Sunday, August 19, 2012

Opelousas Massacre: Accidentally Racist?


So here is a question. Or three.

When is it okay to bring up race when I tell a story?

How necessary is it to include race when telling a story?

Can a storyteller be accidentally racist?


While investigating some local history, I stumbled upon the “Opelousas Massacre.” I don’t know what specifically piqued my interest about the title of the event. It could be the fact that I live none too far from Opelousas and had visited the Opelousas Orphan Train Museum recently. It could also be that word “massacre.” A former professor of mine challenged audiences regarding the use of that word. “What qualifies a massacre? Intention? Method? Numbers? Can 3 killed be a massacre? How about if 1,000 fall in battle, is that a massacre?” So now when I see the word “massacre,” I want to investigate how it is used.  It could also be the subject, historical era, and how the event has been remembered (and the fact that I have never specifically heard of it that I recall).

It turns out on September 28, 1868, members associated with the white supremacist group, The Knights of the White Camellia, descended upon the little town of Opelousas, Louisiana, killing upwards of 200 people over basic civil rights, like education and voting.

Constitutional Rights were not guaranteed for all citizens
for a long time in our nation's history (Library of Congress)

Have you ever seen the film, Groundhog Day? In it, Bill Murray relives the same day over and over. He has one day that plays out perfectly and attempts to try and retry to make that day exactly the same. Circumstances keep forcing how the day plays out. Every new day is different (sometimes vastly so). Every time Bill Murray tries something new, it impacts the day. 

I am sorry for the abrupt shift in thought, but I have a method to my madness. Let’s revisit the Opelousas Massacre. I stated the facts earlier: A group of men wanted their legal right to vote. They wanted their children to grow up educated. Another group of men did not want those things to happen. So that second group of men mass murdered the first group of men.

Let me try again. Free people of color in the area wanted to express their freedom by exercising their rights to vote. They wanted their children to have an education. Whites in the area did not want these free people of color to vote nor be educated. So the whites killed them.
Again. Free blacks in the area desired to vote and learn. Free whites in the area desired oppression of a group of people based on the color of their skin. The free whites killed the free blacks as one form of oppression.
And again. Once enslaved like chattel, understood to be nothing more than property, newly freed people arrived at the polls, ready to vote as American citizens. They advocated equal rights, holding positions in office and wanting their children to grow up educated. Completely overtaken with fear and hate, members of a supremacist group showed up ready to use whatever force necessarily to prevent these people from having basic American rights.
Once more. Formerly enslaved, thought of as nothing more than property, newly freed blacks were soaring to new societal heights, voting, holding office, establishing schools. Members of a group who considered the pigmentation of the epidermal cells a factor in evaluating the value of people did not want people of color to succeed. So these members of this group slaughtered the people of color.

I can keep trying over and over again. What gives this story more meaning? Can words even do justice to what happened in St. Landry Parish in 1868? Can this story be told without including the element of skin color? How much does race play a role in this story?

I ask these questions because one of the headlines that originally caught my attention about the event stated, “200 to 300 blacks were killed.”  Race is rarely a descriptor in events that include people of fairer skin color. How often do articles read, “200 to 300 whites were killed?” And if the article had said, “200 to 300 people were killed” would that make a difference? 200 to 300 civilians? 200 to 300 fathers? sons? brothers? 200 to 300 lives ended? 200 to 300 hearts that stopped beating?


These individuals were killed over their basic civil rights.

       Voting.

            Education.

                 Desiring to make change by holding public office.

                       Living a life 
                              
                           free 

                                 of 
                                        fear.

And yet, tragically, the heart of the reasons why this massacre occurred rest in the skin color of these 200 to 300 people. So does the storyteller of this event become an accidental racist by including the color issue? Or does the storyteller of this event become an accidental racist by not including the color issue?

No, I don’t expect a simple answer for I don’t believe there is one. But neither does that mean we should not talk about these things.




*Note: these thoughts are my own and do not necessarily reflect that of my employer.

Thoughts on Silence


I recently read a book in which the author called “arguing from silence” an “intellectual sin.”

Why?

Silence holds many mysteries.

Silence reveals many questions.

Silence invokes investigations.


How much of our understanding of the past is arguing from silence? Should what we know be considered whispers instead of silence? Can what we know ever be considered shouting?

Doesn’t the silence of a story tell a story in itself?

We don’t just ask “what’s there” or “why is that there?”

We ask “what’s not there?”

More importantly, “why?”

Why is there silence?


Silence serves as a piece of evidence in its own right sometimes.

It keeps us seeking. It allows for exploration.

It provides contrast for that of which we do know. Or, at least, it gives us the illusion that we do know.



*Regular disclaimer: These thoughts are my own. They don’t necessarily reflect anybody else’s (employers included).



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Interpretation is a Form of Translation

 This is kind of how I feel when I talk to scientists:



I usually have to have another interpreter who is familiar with the basics of biology or ecology accompany me when I go talk to researchers or resource managers (of the scientific kind). My strengths rest in the humanities and liberal arts; the only "C" I got in high school was in biology (I was an "A" student, otherwise... 'nuff said). When people ask me what type of tree is that, I have to bite my tongue with my desired response of "a green one." In fact, at the battlefield, the resource management crew put together a binder of all plants and trees around the visitor center (with colorful pictures and drawings) to help us interpreters answer the nature-y questions. I could point out regiments on a map. I had a hard time remembering the different wildlife found within the boundaries of that map.

As an interpreter, my challenge is taking research and delivering it to the public in a manner that is understandable. I have to make visitors relate to the resource. The resource may be a story, may be the history, may be the place, may be a thing. Since my background is in history and cultural resources management, I find I have to be especially careful that I operate from the lowest common denominator when I give programs. Auto-pilot doesn't always work, for interpreters have to be flexible according to the audience. Just because I inundate myself with readings about all-things-American-history does not mean my visitor will be able to tell me which General Jackson fought during the Battle of New Orleans. Rather than be frustrated with that fact, I embrace it as an opportunity to engage. 

A huge part of being an interpreter is understanding that not everybody is as interested as you in whatever it is you are talking about. Let's be honest: very few will be genuinely interested. Heck, if I had a penny for every time I heard somebody use the word "boring" in relation to history, I'd have at least several dollars (I feel like that one was weak... but you get the idea... many people think history is boring). Interpreters are there to spark interest, to tap into the various pieces of information visitors know about the resource and use that to help provoke thought. I think my biggest struggle is tampering my own passion when conveying history to the public. I need to remember to take the most important idea and present that. I need to remember to present that most important idea in a manner that engages thought and emotions. I need to remember that I can rattle off all the details I want, but they most likely will not stick. I need to remember to choose the concepts I want to convey to the public mindfully.

A colleague reminded me the other day that being an interpreter can often be a struggle, even when dealing with other coworkers. Usually, the problem rests in the distilling information related to others' passions and interests. I receive many reports and articles with information that non-interpreters want to convey to the public. They want to use many words! Big words! Big ideas! Field jargon! But this is great stuff, they say, why wouldn't the public be interested in knowing these things!? Like the Nick Frost character in the excerpted film, it is my job to translate for the public. The idea is if I do well, the visitor will invest more time in learning more. But parks and historic sites find themselves vying for attention, competing against a myriad of distractions. We often have a short length of time to capture the attention of our audience and have to use that time wisely. I don't want to take away from researchers' hard work or the integrity of respective fields. I do want more people interested in the subjects, however, and sometimes that means using my skills to distill content simply and not to overwhelm visitors with that same information.


*These ideas are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

**The excerpted film is from Hot Fuzz.

***I love Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Matter of Perspective

Same object, different angles, different lighting. [Source]

Mr. Egge, my high school art teacher, emitted the stereotype of art teachers. He was quirky, creative, and clearly passionate about his craft. His classes were also quirky and creative while providing for new ways to think about, well, art. And art reflects life, right? In one drawing exercise, he had three white, geometric figures on a white sheet (a sphere, a pyramid, and a cube). Mr. Egge darkened the room and shined an intense lamp on the grouping of objects. We were given short bursts of time to sketch the three figures, each time with a light shining from a different direction. He had us focus on the shadows cast by the light. How did the change of light position change the shadows? How did those changing shadows impact our sketches? He pointed out that the objects never changed, rather it was our perception and then recreation of these objects that changed.

I think sometimes that my job as interpreter is to take the light and adjust is a little to shine it a little differently. The content of the history does not change; rather, I just want to provide a different way to consider the past, to provoke a little thought.

If you visit this region, you hear of the French influence, specifically of the Acadian influence. In fact, the National Park Service manages three Acadian Cultural Centers, telling the story of the forced deportation of the Acadians from modern-day Nova Scotia and how that population's arrival to Louisiana has resulted in the Cajun culture today. As I continue to read about the variety of cultures that have influenced southern Louisiana, I am struck how often I find references to people of color and the influence of those of African descent, but little substance of their story in local memory. People want to visit to see the Cajuns and hear French because that is what is promoted by the tourism industry (and pop culture). There are more threads that make up the cultural tapestry down here, though. Indeed, these stories can be understood as one of Mr. Egge's geometric objects, existing as a part of the composition.

We just have to take the light and shift it a little as a means to highlight different features of the story.

Let's look at some numbers, shall we? France handed the territory of Louisiana over to Spain in 1763 (nevermind that the American Indians in the region didn't agree to any of this, by the way). Spain invited the deported Acadians to the region (between 3,000 and 4,000 Acadians will arrive by way of Spain's invitation). Spain even paid for some Acadians' passage across the ocean, land, livestock, seed, and tools. Spain also imported captured Africans to be sold into slavery in this territory. In a 1784 census, approximately 25,000 people lived in the Louisiana territory (American Indians were not counted, however); 16, 544 of these people were enslaved African. Math is not my strongest subject, but those number tally up to over half of the population at that time. Then, a few years later, the slave revolt in Haiti in 1791 resulted in 10,000 new settlers in the Louisiana territory, mostly slaves and some of their owners.

I know, I know. My brain just broke, too. So many people arrived to the area during the last part of the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries... people of color! The Africans who were captured and brought to work in the fields in Louisiana, however, were able to maintain some of their identity from Africa (language, some religious practices, even food- okra, for example) unlike many enslaved on the rest of the continent. The National Park Service partnered with Louisiana State University and hosted a conference that resulted in an outstanding booklet entitled African Mastery of a Strange Land. The book demonstrates how the enslaved Africans influenced the development of Louisiana. Its arguments, however, do not saturate the historical landscape (not the remembered landscape, anyhow). Many of the people of color also spoke French (some Creole, some not, some enslaved, some not). A more amazing part of this story is that of Creoles of color; because of its French and Spanish rule, Louisiana followed the "Code Noir" or the Black Code. Imported Africans usually became slaves, but in some cases could buy their freedom. They were understood to have souls and were required to convert to Catholicism (unlike the understandings of slaves in the east where the enslaved were often understood as nothing less than property). The African Mastery booklet goes into a little more detail about the Code Noir's impact on how Africans influenced culture in Louisiana. So why is this region well known more for the Acadians-turned-Cajuns? I leave that question open on purpose to see what visitors think.

I don't want to take away from the Acadian to Cajun story, nor do I think it correct to compare the travesties of people groups. There is plenty of rich and complex history in this region. In order to tell it completely, sometimes we have to adjust the light a little to shine on other surfaces to reveal new angles of our story. In addition to including more people in the story, this provides a form of contextualizing the story of populating the state. People arrived to Louisiana with a variety of backgrounds and for a variety of reasons. When people leave the movie and make comments about how they had no idea that there were populations who were forcefully removed from their homes and wound up in south Louisiana, I tend to remind them that, indeed, there were many populations who came to these States United that way.

Of course, I talk about these people groups who arrived over the course of the past 300 years or so. My next post about people groups and their influences on culture will most likely be of the indigenous peoples. They had no say on who came and stayed here. Yet, indigenous people have been here for thousands of years.  


*Note: these thoughts are my own and do not necessarily reflect that of the National Park Service.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

American Slavery and French Visitors

I realize that sometimes my postings here may come across a little Attention Deficit Disorder-like. I blame it on a combination of my personality and my current place of work. Didn't I say I wanted to use this blog as a place to sort out my experiences of that as interpreter and historian? Since I work for a park that's interpretive mission includes the natural, cultural, and historic stories of a diverse and distinct region, I deal with a variety of topics daily. Within a course of a conversation, I may answer questions regarding the displacement of the Acadians, the difference between Cajun and Creole, the price of alligator meat, the region's agriculture, the  known distance of various bodies of water, the impact Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had on the area, and where is the restroom (always where is the restroom). I will call vast array of subject material I am expected to know "opportunities to learn." Heck, I can even consider them challenges for interpretive connections. Challenges! I like those; challenges keep me busy and pushing myself to go just that much further, right? That's what I tell myself, anyway.

One of my greater challenges working at a park with a high international visitorship is that of communication. There are only so many motions one can make to convey the fact that we have French translations available. "Traductions en français pour le musée?" probably does not sound the way it is supposed to when I attempt the phrase. Towards the end of summer, we see an influx of European visitors. For many Europeans countries, August is traditionally a month for holiday and nobody bothers to let the poor visitors know that Louisiana in August offers about the most miserable of conditions possible (Yes, I'll take 95% humidity to accompany that sultry 95 degree heat... and may I have mosquitoes on the side? Thanks).

I have noticed that with this influx of French visitors that there has been an influx of interest in the topic of American slavery. Year-round, French visitors have often asked about slaves, cotton, and plantations, but with so many visiting in a concentrated period of time, the questions also appear concentrated. The questions are usually phrased "where can I go to see the big houses where blacks picked cotton?" or "where are the houses where slaves worked?" 
What a lovely Louisiana plantation home, but something is missing... (From the Library of Congress)


What I find so striking about the European interest in slavery is the fact that most of our plantation homes want to keep the stories of the enslaved workers neatly tucked under the displayed historic tapestries. When Americans visit historic plantations, they want to see Scarlett on Tara or relive a clean (white) past. "Nowhere else in the south will you find such a spectacular setting!" claims Louisiana's Oak Alley. Oooh, here is a good one: "Nottaway...is a stunning historic plantation that lies between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana.  A dramatic, multi-million-dollar renovation has restored this historic plantation to her days of glory..." 

Her days of glory. Glory? Glory.

The map includes an overseer's cabin. Whomever lived in that cabin oversaw the people thought of as nothing more than chattle, enslaved workers. Glory? Hmmm, I don't know if that is the word I would choose. I don't want to speak out of turn, for I have not visited either mansion (I'll admit that thoughts of touring historic homes nearly kill me). Maybe they embrace their legacies of slavery! I highly doubt it, however (who wants to learn about the institution of slavery while having their nails done, anyway?). It has been my experience that plantation homes would rather embrace the stories of hauntings than the histories of the enslaved workers who kept these places running for decades. Unfortunately, these are the plantations that visitors may tour. Oak Alley offers tours en français (and I cannot even begin to vouch for what the French tours offer, my brain still trips on "parlez-vous français"). 

I read this article last year and have been trying to digest it for months. Birkenhead wrote: 


"If America is a family, it’s a family that has tacitly agreed to never speak again — not with much honesty, anyway — about the terrible things that went on in its divided house. Slavery has been taught, it has been written about. There can’t be many subjects that rival it as an academic ink-guzzler. But the culture has not digested slavery in a meaningful way, hasn’t absorbed it the way it has World War II or the Kennedy assassination. We don’t feel the connections to it in our bones. It’s hard enough these days to connect with what happened 15 minutes ago, let alone 15 decades, given the endless layers of “classic,” “heirloom,” “traditional” “collectible,” “old school” comfort we’re swaddled in. But isn’t it the least we could do? What is the willful forgetting of slavery if not the coverup of a crime, an abdication of responsibility to its victims and to ourselves?"

Ouch. We try a "coverup" that results in something of a toddler who threw a blanket over her head in a lively round of "hide and seek." The toddler is technically out of sight, but the blanket doesn't really hide the toddler, her shape is still there. So if Americans have a hard time with coming to grips with their own history, why is it Europeans have such a fascination with it? Europe has its fair share of a painful past, but in my experience, the historic sites associated with those places do not back down from the difficulty of the history. I love to hear about historic sites telling a more inclusive history by sharing the stories of enslaved workers and I find that is what our French-speaking visitors want to see more of during their visits to historic plantations in the American South. Regardless of how Americans want to remember it, the history still exists. Encouraging the "connections to it in our bones" is part of the job of interpreters. This is our challenge. And challenges just push us to go that much further, right? 



*Note: As always, these thoughts are my own and do not necessarily reflect that of my employers. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Adventures in Word Choice


"De Soto Discovering the Mississippi" Library of Congress
I have been doing a fair amount of interpretive writing in the past several weeks. I consider writing a craft and words as tools. I am always trying to figure out how I can improve my own craft.  Word choice impacts conveyed meaning and is a large part of this craft. Even synonyms serve various purposes in the same manner that different tools serves different purposes. Most recently, I have been dabbling with the words "explorer," "adventure," "quest,"and "discover," and words with similar meanings. Between writing for an exhibit we are hosting this fall and writing for the website, I am struck how easily these seemingly similar words interchange and yet, those interchanges can make a great difference in meaning.

There are guidelines for writing for the public, there are guidelines for writing interpretively, and there are guidelines published by the National Park Service's Harper's Ferry Center (HFC) to ensure published writers follow best practices. Navigating these guidelines can be tricky, but I enjoy the challenge. What do I want to say and how do I want to say it? What do I want visitors to remember when they finish reading this piece? One of the guidelines (under the use of the word "explorer") specified in the HFC Editorial Guide states, "avoid 'discoverer' unless that is truly the case. Consider others' points of view. In certain cases, the term 'traveler' may be appropriate." When writing the article on American Indians in Louisiana for the website, language choice made a huge difference. The Spanish did not "discover" this territory; in fact, the area had fairly advanced civilizations well before the height of Rome in Europe. I don't use the word "discover" when I talk about De Soto's arrival. Instead, I use the word "explore." But what does that mean?

Explore comes from the Latin word explorare, "to flow out" or "to cause to flow out." The early use of the Latin referred to medical procedures "to flow" or even "to probe" (probing the areas that flow, the open wounds). In the 1600s, as Europeans began searching for the Northwest Passage, the common definition of searching for something became associated with the word. To "explore" meant to seek an answer, to find something. The probing of a land mass through its waterways was one way this word related to the earlier medical use of the term.

The Spanish, indeed, were seeking something, were exploring. But there is a neutral sense to the word "explore." Heck, the National Park Service's Junior Ranger program's motto is "Explore, Learn, Protect: Become a Junior Ranger." Exploring is fun! It is just a seeking of... anything! But the early Spanish seekers who called themselves "conquistadors" were not just seeking neutrally. "Conquistador" means "conqueror." They were seeking wealth, territory, land, gold, and expansion of their ideas (evangelism) in the name of Spain. Did the natives conquered by the Europeans consider the Spanish "explorers?" Or "travelers?" Or "conquerers?" Or "invaders?" Or "destroyers?" I can easily trade the word "discover" for "explorer" but what if I am trying to impress the brutality one people caused upon another people? And what is my responsibility in telling 1) a complete story that is 2) considerate of all viewpoints?

Those ideas tumble around in my head like colorful laundry pieces in a dryer when I encounter my next challenge. I am collaborating with a local Latin American heritage group to help them tell their stories through events and a temporary exhibit hosted at our center. Spain influenced this area and there is a minor, but influential, Latin American presence in this region. One of my tasks include pulling together the text for the history portion of the temporary exhibit. The Spanish came, they claimed, and they invited other groups to settle in this region (like the Acadians in the 1760s). If I answer the "why" portion of that statement, I use the terms "conquer" and "invade." My community relations sensitivity (and that voice that wants to be inclusive) tells me that I should also be mindful of those of Spanish descent when using word choice, particularly those words. So do I just fall back on explorer? The ideas are roughly the same, right? Are there ways to tell this story while being inclusive to all parties, telling a more complete history, with a twist in word choice?
"Advantures mal-heureules du la Salle"
(Library of Congress)

Fitting in with the "explorer v. discoverer" idea I have been pondering is the "adventure v. quest" concept (that I also have been pondering). A while back, I read a post about the differences between "adventure" and "quest." I like to think I go on adventures, but then philosophical me wants to argue that seeking adventure is a form of a quest. A quest has a purpose, an adventure just happens unintentionally. If I seek adventure, has my adventure turned into quest? Spaniards quested for gold and territory (among other things) but sometimes wound up adventuring (as they discovered for themselves new lands or waterways... note that I say for themselves- these lands and waterways were often already populated or used by other peoples). How can I integrate those ideas into my stories?

I started these writing projects as quests, with a design and a purpose, but have found myself more and more adventuring my way through using the English language to tell a story in a manner that provokes thought. Now I wonder about myself as an interpreter and what it is that I do?


Should interpretation be considered more an adventure or a quest? Do interpreters quest or adventure (or both)? How about visitors? 



*Note: thoughts expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect that of anybody else, the National Park Service included.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Did Someone Say "Party?"

Social media is like a party. And no, I am not just saying that because I think everything is like a party (or because I consider myself a party).

Posted on the @DigInterp
feed this past week. 
Recently, the National Park Service offered a internal, web-based course called "Digital Media for Interpreters." By design, the course illustrates the many uses of digital media for parks to utilize. I did not take this session, having previously taken the course, but I followed some of the ideas through the Facebook group and Twitter this past week. The course instructors posted photos, questions, and ideas through both social media sites. One of the questions started "Social Media is..." and analogies followed.  Of course, the first thing to pop into my head is "like a party!" As I chewed on this further, I realized I can also say "interpretation is like a party."

Whaaaaa? How is she going to fit social media and historic sites or park and interpretation AND a party into her argument? 

Wait for it.

So, what's your Twitter handle?


Parties are planned.
Yes, spontaneous gatherings of friends sometimes turns into party-like fun times, but that is not what I am talking about. Quality parties take quality planning. When is the best time for a party? Who is attending this party? Should there be a theme, food, or activities? What considerations of the guests should be made (maybe Johnny is a vegan or Sarah can't stand to play charades; what alternatives are available so the party is inclusive of all guests?)?

In the same manner, historic sites wanting to launch a social media presence should plan. Who is the audience (your guests?)? What content will you provide (consider this your food and activities)? What types of media will work best (where is the location of this party)? Interpreters have to ask similar questions when planning for interpretive programming. They plan the programming (times, locations, content) and let the visitors handle the rest.




Parties are dynamic.
Brownie Wise is my hero. She made parties her business.
I know I just said parties are planned, but that is only part of the party fun. Parties might have a theme, and people may dress in character to match the theme, and the food may be assigned cute names to coordinate with the whole idea, but the "people" aspect of the guests will ultimately impact the outcome of the party. People are dynamic, therefore parties will be dynamic. You may have poured your heart and soul into planning, but you have only established a framework for an event.

Setting up a social media presence is like establishing the framework for a quality party; you plan your content and direction, but you relax and allow guests to enjoy themselves once the party starts. Interpreters giving programs start the program as planned and let the dynamics of the group impact the flow of the program. Ultimately, interpretive programming, whether formal/on-site or digital/online, is designed for visitors. Let the visitors create their own experience. We are just here to facilitate.


Would you like to try a lemon bar? Or a piece of historical
trivia that helps tell a bigger story? Maybe a picture of
a wild animal to share on your wall?
Parties allow for interactions. 
Parties mean meeting people! Sometimes, you meet people you know. Sometimes, you meet new people. Sometimes, you find out guests share similar interests and other times you learn new ideas by interacting with the group of people. Sometimes, you have a passing conversation with somebody you've never met and then you never see them again. C'est la vie a la partie. Even those guests who have wallflower-like tendencies can learn new things by watching and listening to interactions. Hosts and hostesses are not in every single room, participating in every single conversation. They facilitate party happenings. They introduce guests to each other, they monitor the life of the party (providing new activities or conversation starters as needed).


Interpreters do the same thing; they facilitate. Interpreters provide content to facilitate meaningful connections to places, stories, and ideas. Formal programs, informal interactions, and social media presences are mechanisms for this to happen. Social media administrators, especially, do not have to actively participate in every conversation. Rather, they can monitor the conversations and comment or reply as necessary to possibly redirect the conversation, to alleviate potential misunderstandings, and to encourage further discussion. They provide the image or the video or other interpretive content that adds to the conversation or contributes further to the one already happening. Wallflowers have value, too. Maybe they don't participate, but they are absorbing something.



Parties happen throughout the house. 
"@Margie Your Jello salads and parties are to die for! #delicious"
A conversation may be happening in the kitchen as a rousing game of badminton happens in the back yard all while inner rockstars come out during a Rock Band jam happening in the living room. This may also be called the "different strokes for different folks" approach to party planning. This works for party planning and digital media planning.

I have seen people who freak about about the massive number of digital tools available for use. "What are we going to do with a Facebook AND a Twitter AND a YouTube channel AND a blog AND a [fill in the blank here]. People will stop coming!" These tools should be implemented in a manner that will enhance the visitor experience. Each digital tool serves a different purpose and should be utilized according to their strengths (and not all have to be used, either). They can be integrated in manners that compliment each other, but they should be considered as different tools. You don't want someone playing badminton in the kitchen, do you? Think of the tweeted Facebook post the equivalent to that.


Get ready for the backwards-pants-wearers AND the
overly-political posters when you launch. It's all
a part of social interactions
You never know who might show up.
Surprise! Unexpected guests keep parties interesting. Hostesses or hosts should be ready for the spontaneous to happen and ready to step in if necessary. Make the unexpected guest welcome? Be ready to grit your teeth in an awkward smile? Call the authorities (depending on how unexpected your guest is)?

I think sometimes sites contemplating utilizing social media are afraid of the "letting go" part. But what if Uncle Bob shows up with his polyester suit on backwards (again) to tell the same lame joke "it looks like I've put my head on backwards" (again)? It is part of the chemistry of the party, and as an adminstrator/host, you let it be. Let the social element of social media happen. People will sometimes comment bizarre things (I find it mildly entertaining to comment on the Stones River National Battefield Facebook page posts just to be obnoxious... and they handle me with grace and poise... yes, I am one of those commenters... see the point below). Part of the planning portion of implementing social media includes a comment policy; at what point(s) will the park step in and redirect a conversation or even delete comments?


Parties are fun.
Parties, first and foremost, have a comfortable and safe atmosphere. Social media sites provided by historic sites should do the same. It is the fun that makes the memorable. Encouraging "play" is a form of encouraging engagement on social media. Again, it is called social media for a reason; interactions are desired. Providing a digital place, whether it be a Facebook page or a Twitter feed or a blog (or all of the above) allows for guests to engage. When there is an element of fun included, guests (visitors) have an easier time making a connection. Every post does not have to be fun, but neither does every post have to be super serious, either. Don't underestimate the fun.



*Note: As always, thoughts/opinions on here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Park Service.

** Images borrowed from the following links: Party Perfect, Brownie Wise, Interactions, Outdoor Party, and Two Dudes.

***Let it be known that if you ever decide to show up to one of my parties in a backwards, polyester suit, I will exclaim in excitement, "you are my hero!" while offering you first dibs of the hors d'oeuvres.