We had a very, very cold morning in Harpers Ferry, WV today — but it allowed for beautiful pictures of the fog and direct observation of the sun. I think I can speak for the class at large when I say we were really grateful for that sun, especially when we were walking around outside looking at wayside exhibits.
New word: wayside. It’s basically a panel placed in front of a location with some combination of words and images, preferably short and engaging. Our guide today had some very strong opinions on what constitutes a good wayside, versus a bad one, and it was interesting to hear that a lot of what makes a good wayside could also be said to make good web content, given that the two tools are very different. It was also weirdly gratifying (encouraging?) to hear that there are not enough people who are capable of producing good waysides — this is an area for career growth, perhaps!
We unfortunately didn’t have too much time to wander around the historic town of Harpers Ferry, because we lingered over a delicious lunch, but we did meet Ranger David Fox.
He gave us the whirlwind tour of Harpers Ferry (or a very small part of it, I should say), pointing out that it’s a point of convergence for several storylines, each of which can be interpreted individually or as part of a whole or both. He also made the very valid point, when showing us the wooden flood marker that he called “the most expensive exhibit” in the area, that content doesn’t have to be high-tech and gloriously costly to tell a compelling story. The flood marker, for example, is expensive not because of what it cost to manufacture and mount, but because it represents the overall cost of repeated flooding in the area, both in terms of objects and lives.
During the tour we heard again what seems to be the overarching theme for all museums we’ve heard from on this trip, large and small: we don’t have enough resources. This was cutting edge x years ago. We could really stand to update this. But we all really love what we do.
It makes me quite sad that our cultural legacy is so often relegated to the low-priority list when it comes to budgeting and resources — especially since this doesn’t seem to be a trend that will reverse any time soon. It also makes me wonder: is this really a new thing, or are we just more aware of it?