This article was originally posted on The Inkwell, the blog of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH).
Early on in the initial interpretive planning process at President Lincoln’s Cottage it was determined that the best way to interpret Abraham Lincoln’s favorite place in Washington, DC was with a multimedia approach. This was achieved with flexible content throughout the house that would allow individual interpreters to use a remote control to trigger media in a given room.
This approach challenged the traditional historic house museum model as interpretive guides use their narratives skills in conjunction with supporting media systems in each room. While the combination of historical content and media support has proven a very effective educational tool, the hardware and software required to carry out this vision most effectively did not exist when the Cottage opened in 2008.
In response, work-arounds to the initial plan were developed and produced a satisfactory but not ideal solution and prohibited us from making any changes to the Cottage media — either in real time or in advance — that would help us better serve specific audiences.
Thanks to a recent grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we were able to fulfill our original vision with the introduction of a tablet based system. With the resource-rich tablets, guides at President Lincoln’s Cottage can now curate tours of the Cottage by tailoring the tour to the needs and interests of each group in real time. An array of new features, such as crisp, high-quality visuals, audio recordings of never-before-told stories, and a dramatic presentation on wartime Washington, creates an evocative, sensory experience for visitors.
A Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage trains to use new tour technology.
The rich multimedia is a catalyst for conversations on Lincoln’s revolutionary ideas and how they shaped our nation. With the new tablets, guides can pull up supplementary historical resources that support visitors’ questions and better accommodate our adult and student visitors’ various learning styles. To me, one of the most exciting parts of this project is the snowball effect it has had on our ideas for effective interpretation.
I know there are tons of us out there working with this technology, and I’m curious what you’re doing. Please use the comments section to share your own experiences –pros AND cons welcome and encouraged!
-Callie Hawkins, Associate Director for Programs at President Lincoln’s Cottage