Internship Update #2

Since my last post, I’ve gotten into the hang of the exhibit production cycle for In Slavery’s Wake. I attend proofing meetings once the design team has created exhibit signage and captions from the script. The exhibit writing team (with my small help) finalize the language taking into account space and verify details like credits are correct. I’ve also continued to research material for interactive elements that are being produced by outside contractors. As I described before, the exhibit script laid out general categories for the interactives, but now that the exhibit team has a better idea of how the interactive will work, we’re narrowing in on specific content.

The two interactives I’ve done research for both involve four or five high level topics, each with five or six specific instances and anonymous “spread” points. That means gathering a representative image and 50-word caption for each topic and an image, caption, and geographical location for each sub-instance. Then, depending on the interactive, I find anywhere from five or six to fifty “spread” points for the sub-instances. Turning varied topics into a set of meaningful but very concrete and succinct data points has been challenging but also eye opening. I really enjoy the freedom to research and explore the different topics as well as the intellectual challenge of boiling down the information into a brief presentation. Like I mentioned in my last post, turning ideas into geographical points is an interesting exercise but so is succinctly describing stories of enslaved people’s lives and the complexities of abolitionist politics. Based on some of the initial research I did for one interactive, the exhibit team got feedback from the outside contractor that geographic points had to be far enough apart that they could be seen and touched as separate points on the display. The feedback loop between the historical research and its display continues.

These experiences with research for an interactive exhibit display as well as other exhibit meetings and activities have pushed me to think, speak, and write more in a Public History register than I’m used to with my academic background. For research that often means focusing on breadth rather than depth, and for presenting that means critically focusing on what makes the event, idea, or group important in the context of where it appears in the exhibit. These are skills that I will continue to use and develop as I continue with my internship and even beyond it.

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