November 23rd I had a wonderful trip to the Baltimore Museum of Industry with a mini tour from my classmate and co-curator of the “Baltimore Shops” exhibit Ms. Debbie Farthing (Link to her blog). For my first visit I was pleasantly surprised. The museum itself uses many different methods of displaying information. It’s not particularly exhibit plaque heavy. The Museum does a great job of stepping back and letting the items there speak for themselves. From writing a paper, choosing a book or making a blog layout from the moment you step into the museum right outside the Baltimore docks next to the Dominos Sugar building to the Under Amor campus building next door. Old Machinery scatters the outside of the building giving you a sense of what you will be talking about is industry, unmistakable industry. The museum also uses interesting techniques like combing the museum display cases as store fronts.
The museum uses a number of techniques aside from regular display. Museum workers provide demonstrations as well as anecdotes (such as the Baltimore fire of 1904 that wiped out half the city) to accompany the machinery demonstrations and the museum is big on using children’s activities for class groups or regular tour groups for audio learners and those who remember by doing. One section that might make people think “too” hard is the transportation section. I might see what they were trying to do by making the lineup of transport vehicles throughout Baltimore’s industrious past, but some of the accompanying plaques were either nonexistent or in some high off areas and impossible to read. One they were either too far back or the text was too small.
I had a real treat walking with Debbie and getting into the mind set for the curation of the exhibit. As visitors step into the hall of with her exhibit the wall to their left is show how Baltimore rises and grows up from the markets and industry rises from the earliest markets then transforming into the commercial centers Markets, Department stores and independent merchants. The more she explained it to me the more it reminded me of walking through a paper and with that as the thesis statement. The display of Hess Shoes (which had some interesting displays targeted toward children such as the giraffe which Debbie personally picked herself or the monkeys in their display window that the children could pet while they had haircuts) is like icing atop the cake that makes her exhibit.
I got a chance to ask Debbie if she would have used any digital tools during the creation. Almost the entire exhibit was done by hand, but Debbie told me if she could use some more digital elements aside from the digitization of the photographs on display she might have also chosen to use perhaps like Omeka to organize her sources digitally rather than the large binder she used. She also told me that it would have been nice to use some electronic picture frames to display pictures more could have been added from the collection she used from the BGE power company archives where most of the pictures came from. One picture for a shop she could not find at the entrance of the exhibit I asked her if she tried crowd sourcing online and asking if someone had a copy. She told me did and checked the commons for a generic one online with no luck, but it is nice for her to have that option. I also asked how she would get feedback using digital tools. Most of the feedback for the museum comes from the guest log book, but reaction wise its reward to for her to walk through exhibit for those of the older generation to walk with their families and saying, “Hey, I remember that!” Check out the display before they change it in March. Great Job! Thanks again Debbie!
Two other displays that I found interesting that juxtapose each other the wall of fame of Baltimore Industry and the “Video Game Wizards”. The Wall of fame allows visitors to take their time and look at some of the major businesses such as the B&O Railroad or the Oyster factory from where the Museum takes place. The wall is very well organized information can be decoded easy. The “Video Game Wizards” display is a completely digital exhibit that walks visitors through the steps of video game design by designing games at interactive kiosks as they move through. Both these exhibits show the BMI is constantly changing and I would rank it high up there for a stop when visiting Baltimore and preserving its history. Come on out and see for yourself.