Category : Blog
Our English Visitors Explore Their History in America.
In breeches, doublet, and a wide-brimmed felt hat, Issac Allerton complained to his fellow countryman 388 years into the future, Leo Devine, Head of BBC South West, about his disappointment in the weather. After all, he stated in a thick 17th-century accent, “Eng-land is an’ a high-yar la-attitude, so why aren’t way warmer? We ah’ on the same la-attitude as Madrid”. Our man from the BBC was treated to this and other concerns, such as planting corn. Sure, they have corn in England, but you do not need a dead fish to fertilize it.
It was a delightful encounter, the English visiting the “English”. Our present-day English visitors were from Mayflower 400, a United Kingdom organization commemorating the crossing of the Mayflower. Along with Mr. Devine were Nicola Moyle, Arts and Heritage director and Nick Stimson, Playwright and Theatre Director; both from the City of Plymouth, UK. They were part of a larger contingent working with our client Plymouth 400, Inc. to build transatlantic excitement for the upcoming anniversary of the arrival of 102 English colonists, later known as the Pilgrims, aboard the Mayflower. Content•Design has developed a 3,500 square foot (or 325 square meters) museum-quality traveling exhibit Plymouth 1620-2020 telling this story, and the colonists encounter with the existing inhabitants, the Wampanoag.
The historic role players at Plimoth Plantation are highly regarded the world over for the authenticity of their presentation. But this was a test, relating geographical and historic facts of the country they study for a living, England, with residents who just disembarked from that island the day before. Both Isaac Allerton and another role-player, his wife Fear Allerton, easily related to the places our visitors hailed from, whether it be Northampton or Plymouth.
Fear Allerton (née Brewster) demonstrated the grit of the early colonists through her description of her “travails” from England to Leiden, and back again, only to put to sea on a ship, the Paragon, that almost sank during a storm many days out at sea. It returned to England where she embarked again on the Patience, arriving in Plymouth in 1623.
Our visitors had different sort of experience at the Wampanoag village. There are no role players. Instead, the Wampanoag are simply practicing the life ways that have not changed in millennium. A lively conversation ensued with the interpreters providing insights into the world of the Wampanoag, This included a discussion of the Wampanoag wampum currently in the collection of the British Museum and the possibility of its return to the Wampanoag people. When creating a new wampum belt or necklace Wampanoag craftspeople only have Iroquois wampum for reference.
Next, we entered a wetu, a sapling pole, and birch bark summer residence. Our interpreter, Shirley, described the matriarchal structure of the Wampanoag society, and how both the men and women worked equally hard, contrary to the English colonists belief that the women did all the work. They learned how the wetu they were standing has an oval volume with the heat source located in the center. This created an excellent heat circulation system, even on the coldest days the interior of a wetu will measure 70 degrees Fahrenheit (or 21 degrees Celsius). The Wampanoag did not understand why the English placed their houses on the top of the hill in winter, where they felt the full force os a northeaster, rather than locate them in a valley where they will be projected.
Our friends from England learned how the contrasts between the two cultures created friction, and how it eventually led to war after 50 years. When departing Nick Stimson stated how much he enjoyed the visit and noted that they all were the “good English.” At this Shirley readily agreed, since they were all leaving the country.
Our exhibit Plymouth 1620-2020 parses these issues through a multi-modal visitor experience. Hands-on and digital interactives, film, and immersive environments are used to illuminate the origins of both Wampanoag and English culture, how they formed an alliance that lasted 50 years, and how these two cultures exist today in present-day Plymouth USA.
Illuminating the past through storytelling
One of the most interesting aspects of developing an exhibit is the process of illustrating the main story bring you to the point where you discover the story behind the story.
Telephone companies have offered party lines since the late 1800s. One of the intriguing aspects of this is that party lines provided no privacy in communication. John Shipman of the Freedom Historical Society told us the story of how a gentleman called his wife to have her bring him a new plow part during a snowstorm when the operator chimed in insisting that it was unsafe for him to request this, and so he had to find another way to get the part.
Party lines were a source of entertainment and gossip, as well as a means of quickly alerting entire neighborhoods of emergencies, becoming a cultural fixture for many decades.
Illuminating the past through storytelling connects us with the objects that we curate. The stories behind the stories help us to create an emotional connection with history.
We presented the design of an interactive exhibit at a unique event.
This multi-touch gestural interface exhibit uses the Blackstone River as a metaphor for change; visitors learn about how the mills changed the historical landscape of Woonsocket, RI. The interface allows multiple users to access a series of maps tapping into video interviews and deeper content depending on the visitor’s interest.
In a world with Mail Chimp and Constant Contact, with their API, and CRM strategies, it was nice to have an in-person fundraising event. The Museum of Work and Culture demonstrated this concept recently with the Murder in the Mill Mystery. Themed as a 1920s whodunit, guests wore their age jazz finery. The men were in wingtip collars, the women in sequins and tiaras, it was a sparkling event to promote the new Mills of Woonsocket exhibit.
This event was more than just a party for two reasons. First, the actors playing the roles of murderers and victims were performing an improvised script based on the Sentinelle Affair, a French nationalist movement that took place in Woonsocket from 1923 to 1929. One actor put the Rhode Island Historical Society, sponsors of the event, in the spotlight by playing a member of the Society mixed up in the affair. Secondly, we presented the design concept right before they announced the guilty party.
It was a success, after the presentation, one member of the audience, a mill owner, offered a substantial contribution to the project. The audience was quite jolly, never before have I conducted a video presentation in such a festive atmosphere!
Judith Potter Photography captured the guests in their madcap finery. This was an evening, and a presentation that we will never forget, all of the sponsors were there and gave use valuable input about the development of this compelling computer based interactive experience
Plymouth 1620-2020 will receive a peer review at History Camp Boston 2016.
This gathering of curators, professors, librarians and archivists is based on the international BarCamp idea which originated in the tech industry. This forum for participant-generated content and discussion is an “unconference”. We will ask participants to consider the question: Would the Wampanoag Nation have issued Miles Standish a visa?
Our firm has designed a traveling exhibit for the upcoming 400th anniversary, this exhibit provides a parallel narrative of both Wampanoag and English points of view and asks the visitor to consider the events of 1620-21 in context and to reconsider their perceptions of this historic event. Since the material in the exhibit underlies significant shared beliefs about an iconic event in American history we look forward to a comment from like-minded professionals outside of the development team and Plymouth 400 committee.
We will present our work to-date and ask for feedback on what they have just seen; what about that split entry experience; consider unforeseen aspects of the Mayflower immersion exhibit, and evaluating “How Many Survived” in the “Watching and Waiting” exhibit?
This session will prove to be a lively discussion because all of us history buffs are by nature myth busters. See for yourself, and if you are in New England, please attend while there is still time to register for History Camp Boston-2016.
This exhibit Plymouth 1620-2020 is under development with Plymouth 400 the organization tasked with commemorating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the English Colonists to the shores of Patuxet, now known as Plymouth. Scheduled for the fall of 2017 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids Michigan with several other venues pending.