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Lessons Learned, Part Three: Presentation

Post Date: March 20, 2020

Continuing with the series of lessons learned, we are sharing excerpts adapted from the IMLS interim grant report. After one year of progress on the project and continued user testing, we hope you find these reflections helpful for similar projects. 

Content Presentation

Developing this website has been a continuous balancing act between audience needs and the capacity of the IMH staff to manage the site. One way we work toward that balance is through presenting material with thematic interpretation. Themes help people connect physical objects or pieces of information with their significance, relevance, and meaning.

Many internal discussions with the museum staff and advisors revolved around how to use interpretive themes to present the material without creating more barriers. We don’t want to slow down the sharing of information, but we also need to preserve the site’s integrity by using reliable sources. We have struggled with distinguishing the Chronicle website as something more like an exhibit and less like a database, yet with all the resources available and transparent, as is not always the case with an exhibit. 

We have found a few good examples of websites that use interpretive themes to organize historical or biographical content. Some of them include the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee website, In Pursuit of Freedom, and Your Story Our Story.

What Do Users Want?

Early on in conversations with audience members, we heard that lists and dry data were not appealing. Audience evaluator HG&Co held testing sessions with community stakeholders such as descendants of horsemen and women, genealogists, teachers, students and current equestrians. The most recent testing session included newly-written content created just for the website. 

What did the audience think of the written pieces?

HG&Co reported that, “Participants love being able to ‘dig deep’ into the Chronicle website and especially read about individual African Americans in the horse industry. For every person, story, item, event, horse, or organization, they want to know: why is this important? How are they connected? What does it tell me about the broader landscape of African Americans in the horse industry?”

 So, we’re on the right track and have work ahead to refine our methods.

home page design for the Chronicle website

Choosing Themes

Drafting interpretive themes was listed as an activity early on in the project’s original timeline. However, this takes time. Materials and the stories inherent in them have to be discovered and understood in historical context. Interpretation provides opportunities for both intellectual and emotional connections. We have slowly found some of those connections with the research materials and individual contributions. We also stay flexible as new contributions will continue to reveal new themes. 

Our team chose to use curated stories that appear under five distinct themes on the website. With our grant-funded graduate student interns, we are developing and testing an editorial workflow. Interns have written the first stories, which go deeper than the person profiles (see Emily Libecap’s blog about writing person profiles). However, the intern funding is limited, and IMH staff does not have the capacity to continue writing content at the same pace. We are actively seeking additional funding to hire writers, particularly those who are African American, to continue building the Chronicle’s stories. We also hope that college professors will partner with us to have students develop stories as part of their courses, and that this will become a sustainable way to move forward. 

Do you want to partner with us to write stories? Contact us at [email protected] to start a conversation.

Would you like to donate to support African American writers for the Chronicle? Choose the Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry campaign on the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation’s donation page. https://www.khpfoundation.org/donate

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Institute of Museum and Library Services