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C2C Digital Magazine (Spring / Summer 2017)

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State History Digital Resource Packaging

By Cindy Higgins, University of Kansas

Museums vary by topic, funding, size, and other factors as do their websites. To learn more about museum online offerings, this study focused on state historical museum websites because of their similar resources of funding, staff, and typical partnerships with a state historical society repository. To note, website comparison presents challenges because of individual state archiving, content packaging, and social media use. Besides limiting this study to state museum and accompanying state historical society websites, exclusion also extended to dynamic social media, which differs from websites’ typically static content. 

Analysis showed in one way or another, almost all state history and historical society museum websites go beyond facility and program description to offer accessible learning resources to an audience differentiated as researchers, adults, families, educators, and K-12 students. Many of these websites host an online digital collection database primarily of primary sources, including photographs, maps, diaries, letters, period publications, film footage, records, and oral interviews. 

Figure 1:  Most Common State History Museum Online Resources

Note: Articles are defined here as on-site blog entries, webpage articles, etc.

They also have online exhibits, which may be a collection database subset or presented in slide format, PDF, linked website, or interactive map and timeline combination. Other resources are lesson plans, lessons (four states offer textbooks), downloadable activity descriptions PDFs, games, and articles in a variety of forms.  

For purposes of categorization, this study defines “article” as a piece of writing included with others in a publication. On state history museum websites, articles focusing on a single topic abound. The following are ways an article might appear:

  • Web page. Topics relating to anything in state history average about 700 words. 
  • Blog/online magazine. Iowa’s one “Blog” has more than a dozen, 500-word articles each with a couple of images, while the Montana Heritage Center has five blogs (Montana History Revealed, Montana Moments, Teaching Montana History, This Week in Montana History, and Montana Women's History)1
  • Biographies. Missouri aims for a student audience and organizes its biography collection alphabetically and by region, time period, and category. Georgia has extensive biographies divided into sections and also available in an 8-page youth version that any age group would enjoy reading2.  For example, accompanying the writer Flannery O’Connor is a 19-page teacher guide that contains additional resources, a condensed O’Connor biography, lesson plan, and student worksheets. (Of Georgia’s 15 biographies, 10 had teacher guides.)
  • Encyclopedia entries. The state of Ohio sponsors the Ohio History Central (encyclopedic-style entries with multimedia elements about Ohio's natural history, prehistory and history) that continues to expand3.  The state played a part, too, in the development of History Minutes, Oregon’s 250-word articles about a person, place, or event with links to additional reading in Oregon’s state historical society online encyclopedia. Besides the keyword search and alphabetical listings, users can filter information by era, region, county, theme, and subtheme. In Minnesota’s online Mnopedia4,   every article is “a curated package of information” composed of text explaining subject significance; related media featuring images, audio and video; linked MNopedia content; a turning point or overview summarizing the narrative text; chronology points; bibliography; and related resources. Users can search by keyword and by three filters: categories (event, group, person, place, structure, thing); 20 topics (e.g., agriculture, politics); and nine eras. 
  • Scholarly research. Only six state historical society websites make available at no charge scholarly articles, usually from back issues of long-standing journals. Remaining state history websites allow only paid members to view current and past organization-published scholarly articles online or charge for individual publications.  
  • Podcasts. An “article” can be presented in text and audio (podcast). Delaware History Museum offers both— 37 text articles with images and audio version— in its partnership with Delaware Public Media that produces the museum site’s History Matters. Partnership with public radio, too, enables MN90: Minnesota History in 90 Seconds and Massachusetts Commonwealth Museum’s podcasts voiced by a public radio narrator. A few museums such as Wyoming State Museum and New Mexico History Museum audiotape scholarly lectures for website access. 
  • Videos. The recording of moving pictures usually with sound — videos — can be intentionally designed or an activity recording. Several state museum websites capture lecture content, interviews, events, and direct instruction as videos. Many websites embed videos on the web site or link to YouTube or Vimeo. Some strive to do so memorably, for example, Indiana’s Hot Pepper History where presenters having to eat habanero peppers as described in this news account

. . .Put simply: A staffer prepares a history lesson, takes a big bite of pepper, and then tries to deliver the lesson on camera while dealing with the heat of the pepper. . . .Lamb said there are two goals of ‘Hot Pepper History.’ One is to offer the Society team a chance to break loose of the traditional stereotypes of historians as boring and humorless. The other goal is to reach out to a wider audience. On that score, it seems to be working; Lamb said YouTube subscriptions have tripled since January. 

Figure 2
:  A Screengrab from one of the Indiana's Hot Pepper History Videos 

Indiana takes a more formal approach to stories in its Bicentennial Minutes (2015-2016, 42 to date) with images narrated by newscaster Jane Pauley. Today In Georgia History, a collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society and Georgia Public Broadcasting, also pinpoints an historical event or person but in 90 seconds and association with a particular day in Georgia history along with educator resources, including transcripts, teacher tips, curriculum, writing prompts, review questions, discussion topics, classroom exercises, follow-up research topics and selected primary-source material. Florida and Colorado, too, partner with public television. In terms of quantity, the Pennsylvania State Historical Society probably has the most video stories seen on the "Philadelphia History Channel" with accompanying lesson plans, student lessons, and introductory PowerPoints. 

Figure 3:  State History Museum Online Resources 
Most every state history museum or state historical society website has an impressive digital resource. Exemplary websites highlight examples, include:


Figure 4:  Forests Fields and the Falls Connecting Minnesota

Figure 5:  Flour Milling 


Figure 6:  An Interactive Map from the Texas Story Project 

In terms of digital resource breadth and quality, the Kansas Museum of History is a front-runner in comparison to its counterparts. It provides a fuller online collection through partnerships; encourages the public to contribute to its encyclopedia of Kansas things, places, and events; continues to be a prolific lesson plan generator; and is generous in making Read Kansas! and scholarly journals accessible to all. The site also includes a fresh look at traditional resources, for example, trading cards instead of biography articles to summarize historical Kansans. 

Figure 7:  Kansas Memory 

Figure 8:  Meet Forrest "Phog" Allen 


1A blog is a form of social media. But blogs cited here appear as part of the museum website and not a separate platform with other social media. 

2The museum doesn’t have to develop all of its materials for biographies. For the youth booklet, it used Newspaper in Education is a cooperative effort between a newspaper and a local school system to use the newspaper as a tool for instruction. The newspaper provides copies to the school at a reduced rate, for use in the classroom. They may also sponsor teacher education programs and may offer curriculum materials to help schools use the newspaper as a meaningful resource for student learning.

3The Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund funds the encyclopedia.

4MNopedia content is housed in database equipped with Application Programming Interface allowing MNopedia to communicate with other applications and the content to be used in mobile apps, audience- or situation-specific products. Specifics: Database: MySQL; Metadata Standard: Dublin Core, specifically DCTERMS; Web Framework and Search: Drupal (Version 7); Plugins/Modules: Biblio, Views OAI-PMH, and Workbench; Geotagging: Addresses and lat/long coordinates, when available; API: Queryable OAI-PMH feed.

About the Author

Cindy Higgins works at the University of Kansas.  Cindy has an instructional design graduate degree from Emporia State University and from the University of Kansas a master's degree in journalism and design undergraduate degree.  She may be reached at  

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