August 30, 2017

Engaging more people in your historic site or with your history organization

In response to a post on our Facebook page about declining attendance at historic sites and history museums, Ryan Schwartz, a Gallery Educator at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, provided a helpful list of examples.  His post follows.

I'd be very happy to offer up some examples that I have seen implemented at institutions that I have been a part of, as well as some programs that show true innovative thought I have seen implemented elsewhere.

Some examples from institutions I have worked:

  • Tavern Nights/Happy Hours/Pub Crawls that mix social lubrication with historical information and storytelling. Another version of this is Date Night for parents looking for a unique night out. 
  • Night at the Museum programs. I include in this margin a truly excellent Halloween program put on in a Midwestern living history site I once worked for that utilized its historic buildings and local talent to tell fright tales of old Europe and Africa and explore how they translated into the fabric of their new country. 
  • Partnering with local theatre organizations to develop short, strategically placed presentations that tie to museum's core mission. Having the flexibility to perform without the museum's walls also helps to project presence and draw in additional guests. Storytelling benches also fall under this category.
  • Developing online resources for teachers and homeschooling parents. Far from keeping schools away because the "information is online," we saw a marked uptick of attention from local teachers for field trips as well as garnering kind commentary from distance learners.
  • Taking advantage of historically-relevant popular culture, such as Hamilton and Turn, to generate programs and special talks.
  • Cultivating relationships with local gathering places and restaurants, which is especially useful in urban settings. Having popular restaurants promote an upcoming evening with a museum's content can help extend customer loyalty from one institution to another by association. 
  • Creating additional daily programming within "traditional museums" to keep content and guest experiences fresh. These can include daily talks on various subjects of interest, the insertion of costumed demonstrations and presentations, crafts, etc. 
  • Join with other local historic sites as a consortium to present joint programs and talks: we're never in competition with each-other, after all . . . just civics-based entities working towards the same cause.
  • Ensuring that your museum is marketed as being "family-friendly" while ensuring that the slogan is accurate in real-life. Creating hands-on learning spaces, offering Makers programs, including youth-friendly interactive elements as a part of or throughout museum galleries, etc. shows young parents that they can still indulge in a museum visit without the kids being an impediment. 
  • Dare to tackle current events and sensitive topics. We always worry about people being uninformed of issues relevant today, so we shouldn't be afraid to address those issues. We don't have to give them answers, but help them develop their own. Sensitive topics can also be an avenue when addressed sensitively: people are curious about them, if perhaps nervous about being the ones to broach the subject. So: let's talk about feminism, politics, LGBTQ, gender identity, and all these other taboos and how history can place these constructs into context. 
  • Be a community player. Our museums are almost inevitably part of a greater community and the movement towards creating stronger communities is ever-growing. Making sure that your institution is visible in supporting the community is exceptionally important-- craft fairs, farmers markets, community festivals, run/walks, these are all popular outreach possibilities which are incredibly viable for museums to interact with. 

The central theme of many of these is visibility: be seen as present and accessible. Get out beyond the walls and into the streets, be vibrant, be fun, be daring, be authentic. 

Some institutions I have witnessed creating great programs in the last years:

  • Colonial Williamsburg's "Under the Redcoat." For a weekend, the site was occupied by British troops (reenactors) leading up to the American victory at Yorktown. Guests were encouraged to take part in the action, serving as citizens, spies, and soldiers for the occupying army and the Revolutionary underground. Its worth noting that Williamsburg's recent financial woes, by their own admission, greatly stem from their for-profit side, rather than their educational mission.
  • Conner Prairie's Underground Railroad experience "Follow the North Star." In this program, students and guests engage with the issue of slavery in an honest and personally impacting way. 
  • Gettysburg National Military Park: Not only does NPS continue their fine legacy of informing the public, they offer exceptional talks, tours, living history demonstrations and, recently, this park has become the proving ground for NPS's concept to reshape the terrain to give guests a more immersive look into what the battlefield would have resembled in 1863.
  • Minnesota Historical Society's History on Wheels Program, bringing history to the masses, especially students. Minnesota is a vast state and many of its citizens are far from population centers where traditional museums are located, so they branched out with a neat little program. 
  • Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg, VA, offers overnight and weekend-long experiences to immerse guests of all ages in the Civil War soldier's experience. 
  • Eastern State Penitentiary not only preserves the first major prison in America, but it offers incredible flexibility to exploring guests with audio tours as short as thirty minutes or as long several hours. Their recent exhibit, "Prisons Today" deals with remarkable clarity on current events issues of massed incarceration. They Halloween offering, "Terror Behind the Walls" is likewise apparently something to behold, though I've not attended myself. 
  • Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York recently re-invented their interpretation program, leveling up their authenticity and taking great pains to ensure that live crafts are being demonstrated on a daily basis. This may be the best living history program in the continental United States and its success has recently been answered with an outpouring of funds for another round of upgrades.
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was and is one of the most remarkable in the nation. It deals unflinchingly yet sensitively with one of the most difficult-to-teach subjects of all time. They also have a fascinating program where interested guests can follow the life of an individual throughout the museum, which is a sobering and heart-wrenching experience. It has been emulated many times, notably by the Titanic traveling exhibit. 
  • The Museum of Popular Culture (Seattle, WA) is an exceptional space, though decidedly non-traditional. It does excellent work in exploring current events and detailing how phenomena like Game of Thrones, cell phones, or Star Wars shape the world and the mindset of the people who live in it.

I do not mean to leave any out, but these are the ones that I have seen or that have been recommended to me by those I trust and know. 



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August 9, 2017

Our historic travel challenge to the birthplaces and homes of the signers of the Declaration of Independence

Post a picture of yourself at one of the Birthplaces and Homes of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence featured in our Historic America Road Trip.

map-signers-of the-declaration-of-independence

Just add your photo to our Facebook page, or send it to us.

Betsy Elms Havens got this started with her great list featuring the Homes of America's Founding Fathers and Shauna McDonald Johnson's recent trip to Boston inspired this Challenge when she claimed four sites as a result of her single trip:

Pictured below, from left to right: The site where John Hancock's house once stood; John Quincy Adams's birthplace, not a Signer, though his home is just a stone's throw from his father's, who was a Signer; and, Peace Field, where they both lived.

Shauna Johnson at the sites for the Hancock Manor and the birthplaces and homes of John Adams and John Quincy Adams


These birthplaces and homes of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

  • John Hancock's House Site—Boston, Massachusetts - Shauna Johnson (8/6/17)
  • Thomas Stone National Historic Site—Port Tobacco, Maryland
  • Morrisania—Bronx, New York
  • Fragments of Franklin Court—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Edward Rutledge House—Charleston, South Carolina
  • Heyward-Washington House—Charleston, South Carolina
  • Charles Carroll House—Annapolis, Maryland
  • Governor Stephen Hopkins House—Providence, Rhode Island
  • The Common Man—Merrimack, New Hampshire
  • John Witherspoon House—Princeton, New Jersey
  • Middleton Place—Charleston, South Carolina
  • Summerseat—Morrisville, Pennsylvania
  • Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest—Forest, Virginia
  • Wythe House—Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Abraham Clark Memorial House—Roselle, New Jersey
  • Nash-Hooper House—Hillsborough, North Carolina
  • Morven Museum & Garden—Princeton, New Jersey
  • Meadow Garden—Augusta, Georgia - Betsy Elms Havens (11/6/2017)
  • William Williams House—Lebanon, Connecticut
  • Francis Hopkinson House—Bordentown, New Jersey
  • Oliver Wolcott Library—Litchfield, Connecticut
  • William Paca House & Garden—Annapolis, Maryland
  • Josiah Bartlett House—Kingston, New Hampshire
  • Samuel Huntington Birthplace—Scotland, Connecticut
  • William Floyd Estate—Mastic Beach, New York
  • Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site—Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Menokin—Warsaw, Virginia
  • George Read House—New Castle, Delaware
  • Stonehurst, the Robert Treat Paine Estate—Waltham, Massachusetts
  • Shadwell—Shadwell, Virginia
  • Button Gwinnett House—St. Catherines Island, Georgia
  • George Taylor House—Catasauqua, Pennsylvania
  • Morton Homestead—Prospect Park, Pennsylvania
  • Hopsewee Plantation—Georgetown, South Carolina
  • Nelson House—Yorktown, Virginia
  • John Hart Homestead—Hopewell Borough, New Jersey
  • Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden—Portsmouth, New Hampshire
  • Stratford Hall, home of the Lees of Virginia—Stratford, Virginia
  • Elsing Green—Elsing Green, Virginia
  • Chase - Lloyd House—Annapolis, Maryland
  • Fort Wilson—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Byfield—Dover, Delaware
  • Benjamin Franklin Birthplace Site—Boston, Massachusetts - Shauna Johnson (8/6/17)
  • Samuel Adams House Site—Boston, Massachusetts
  • Matthew Thornton House—Derry, New Hampshire
  • Monticello—Charlottesville, Virginia
  • John Adams Birthplace - Adams National Historical Park—Quincy, Massachusetts - Shauna Johnson (8/3/17)
  • Joseph Hewes House—Edenton, North Carolina
  • Thomas McKean House Site—New London, Pennsylvania
  • John Penn's House—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Elbridge Gerry House—Marblehead, Massachusetts
  • Roger Sherman Town Hall—New Milford, Connecticut
  • Benjamin Rush House—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • “Hall's Knoll” Home of Dr. Lyman Hall—Midway, Georgia

Updated August 8, 2017


If you visited one of these that hasn't been claimed, post your photo to our Facebook page or send it to us, and if we have missed any birthplace or home, send us a note


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July 22, 2017

Patriotic Carving by Alexander Swasey from the collection of the Newport Historical Society


This hand-carved patriotic wood carving featuring an American Eagle with a distinctive patriotic pattern is attributed to Alexander Swasey (1820 - 1860), a noted woodcarver and boat-builder of Newport.

Carved around 1840, the eagle stands about four feet high and has a wingspan of about five feet.




Painted in colors of red, white, blue and gold. The talons of the eagle grasp a small cannon. The carving also includes a shield, the seal of the United States, Lady Liberty holding a staff and cap, a cornucopia with tobacco leaves, and sheaves of grain.








Little is know about this remarkable patriotic carving. It may have originally been made for a political or social group in Newport. For many years, after it ended its working life, the carving adorned the entrance to Bateman and Gardner's Meat Market on 5 and 7 Pelham Street in Newport.

The carving is now in the collection of the Newport Historical Society in Newport, Rhode Island, where this carving is currently on display.

In partnership with the Newport Historical Society, we created a t-shirt, sticker, and magnet with our rallying cry, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of history," surrounding the patriotic wood carving. You may purchase them at The History List Store.


  "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of History" Collection

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of history" Collection

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of history" Sticker


If your organization has a distinctive historic item that you'd like us to consider for a future design and product, please send us a photo and note.








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March 24, 2017

Historic America Road Trips to Visit Our Country’s Great Historic Sites

We’re kicking off a series of "Historic America Road Trips” and the first one focuses on the homes and birthplaces of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

It was compiled by Betsy Havens, one of the members of The History List community; other members of The History List community have contributed to it.

Here's Betsy:


"I live in Louisiana and visited Washington DC in 2012 for the first time.  I returned home a different person.  I made a side trip to Mount Vernon while there and just fell in absolute love and total fascination with George Washington.  After the DC/Mount Vernon trip I had a newfound appreciation for my country and its history.  I was also alarmed at how little I knew beyond the basics.  History was always one of my favorite subjects in school but I wasn’t motivated to learn anything more than what I had to learn to pass a test. 

Mount Vernon made such an impression on me that I became inspired to visit all founding father homes. I received the book,"The Founding Fathers, The Men Behind the Nation," as a Christmas gift, a few years ago, and began to realize how little I knew about our founding fathers. 

I also used that book as a launching point to start building my list and to start traveling to these sites.

I have friends and family who aren't necessarily interested in history, but I feel like they've become more interested after following my travels to these historic sites, and this makes me really happy.

My list isn’t a “this is the official list of founding fathers” list.  It’s really more of a starting point.

I've barely scratched the surface here.  Most of these men aren't 'household names.'  Making this list has helped me to learn more about the lesser known founding fathers like Caesar Rodney.  They each have their own unique, fascinating story and all made an immeasurable contribution to our nation's founding!"

Betsy’s original list included other patriots, too, so we created "Signers of the Declaration of Independence" and "Patriots of the American Revolution."

Have you taken a trip to see some of America's great historic sites?  If you'd like to share it with others, send it in and it may be the basis for another road trip we compile.  And if it is, we'll credit you and give you your choice of a shirt from The History List Store.




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April 20, 2017

Raising questions versus providing answers

From an article in the New York Times on the new Museum of the American Revolution just before it opened in Philadelphia:

“We’re trying to take a page from science museums, which are better than history museums generally about asking questions of visitors, and being more interested in raising questions than providing answers,” said R. Scott Stephenson, the [Museum of the American Revolution's] vice president for collections, exhibitions and programming. “Usually with a history museum, it’s more like history as found facts. This is more like: ‘Dinosaurs: Are they like birds or reptiles? Let’s look at the evidence.’”


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