions, familiar to those who use smartphones or tablets, to move forward in the stories or enlarge images. Visitors may choose to read the stories themselves or they can listen to them being read by a narrator.

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The “time-travel” stations in Destination Indiana.

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In Destination Indiana, visitors can explore nine different themes in Indiana history.

In addition to their main website, IHS has a separate website for Destination Indiana. Destination-indiana.com is available free-of-charge and grants users the ability to explore Destination Indiana stories from their personal computers, tablets, or smartphones. Anyone can use the site, but users must create a free account to favorite and save stories. The website is particularly useful for teachers looking to integrate historic photographs and documents into their lesson plans. Users can create their own stories by downloading images on the site and writing captions and interpretive texts. At this time, users can save these stories to their accounts but they cannot be seen or used by the public.

While IHS concentrates its digital history project in one space, the Indiana State Museum features digital elements in nearly all its exhibit spaces. IHS uses technology in Destination Indiana to create a unique experience and to serve as a vehicle for their collection materials; however, at ISM, the majority of the digital displays are not particularly innovative (videos, diagrams, audio clips, ambient sounds, etc.) nor are they the primary means of content delivery. The mission at ISM is to “celebrate, explore and steward all that is authentically wondrous about Indiana.”[3] To do this, the museum focuses on artifacts and technology acts as a supplement to the traditional exhibit panels and labels. Likewise, the organization’s website does not include any digital aspects of note, though it is a well-designed and informative site for teachers and potential visitors.

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Visitors must choose the school they wish to attend; as this image shows, sometime of the options were not available to African American students.

However, the displays in the Legacy Theater: Indiana’s African-American Experience are a bright spot for digital history at ISM. Broadly speaking, the Legacy Theater discusses the cultural experiences of African Americans in Indiana. In the exhibit, there are three displays that help visitors learn more about, and empathize with, the experience of African Americans in three arenas: education, work, and play. In the “Go to School to Get Ahead” display, visitors take on the role of an African American child and try to earn their primary school, high school, and college diplomas. Each of the displays teaches visitors important aspects of the African American experience and presents the information in engaging, innovative, and meaningful ways.

 

[1] “About IHS,” Indiana Historical Society, http://www.indianahistory.org/about#.WKx-6vkrK00.

[2] “Destination Indiana,” Indiana Historical Society, http://www.indianahistory.org/indiana-experience/destination-indiana-1#.WKx_I_krK01.

[3] “Mission & Vision,” Indiana State Museum, https://www.indianamuseum.org/about.

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