In this activity, you will analyze the representation of history in two, related environments: a physical exhibit or site, and on the web. The goal is to get a feel for the ways that interpretation and engagement vary in the two spaces.
Selected Museum: The Levine Museum of the New South with the focus on its permanent exhibit Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers
Black is the predominate color of the site. Each tab or heading is assigned a color that remains its assigned color even after you click on it. Is it easy to navigate? It is easy to navigate the site since the subpages appear when you hover over a tab and then appear again (on the left side of the page) when you click on a tab. This layout makes it easy to find and examine the different categories.
In addition, a significant portion of the website has a black background with white text. This color choice can be distracting.
Write a comparative review of the two sites. The review essay should be no longer than 1,500 words. Include a clear header that identifies both the physical and the digital sites and their producers. Post the review essay to your blog.
The Museum of the New South, Charlotte, NC
- Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers exhibit
Exhibit Director: Jean Johnson
Panel of historians: Dr. David Carlton of Vanderbilt University, Dr. David Goldfield of UNC-Charlotte, Dr. Lu Ann Jones of East Carolina University, and Dr. Tom Hanchett, then of Emory University
Funded by an NEH grant
Credited to the Museum
The Levine Museum of the New South focuses is on the city of Charlotte and the surrounding Carolina Piedmont region since the Civil War. The primary focus of both the museum and its website is on the diversity in the Charlotte-area population. Key topics include the industrialization of the city with the textile mills and the Civil Rights Movement. A key difference in focus between the physical and online spaces is that the website has a more noticeable focus on the Latino community with its inclusion of the Latino New South Project. However, the overarching messages of both the museum and the website are the same. The message is that Charlotte has benefited from its diverse population. This focus on diversity address race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and social class.
In many ways, the website is a placeholder for the physical space of the museum. The exhibit Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers is an interactive environment that recreates specific spaces relevant to the history of Charlotte and the surrounding area. The exhibit is filled with interactive spaces like a Belk Department store where visitors can try on hats, a lunch counter at a diner similar to ones used for sits-ins during Civil Rights demonstrations, and even a reconstruction of a one-room house used by tenant farmers. Each installation is enhanced with explanatory text, photographs, photocopies of newspapers, historical artifacts from the time periods, and short videos.
In contrast, the website is much less interactive. Much of the information refers visitors back to the physical space. The assumption is that they are visiting the website in preparation for visiting the museum. Under the tab heading of Learn, there is a link for groups who would like to visit the museum and how to prepare for the visit. There is a notable amount of information directed to K-12 teachers, but again the emphasis is on visiting the museum. The lessons are based on teachers bring their students to the museum. The only extensive lesson plan available through the website is the ¡NUEVOlution! Curriculum which is based on a past exhibition. This PDF document lesson plans was crafted to meet NC Essential Standards and Common Core objectives. The information marked for students is about how to get involved in the museum’s camp and internship program. There are even links to history resources which direct users to local libraries and archives for additional research. Additional information like the calendar feature directs website visitors to museum events and programs.
The one area in which the website matches the interactive nature of the physical space is the section labeled Media Center. This section includes videos recorded by visitors to the museum. They share their experiences about visiting the museum and discuss what stood out to them and how they feel about what they learned during their visit. Additional videos include interviews with artists and others involved in temporary exhibits and museum programming. There are also several videos interviewing members of the community. Some of these community members are people involved in diversity-related issues in the Charlotte area. However, other interviewees are meant to represent the average Charlotte resident to get their take on the city. Many of these videos center around issues of diversity and culture. To increase access, the videos are offered in both English and Spanish. I was intrigued by the categories of the videos: Contribute to Impact!, Changing Places, History Archive, Latino New South, and ¡NUEVOlution! The photo gallery is limited to photos of events at the museum and in the community. They do offer some information through links to relevant blogs and links to news and announcements going back to 2010.
The primary audiences for the museum are local community members (possibility visiting with family) and school-aged groups (also including non-school groups like girl scouts and church groups). The website provides a vehicle for that visit. There is a great deal of information specifically aimed at K-12 teachers and related educators. The website serves as a vehicle for achieving the educational goals of the museum.
In terms of navigation, the physical space of the museum and the exhibit has a very clear path to follow that is largely chronological. In contrast, you can find yourself continually jumping the information offered by the website jumps around. There are clear categories like Exhibits, Learn, Media Center, and Visit. The menu is also repeated on the left side of the page. This helps users move through the website by keeping track of where they are. The physical space is more inviting than the website as well. The interactive and highly visual displays draw in visitors whereas the website colors can be off-putting. Most of the text is black on white, but there are several pages with white on black. Black is also the prominent color of the website. Each section category has its own color. For example, Exhibits are orange and the Calendar is blue. This combination can be jarring.
However, the overall narrative is strong in both the museum and the website. While tracking the history of the Charlotte area after the Civil War, the clear message is that the area has benefit from its diverse population. The mission of both is to show the historical contributions of groups that have not received as much attention. The main exhibit highlights themes like the civil rights struggles of African Americans and the poverty of people in the Appalachian Mountains. The temporary exhibits and the website supplement this focus by including other groups like the Latino and LGBTQ communities. Like the permanent exhibit, these exhibits incorporate hands-on activities. Both platforms encourage activism to support these diverse groups.
When examining ways to improve these platforms, the website could be improved in terms of usability and information provided. The color combination could be adjusted, the amount of black could be reduced, and the black on white text could be increased. In addition, the website could be more than just a vehicle for encouraging and preparing the museum’s foot traffic. If this is the main function of the website, then it is fulfilling this task. However, it would be interesting and educational if they could incorporate digital exhibits as well.