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|Museums and the Web 2005
Reports and analyses from around the world are presented at MW2005.
Telling an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield, The Many Stories of 1704
Lynne Spichiger, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association/Memorial Hall Museum and Juliet Jacobson, Independent Web Designer, USA
Funded by both NEH and IMLS, The Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704 Web site is a multi-cultural collaborative effort that commemorates and reinterprets the 1704 raid on Deerfield from the perspectives of the five different groups who were present at the event: Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), Wôbanakiak (Abenaki), Wendats (Huron), the French, and the English. A tabbed approach to the multiple perspectives allows learners to move quickly and easily among the different perspectives, facilitating comparison and enabling the telling of the story from conflicting points of view without the loss of coherence in the narrative. A layered approach to the content structure permits storytelling in small, understandable, compelling segments, supported by fuller context – thereby capturing the visitor's attention and providing a rich context to satisfy the casual observer, as well as the motivated visitor. Multiple paths through the content, both within the narrative context and from an indexed list or menu, accommodate different kinds of inquiry. Special features allow for different learning styles and promote active engagement with potentially unfamiliar and challenging primary sources.
Keywords: Raid on Deerfield, 1704 raid, collaboration, multi-cultural approach, colonial history, Native American history, Web site design, Web site evaluation.
On February 29, 1704, a coalition of French and Native Americans launched a pre-dawn raid on the English settlement at Deerfield, Massachusetts. Three hundred years later, on the 300th anniversary of the raid, the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA)/Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, Massachusetts, launched a Web site titled Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704, in an attempt to tell an old story in a new way. For three centuries, this event has been interpreted from the dominant European viewpoint as an unprovoked, brutal attack on an innocent village of English settlers. However, the same event can be seen from other perspectives; for example, as a justified military action taken by Native Americans and their French allies against a highly-fortified English settlement in lands belonging to Native peoples. Our challenge was to tell this complex story of conflict in a fair and unbiased way to a general audience.
Appealing to a General Audience
History museums are the repository of our nation's memory. They are the entrusted keepers of our history and past. Understanding both the successes and the challenges of the past is critical to an informed and involved citizenry, necessary for a strong democracy. The role of museums in the 21st century is an expanded one, moving away from a focus on collections for collections' sake, toward the conscious use and interpretation of collections for the purpose of engaging and educating a wide public audience in informal lifelong learning. As Harold Skramstad, President Emeritus of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village stated in Daedalus, Aug. '99:
Effective development of a much expanded educational and community role for museums in the next century will require museums to develop a much deeper competence in designing powerful and engaging educational experiences and delivering them to broad public audiences.
Our intention was to do just that – develop a powerful and engaging educational experience for a broad public audience – to both commemorate the event and reinterpret it from the perspectives of the five different cultural groups involved: Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), Wôbanakiak (Abenaki), Wendat (Huron), the French, and the English. We did not want simply to present historical information; we wanted to harness the power of conflict so that visitors to the site could reach a deeper understanding of the raid. We wanted this understanding to be based on an appreciation of the unique and often conflicting perspectives of the five groups involved so that visitors would form their own interpretations and conclusions about this controversial conflict, the forces that led up to it, and its profound legacy.
Historical Background: The Raid
In the pre-dawn hours of February 29, 1704, a force of about 300 French and Native American allies from New France (Canada) launched a daring surprise attack on the English settlement of Deerfield, situated in the homeland of the Pocumtuck Indians. By the end of the three-hour attack, many were dead and 112 Deerfield men, women, and children were taken captive. These captives, led by their captors, embarked on a 300-mile forced march to Canada in harsh winter conditions. Some of the captives were later 'redeemed' (ransomed) and returned to Deerfield, but one-third chose to remain living among their former French and American Indian captors.
This event was one of many such battles fought in North America during the complex war known variously as The French and Indian Wars, Queen Anne's War, and The War of Spanish Succession. As such, the raid provided us with a window into a world of global political and religious conflict, family stories and military sagas. The raid is a story of alliances made, broken, and remade. It's an exploration of contradictory meanings of land ownership, a confrontation among different values, and a case study of colonialism. This Web site, then, is a multi-cultural glimpse of early American History rooted in cultural and religious conflicts, trade and kinship ties, personal and family honor, and genocidal expansion. To retell the story of the Deerfield Raid, we felt it was essential to tell the story of these events from the point of view of the numerous cultures involved in the conflict.
Collaboration: Content Development
To ensure the authenticity of the points of view that our site is based on, we first set out to form a collaboration that would include advisors and scholars from the five cultural groups. We began by assembling a planning team that included Native American and non-Native American scholars, an historian-in-residence, a Web site designer specializing in history and humanities Web sites, a French Canadian illustrator with extensive knowledge of this period of history, a technical director; and a project manager with extensive experience in interactive multi-media training and project administration. This team worked closely with Native American and French Canadian cultural organizations, including the tribal council of the Huron-Wendat Nation in Quebec; the Kanien'kehaka Onkwawén:na Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center in Kahnawake, south of Montreal; the Musée des Abénakis located in Odanak, west of Quebec City; and Pointe-à-Callière, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History.
At our first all-team meeting, some of the Native advisors challenged the original plan for the site that had placed Deerfield at the center of the story. Thus began an ongoing process of collaboration that was at times contentious, but that always resulted in a richer, more complex telling of the story. The Native advisors argued that in order to understand Native participation in the Deerfield attack, our audience needed to understand each group's history and culture. They stressed that the site needed to communicate each culture's values and world-views and the events that led their people to their location and alliances in 1704. This meeting resulted in a new direction for the Web site, motivating us to redesign our fundamental conceptual model, changing it from a Deerfield-centric model to a more cultural-group-inclusive model.
Rethinking the content we planned to include in the site caused us to redesign the structure of the site: rather than a single narrative strand centered around the raid, we broke apart the structure to include multiple story lines, allowing visitors to follow their choices of several possible narrative paths. In our original model, we focused simply on the raid and its immediate, local antecedents; in the revised model, we recognized the importance of earlier historical events occurring outside the Connecticut River Valley, events that contributed to later French-Native alliances and their attack on Deerfield.
As we changed the content included in the site, the structure of the site changed. When the structure changed, the user interface needed to change to reflect this new structure. As a result, a redesign of our primary pages – the historical scenes – quickly ensued. We rethought the design to emphasize and provide easy access to the multiple perspectives of the various groups. Here are two early rough sketches showing before and after designs. In the first sketch, as illustrated in Figure 4, the event and illustration are interpreted with a single text box. In the second, we've provided interpretative text from the viewpoints of all five cultural groups. This text is accessed via the tabs you see directly below the illustration.
Our entire development process has been built around this sort of active collaboration. We felt strongly that a Web site about a conflict ought to be built using a process of collaboration; we believe that from such a process can come reconciliation – in terms of both the Web site's impact on its viewers and the collaboration process itself. Our collaborative effort helped produce a site that we believe is richer and more complex than it might otherwise have been. More importantly though, it's a site that doesn't seek to speak with a single voice, but rather preserves the distinct voices of each of our collaborators.
Shared Team Site and Trackers
To facilitate ongoing communication and collaboration among geographically
dispersed team members, we developed a team Web site. The site contains
links to contact information, writing and review guidelines, policy
statements, an advisor review section, an art gallery with successive
iterations of illustrations, Web statistics, user testing results, and
content development progress trackers. An example of these trackers
is the People tracker, built by our programmer and illustrated in Figure
5. It serves as a menu to the pages about each character's narrative,
the name of the author, the stage of development, the person responsible
for the next task, the due date for the next task, and the grant that
is paying for this element of the Web site. To edit or enter information
about an item, the user simply clicks the track link and brings up a
data entry page; to review the actual text of the narrative, the user
clicks the Title/Preview link which opens the page as it appears in
the final Web site. Using these trackers, everyone on the team is able
to access up-to-date information about the Web site's components.
Two Ways of Handling Content
Tools To Aid in Collaboration
Collaboration is enhanced by using Macromedia Dreamweaver to check files in and out of our server: a team member can see when another member has something checked out and is editing it. We use the check-in feature for both HTML pages and the XML content files. The writers check in a draft, and then technical people check it out to add links, pointers to illustration files and other display-oriented information. The technical information remains in place when the writer checks the XML out for further revision. Using Altova's light-weight XML editor called Authentic, we have created structured templates that allow the authors to write comfortably, but directly, into the XML format.
For version control we use another tool with an easy Windows-based graphic interface: CS-RCS Component Software's Revision Control System. The writer checks each draft into his or her local system. This tool allows the user to annotate each draft and to go back easily and retrieve any earlier version.
A Design to Support Context, Complexity and Multiple Perspectives
With a working collaborative process in place, we set out to design a site that successfully communicates this complicated, conflict-rich event. We needed to capture the casual user's attention with compelling content and an engaging design, and also facilitate the comparison of perspectives; and we needed to support this with a vast amount of relevant primary and secondary source material. In the interest of providing historical context to the telling of the story, the site ultimately grew to include 20 rich, interactive historical scenes; 23 narratives of people's lives; 165 brief biographical profiles; approximately 130 artifacts and historic documents gathered from the collections of PVMA and more than 30 cultural institutions in the U.S., Canada, and Europe; 13 maps – some historic and others interactive; over 400 glossary definitions; over 200 bibliography and webography citations; audio files of stories and songs; over a dozen essays; more than 100 illustrations/paintings, many commissioned expressly for this project; and an interactive timeline covering 120 years of Deerfield, New England, and world history.
History Museums and Multiple Points of View
The AAM in its Museum Education Standards and Principles (2002) stresses the importance of museums' presenting multiple points of view. Standard 2. Diversity of Perspectives states that:
Museum educators use interpretive practices that acknowledge the variety of cultural, scientific, and aesthetic points of view that contribute to visitors' understanding. They create opportunities that enable informed viewpoints to receive judicious consideration.
However, American history museums until relatively recently have presented a one-sided view of history, with exhibits displaying, for the most part, the perspective of the dominant European/American culture. In the 1960s and 1970s, with the rise of new social history, museums perceived a larger mission to present the histories of the many diverse groups that make up America and the world. By the 1990s, the need for museums to present diverse perspectives was well established, and fully explored in Smithsonian publications edited by Ivan Karp (1992). In these books, Karp, Peirson, and others elucidate the importance of representing multiple perspectives of history, including the power that museum exhibits hold in defining a group's identity and history, as well as the need for the groups represented to have a strong voice in how their experiences are depicted. In a groundbreaking study, Rosenzweig and Thelen (1998) established that Americans trust history presented in museums over any other historical outlet.
Over the past 10-15 years, there have been concerted and well-publicized efforts by museums to reinterpret their exhibits and add new exhibits to include diverse perspectives; such as Colonial Williamsburg's efforts to improve its interpretation of slavery. History museums throughout the country continue to seek effective ways to reinterpret and create new public programs that provide a fuller understanding of the many groups of people who are part of our nation's history. As recently as 2000, Dr. Eric Foner (2000), president of the AHA, in an article in Perspectives, spoke to the continuing need for museums and historical societies to do a better job of presenting diverse perspectives of historic events.
Although many of these new or reinterpreted exhibits do an excellent job of educating audiences about different cultural views, there has been the concern that too many exhibits awkwardly try to retrofit multicultural history into pre-existing narratives which place Euro-American history at their center. At times this takes the form of adding exceptional individuals to a mainstream narrative; at other times, sections of an exhibit deal with marginalized groups without integrating their story into the whole. Often, only one or possibly two additional perspectives are depicted in any one exhibit. It is generally agreed that one of the critical, though infrequently achieved, factors in the inclusion of diverse perspectives, is for the museum to work closely with representatives of the diverse groups whose history is being depicted.
Nevertheless, even in the best exhibits, the medium of a physical museum exhibit limits the degree to which diverse perspectives can be presented and easily compared by the viewer. Comparisons among perspectives are best understood when a viewer can rapidly and effortlessly move from one to the other, appreciating the points of similarity and difference without being required to remember one before learning the next. In a traditional museum-based exhibit, it is very difficult to convey the diverse roots of an event and its ensuing legacies in a way that is easily accessible to the visitor. To present diverse perspectives on a single event thoroughly, it is necessary to include some of the history leading up to the event as well as the legacies of the event. These histories, the roots and legacies, are different for each group. Creating a balanced presentation among these different groups' histories is a challenge. How do you both engage your audience and ensure an equitable and sophisticated interpretation of the material?
Using an interactive medium, we were able to design for the historical scenes an approach that allows users to move quickly and easily among the different perspectives, facilitating comparison and enabling the telling of the story from conflicting points of view without the loss of coherence in the narrative. This gives visitors control over which viewpoints they read. In Figure 6, you can see the five perspectives tabs to the right of the illustration, with the Wôbanakiak perspective selected. Also note how the illustration has dimmed to spotlight just the Wôbanakiak who are present in this scene.
Layered Content Structure to Make Complex Material Accessible
Organizing all this material so that it was accessible and not overwhelming to visitors was one of our primary challenges. We created a strict, layered content structure that allows us to tell the story in small, understandable segments supported by fuller, more detailed context. We sought to engage the visitor's attention and then provide rich supporting context. In this way we hoped to satisfy the casual, less knowledgeable visitor as well as the more informed and motivated visitor. This structure allows the viewer to dig deep and focus on a particular topic, following only the links that are of interest. We carefully structured the content of the site so that the most visually engaging and accessible content comprised the top layer of the site. We were conscious of developing this top layer so that a visitor could easily have a brief but complete narrative experience of the story simply by viewing the historical scene pages, looking at the illustrations and reading the overview tabs' text. We thought of this as the quick visit and made sure that the primary content was included.
However, as visitors' interests are engaged and they dig down deeper into the site, the content becomes more detailed and dense. As seen in Figure 6, viewers can delve deeper into the story from the historical scenes in several ways:
This variety of linked pages enables visitors to take charge of their own learning – textually, visually, and interactively. All the supporting pages with links to the historic scenes open in windows that are on top of – but do not obscure – the historic scene page. This design reinforces the content structure of the site, presenting supporting information in a clear visual and structural relationship to the historical narrative.
All of the linked material that is accessible from the context of an historic scene is also accessible from menus organized by content type. The visitor can browse menus of people, maps, artifacts, essays, audio files and glossary definitions. Offering the material both within the narrative context and from an indexed list or menu accommodates two different kinds of inquiry. The strictly consistent format of these pages helps the user navigate and conceptually manage the wealth of information in this site.
In addition to presenting content in a layered structure that is accessible from both inside and outside the narrative, we also sought to present the content in as many modes as possible. Our aim was to encourage different learning styles and to promote active engagement with potentially unfamiliar and challenging primary sources. We use a variety of interactive features both to capture the viewer's interest and to provide control over examining and manipulating primary source material. Here, we describe three of these interactive features:
1. Interactive historic maps that allow viewers to zoom in and out, and pan left, right, up and down. Interactive animated maps communicate a geographic story over time.
2. Interactive artifacts that permit viewers to turn the artifact around, seeing more of its detail and to zoom in for a closer look.
3. A magic lens feature that allows visitors to move a virtual lens over an historic manuscript to dynamically reveal a transcription.
Throughout the development process, we conducted numerous formative evaluations to help us refine both the design and content of the site. We used a thorough advisor review process, direct observation of users of the site, interviews, on-line and in-person questionnaires, and focus groups to collect feedback about accuracy of content, clarity of writing, interface usability, and technical performance. The feedback we collected from these various sources was instrumental in the development of the site. In one example, we observed confusion about the story menu which, in its previous design, attempted to include more information than the viewer could easily assimilate. We scrapped the entire menu and started from scratch, striving for a simpler and clearer organization. In another instance, we observed that some visitors were missing many of the rollover features in the historic scene pages. To address this, we created a Show all hotspots button: when the visitor clicks this button, every rollover hotspot in the illustration is clearly illuminated as illustrated in Figure 12.
In their detailed case study of the issues facing museums in using and evaluating the new medium of internet technologies, Patricia Gillard and Anne Cranny-Francis state that most Web site evaluations narrowly focus on an outdated model of usability testing (assigning defined tasks and scenarios) and fail to focus on users' experience with the Web site, the meaning they make of its content, and how they engage with it. Gillard and Cranny-Francis (2002) systematically evaluated the Australian government's Documenting a Democracy (http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au), one of the earliest Web sites to use the Internet medium to assemble, display and interpret the major documents that define a democratic nation and its continuing formation. Like our Web site, their site sought to represent history in ways that articulated indigenous perspectives. In their article they list the following objectives for examining the contents of this Web site:
This article has been helpful to us in planning our own evaluation of the 1704 Web site.
Have we achieved our goals with this Web site? Do visitors come away from the site with a greater understanding of the raid on Deerfield, the forces that led up to it, and its lasting legacies? Do visitors gain a greater awareness of the different viewpoints about this event? Are they able to form their own opinions about the controversy?
While we have not yet begun a summative evaluation to answer these questions, we do have some preliminary indications that we are on the right track. One questionnaire filled out by a high school class yielded the following comment when students were asked what they really liked about the Web site: "The fact that it examines all sides of the story." When asked how they would describe the Web site to someone, three students said the following: "French and Indian war and all the different sides and stories"; "the attack on Deerfield and the opinions of the people"; "the different views of an attack on Deerfield during the French and Indian War."
Much of the e-mail feedback we have received to date has recognized the importance of the multi-perspective approach. For example:
I am an Australian consultant historian working in education and public history at The National Archives in London UK. The Head of Education showed me your Web site yesterday and I wanted to acknowledge you for a most extraordinary Web site, but more importantly, for the perspectives on history that it provides – the multiple stories and interpretations, the equality of the various perspectives, whether they be indigenous or English, and the accompanying essays, manuscripts, artifacts, etc. I have already recommended it to several colleagues in Australia as an exemplar of how a history Web site can be.
Lesley Walker, National Archives, London
I spend a lot of time involved with e-learning, and I have to say this is one of the best Web sites I have ever come across. It has kept me engaged for a long period and I have learnt lots of things. The way you present the stories from different perspectives is excellent; you have really brought this to life. May I also ask how you developed the interactive feature for looking at documents – this is wonderful!
What a terrific job you've done on explaining the complexity of the Deerfield Massacre. The interactive features add much to the site in a timely and simple fashion to be able to help readers understand both the sources and the language inserted in your analysis of the event, its people, and the conflict. I particularly like your discourse on "Who Owns History," that was included because in interpretation, you have rightly made reference to the fact that different perspectives are always possible, and indeed, probable because of different vantage points of observation, and knowledge of events. Great Job, thanks.
Pat Ross, Wellesley, MA
We believe that viewers can experience the Raid on Deerfield Web site on three distinct levels. On the first, they can learn about the local history of the town of Deerfield. Many people have written to us about shaking their family trees and finding genealogical information about a relative on the site. On a second level, the Web site invites a broader view of history, beyond the town of Deerfield and the raid. For while conventional history may have relegated the raid on Deerfield to one small episode in a larger global contest as European powers vied for control of the Spanish throne, the raid was – and is to this day – much more when it is viewed as a window into larger global conflicts. And finally, on a third level, the Web site invites the viewer to look at the 1704 raid – and by extension, ANY conflict – in a multi-perspective way, thereby providing a model for the examination of other controversial topics. In our present day, rife with so many painful examples of conflict, the promise of this kind of model lies in its potential for the development of understanding and appreciation of others' viewpoints, and ultimately, reconciliation.
In an essay entitled "Who Owns History," Barry O'Connell, Professor of History at Amherst College, tells us that:
The end to be sought is not to get something "absolutely right," but to make it come alive in all of its uncertainties. The more we can multiply perspectives from many different kinds of people, the better able we are to ask useful and specific questions out of which can come the fullest sense both of what did happen in the past and how we might understand and judge it…It is our task, as students and teachers, writers and citizens, to bring everyone and everything out of the mist so we might hear their voices, follow their actions, and respect each person, past and present, as a maker as well as a subject of history.
Our Web site endeavors to "bring everyone and everything out of the mist" so that we might hear the voices and follow the actions of the people who were present on that day so long ago. There is no "one truth" on this Web site; rather, it is for the visitor to determine his or her own truth and meaning about this event, the crosscurrents and forces that led up to it, and its powerful legacies. And in the search for that truth lies the deeper understanding – the real learning – that is possible on this Web site.
This project was funded by a $50,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Planning grant, a $290,000 NEH Special Projects grant, a $250,000 Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Museums Online grant, and a small grant for curriculum development by the John H. and H. Naomi Tomfohrde Foundation.
PVMA is a small organization in western Massachusetts that offers a variety of cultural opportunities including two museums, a library, numerous educational programs, online curriculum projects in conjunction with local school districts, and the Old Deerfield craft fairs. The association was founded in 1870 when a group of residents, concerned that the younger generation knew little of the region's history—especially the raid on Deerfield—created a museum that would memorialize the past, including Native peoples of the region.
Portions of this article were taken from: Spichiger, Lynne (2004). Telling an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield. In L. Neal (Ed), eLearn Magazine, http://www.elearnmag.org.
American Association of Museums: The Committee on Education (2002). Excellence in Practice: Museum Education Standards and Principles. Washington.
Foner, Eric (May 2000). Out of the Ivory Tower: Historians and the Public(s). Perspectives.
Gillard, Patricia and Anne Cranny-Francis January 2002). Evaluation for Effective Web Communication: an Australian Example. Curator: The Museum Journal, 45/12.
Karp, Ivan, ed. (1992). Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
O'Connell, Barry (2004). Who Owns History. In PVMA, Raid on Deefield: The Many Stories of 1704. available http://1704.deerfield.history.museum/popups/background.do?shortName=expOwnsHistory
Rosensweig, Roy, and David Thelan (1998). The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life. New York: Columbia University Press.
Skramstad, Harold (August 1999). An Agenda for American Museums in the Twenty-First Century. Daedalus.
Spichiger, L., J. Jacobson, Telling an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704 , in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2005: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2005 at http://www.archimuse.com/mw2005/papers/spichiger/spichiger.html
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