Given that my previous semester’s project centered around an Omeka exhibit, I’ve thought a lot about how best to engage my audience. I was so focused on just getting everything online and documented that I didn’t even consider how the audience would interact/react to the exhibit. Looking over Designs by Mannix again, it’s not exactly intuitive how one would get from the homepage to the collections and general items pages. So there’s that. If I want to engage my audience, they have to find my stuff first.
My collection’s purpose is to inspire people to realize the past is not so distant. When looking at photographs from the World War II era, the people don’t feel like real people, since most of them aren’t alive today or, if they are, they look vastly different than the young smiling people in the photographs. More importantly, most of what we see from the past is photos of people, which, although it gives us an idea of what they looked like or what they wore, doesn’t usually give us great insight into their personalities or passions, unless they’re photographed while reading or painting or whatever. With “Designs by Mannix,” I wanted people to see that Gordon’s art was made by a real person, and because it feels present because it’s in color and you can touch it (not online) and see all the minute details, it’s a better way to link us to Gordon. These drawings show us so much more about Gordon’s personality than any smiling yearbook photo could do. Who could know that this everyday-looking person was a talented artist? More importantly, one can be told that Gordon was a talented artist, but it’s quite another to see it on your screen and verify it with your own eyes and aesthetic judgment. In a way, this exhibit is heart-wrenching, because it shows you what could have been if he had lived. And to feel that way about someone who died over 70 years ago is a powerful feeling, and I think it’s the ideal goal of most public historians, to make the public understand the past in new ways.
For my next installment, I’m working on connecting my audience to the past in more scholarly and less personal ways. But that plan will be revealed in my next blog post!