Self-Guided Tours and Heritage

Is this the Answer?

Everyone employed in heritage knows that government grants have been shrinking for years. Private donations just don’t fill the gap. Everywhere museums and their friends are forced to compete with deeply rooted public concerns such as hospitals, children’s charities and animal welfare. Faced with choosing between such heart-breaking needs and heritage even staunch supporters hesitate. History and culture are inevitably the loosers.

The big day-to-day operating costs for small museums are staffing, utilities/security and insurance/book-keeping, usually in that order. Staffing is by far the biggest cost. Even if volunteers do much of the work at the museum, a paid person is usually required to organize and anchor the operation as well as research and design the tours. So the idea of the “self-guided tour”, which promises to considerably reduce the need for staff, seems worthy of consideration. After all, the White House uses them!

–But, can one really compare tourism operations at the White House to tourism operations elsewhere? First of all, the self-guided tours (those which go inside the White House) must be booked months in advance either through one’s member of congress or senator. If one is not an American, bookings are made through your embassy in Washington. One has to be approved for a tour. They let you know. So groups of unrecorded individuals are not showing up at the gate at any time of the day and marching inside the White House. Second, security officers make sure that visitors show identification which confirms that they are on the booking list. They also make sure that visitors take nothing inside except car keys, wallets and umbrellas. You can carry a cellphone, but if you use it inside, it will be confiscated. –And third, some ask are the White House self-guided tours really self-guided? Evidently there are secret service agents every step of the way to answer the hundreds of questions which tourists inevitably have, but also to keep a strict eye on the visitors.

There is plenty of feed-back on the internet, which is interesting. Many visitors said that the tours are not really “self-guided” as the secret service personnel often accompany parties through the House. These guides garnered lots of really positive comments. Although heritage staff must have agonized over the written materials to guide the tourists many visitors said that the exhibit labels were insufficient and that the really “good stuff” came out while questioning the guides. Some respondents said that all one sees are “a bunch of paintings, photographs and old furniture”. They missed the significance, despite all the efforts to enable visitors to take the tour unescorted.

The basic function and significance of the White House are widely known, so visitors should arrive with at least an elementary understanding of the site. Can this be compared to (say) Laurier House in Ottawa? If the china selected by Martha Washington or Jacqueline Kennedy is not instantly significant to the audience without the intermediary of an interpreter, then what does the desk of Mackenzie-King mean? How is the significance of the “lobby” at Motherwell Homestead (Saskatchewan) to be appreciated? Exhibit designers know that there is a limit to what visitors will read and that tourists have short attention spans when using tape recorders and computer screens. Decline in visitor excitement (and hence, visitor satisfaction) in our world is a dangerous thing.

Heritage professionals also worry about security. Most historic homes are chock full of interesting artifacts, many quite small. It is difficult to believe that one administrator and a batch of security cameras will deter even a determined amateur with sticky fingers. One might be more optimistic about the durability of gardens, vistas, ruins and monuments. However, in 2008 visitors damaged Stonehenge using hammers and chisels and in 2012 dossents at Machu Picchu have been unable to cope with the avalanche of garbage slung down the hillsides by tourists.

In Britain, there appears to have been an alarming increase in thefts and attempted thefts from British museums during 2012. Although some people have suggested that the actual number of thefts has not increased but that they are merely getting more press attention, the Art Loss Register (a very credible source) has stated that 2012 was a record-breaking year for art losses. Many in Britain are blaming the trend on austerity measures which have forced nearly all museums to significantly reduce staff. In February, the Norwich Castle Museum lost some important artifacts associated with Admiral Nelson.  

Mourning Ring worn by Member of Admiral Nelson’s family. Stolen from Norwich Castle Museum.

The Museum had formerly employed interpreters in each room. The interpreters had been replaced with self-guided visits. The Norwich Castle Museum believes that although the interpreters were not primarily employed for security, their presence was an important deterrent to theft.

Parks Canada, a major player in the move away from interpreters and guides, claims that Canadians have voted with their feet when it comes to heritage. Gregory Thomas of Parks Canada is quoted as saying that it is difficult to justify spending tax dollars on museums when Canadians aren’t interested. However, Parks Canada’s own statistics show that visits to some of their sites have increased steadily over the past few years. Besides, many would argue that investment in an understanding of Canada — of our culture, history and the origins of our modern society, is of huge importance. It should not be left to a popularity contest. It is a question of leadership.

Children experience dress-up and tea time at Macpherson House, Napanee, during a Programme implemented by interpreters. (Photo Robert Hammond.)

It should also be pointed out that, due to the loss of interpretation staff, avail-ability of Parks Canada sites for use by schools is about to undergo a huge change.

Heritage professionals view self-guided templates with caution. We know that virtual tours offer exciting possibilities to entertain and educate but they also permit thieves, vandals and crazy folk to “case the joint”. Introducing self-guided tours may indeed help struggling museums to reduce operating costs. Reducing operating costs may allow the museum to continue for another year. But if self-guided tours also result in bored visitors, declining attendance, less integration with educational programmes — in wear and tear and loss from the collection — is the change worth it? Is the bottom line to be our only criterion for success? While it is true that clever use of a mixture of old and new communication technlogies enhance museum visits and can be used with great success for outreach, they may still be most useful when used with living interpreters and guides.

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Genealogists Lukewarm About The Work of Archives

What does it matter if the Federal Government has ended the National Archival Development Program?

From June 1st to 3rd, 2012  I was present at the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) Annual Conference in Kingston, Ontario.  I had the opportunity to talk to delegates “one-on-one” about the impact of the loss of the National Archival Development Program (NADP).  This was a program which funded a system of grants available to archives across Canada.

The National Archival Development Program cost the taxpayers $1.7 million annually, spread out over the provinces and territories.(1)

Genealogists are not the only beneficiaries of archives, but they are one of the more interesting client constituencies because they come from many walks of life and represent the “grassroots” of Canada.  Although they are on the whole knowledgable about Canadian history, nearly all genealogiests make their livelihood from another occupation and few have post secondary education in a heritage field.

Interviewed individually, genealogists offer different opinions from the cautiously supportive noises they make as a group.  I learned that genealogists are still not convinced that it takes any education or training to organize, protect and ultimately, digitize original archival materials.  “There are many of us in every community who would be willing to come to the archives and do the work for free,” said one fellow.  He was not alone in this opinion.  (His recent work consisted of indexing every surname in a collection, a helpful thing to do but thank goodness that the archivist had already determined who created the files and their purpose.) 

Genealogists also think that computerized systems can be trusted to digitize antique printing and hand-written (holograph) materials with useful results. “You just put a stack in the hopper and away it goes,” one woman told me. She had hands-on experience digitizing recent family papers resulting in a nice little product.  However, there are severe challenges to using optical character recognition and mechanized feeders on old records which vary in colour and size.  Moreover, she seemed oblivious to the confusing porridge of digital documents which results when there is no explanation or context. Images cannot be digitized without a retrieval system. Photographs do not identify themselves and even if there is someone to turn the item over and look for an inscription, that inscription can be completely wrong.

In the course of my chats I learned that Ian Wilson is quite right when he says that many genealogists think that firms like ancestry are actually doing all the work for the archive. This is not the case. “The Federal Government has got to cut back somewhere,” several people said. “We do not believe that this will have much of an impact on our access to the records, because there is always [ancestry / google etc. – fill in the blank].”

When I turned the conversation to the Canada Census, the feed-back was quite different and often emotional. Genealogists are very envious of the Americans (who will soon be able to see their 1940 census) and angry that Canadians must wait ninety-two years. Statistics Canada will be transferring the 1921 Canada Census to the National Library and Archives of Canada on June 1, 2013 and many genealogists believe that the Census will be available almost immediately. When I told them that the cutting of the National Archival Development Program was only a small part of a 9.6 million dollar hit being taken by the National Library and Archives of Canada, and that the cuts would result in loss of staff and equipment to digitize huge fonds like the Census, there was a strong reaction. However, the loss of similar resources for university, municipal and other smaller archives did not worry many OGS delegates much. Based on my conversations at the conference, I believe that archives cannot expect much more than a tepid response to the loss of National Archival Development Program, which is a sorry thing, seeing that genealogists, indeed all Canadians, have so much to loose.

__________

(1) The NADP funded the Canadian Council of Archives, which in turn administered a system of grants which increased and extended the work on documentary heritage collections across Canada. A new batch of grants was available each year and archives competed for funding to open those boxes languishing on back shelves, get the contents sorted, tidied and rehoused in appropriate containers, prepare descriptions of the contents and publicize what they found. More and more, the NADP grants were being used to hurry up digitization to increase access. The grants permitted hiring of extra staff for short periods to get the job done as well as the purchase of supplies and services from the private sector. For instance, the City of Vancouver Archives was able to clean a significant number of acetate negatives and place them in cold storage. The program also made a huge contribution to the training of young archivists by providing short-term employment in a professional setting for young graduates.

 

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A Winter Stroll, Toronto, circa 1886.

Our ancestors were quite proud of their chique winter attire and welcomed the opportunity to have a portrait made wearing expensive new coats and headwear. The indoor “winter” portrait was something of a craze between 1870 and the end of the 19th century, when it became easier to photograph subjects outside, in real snow.   But before this became common, photographers offered artifical settings consisting of a painted winter backdrop and falling “snow” which was  shaken from an overhead basket by an assistant. The artificial “snow” was usually made from tiny puffs of cotton which would float down realistically.  In some cases, epsom salts were used giving the effect of a heavier, icier blizzard. Unfortunately, occasionally asbestos crystals were employed, but thankfully not often.  (There were enough hazardous chemicals around photographic studios without the addition of this lethal material.)Couple in Studio

In this example, a young couple of the Thornton / Jolley family have been photographed in the J.H. Lemaitre & Company on Yonge Street in Toronto. Lemaitre began using “& Company” in his trade name in about 1877. The subjects are dressed in winter clothing which would have been high fashion from 1885 to 1887, and but less stylish in 1888 and 1889.  The woman is wearing a stiff, shelf-like bustle as part of a floating walking dress ensemble (a shorter dress which did not trail on the dirty sidewalks).  Her husband is wearing the up-to-date taller derby hat favoured at the time by the urban middle-class and a good quality melton jacket.  Wonderful, deep colours were in fashion at the time, and the lady’s winter coat may have been deep red, blue, purple or green. The dark Canadian winter streets were considerably brightened by these brilliant costumes. It is not easy to see, but she is also wearing a fur scarf or “tippet” and carrying an expensive fur muff. Her hat was sometimes called a “Rembrandt” because it was supposed to ressemble the plumed hats from the days of the cavaliers. It would have been anchored to her hair by long pins.

In the 21st century, we are sadly accustomed to Victorian photographs which have deteriorated over time or been damaged by inappropriate storing and/or handling. So often otherwise lovely “cabinets” are pock-marked by leaching of salts or topical contact with chemicals.  At a glance, snowy photographs can look like they have been damaged too.   If we are not careful, we may overlook these delightful Victorian studio products.

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A Love Token from Long Ago

carte-de-visite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This carte-de-visite is a portrait of a young woman taken in Kingston, Ontario in about 1863.  Verso, in a spikey female hand

    If there be anything in life
               That does afford me pleasure
Twill be the very happy time
                When you [became] my treasure.

The expression “affords me pleasure” was a very common one in the 19th century.  The verse is signed only “A.P.”   Alas, we do not know who she is.

I am grateful to Mike Dufresne for sharing this photograph.

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Real Photo Postcards

(RP Postcard, RPPC)

Real Photo Postcard

Real Photo Postcard. Moscow School. Lennox and Addington County Museum.

There is considerable confusion about what is meant by a “real photo postcard”.

Unless they are made from artwork or cartoons, all postcards begin life as photographs. -But they should not all be labelled as “RP”.

The change in postal regulations which permitted cards with a picture on one side and the address on the other provided an opportunity for small town photographers. For years they had sold so-called “album fillers”. Now, when work was slow, they could produce photographic prints of the right size for mailing. Photographic supply houses were quick to offer print-out papers of the regulation postcard size (3 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches). These stock photographic papers had the usual light-sensitive emulsions on one side and a handy template for the address and postage stamp on the other. At first, no message was permitted on the address side. Soon, the regulations were altered to permit a message on the left half of the address side — the so-called “divided back”.

The negatives of the day (which still included glass negatives) were not 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 in dimension, but this was not always a problem as photographers simply cropped the image to fit the card.

Photographic historians and collectors have appropriated the term “Real Photo Postcard” (or RP Postcard or RPPC) to apply to this specific type of card.

The Kodak Company was ever alert to opportunities. In 1903, Kodak came out with a film proportioned to print out onto the postcard papers with a camera to fit, the Kodak 3A Folding Pocket Camera. The appearance of this camera tells us how quickly the interest in postcard prints had grown.

Kodak used the term “Real Photo Postcard” when promoting the new film and camera, but they were not the only company to use the phrase.

Commercial card probably from a glass negative.

Commercially produced card made for bookseller, A.E. Paul of Napanee from a negative which was not 3 1/2 x 5 1/2" and not easy to crop to fit the card. Lennox and Addington County Museum.

Amateur photographers, who did not have a shop on main street, also liked the idea of making postcards to show off their work to family and friends. They ordered postcard photographic stock for use in their home darkroom, typically set up in the tool shed or the pantry. Not everyone wanted to invest in a special camera like the Kodak 3A, but like the professionals, amateur photographers could produce postcards by cropping the negatives from the camera they already owned. If they lacked skill or judgment, the resulting image might not properly fill the card.  The church interior (above) is not a Real Photo Postcard but it shows the challenges of cropping images to fit.

Whether the product of the shop on the main street, or an amateur photographer, RPPC’s were produced in very, very limited edition. The shop on main street might print out thirty or forty, perhaps one hundred if the view proved popular. The amateur might make as few as one or two.

The photographic postcard paper has a major disadvantage. The address side (back) was generic and there was no way to identify the subject. Some professionals got around this by scratching a caption in reverse on the negative. This would show as a legible title when the negative was printed.  (See Moscow School above.)  Amateurs relied on the written (holograph) message on the back.

Because of the lack of a printed title, RPPC’s are difficult to date and identify. If the card has been postally used, the postmark can be a help. Also, the stamp provides evidence. For example, in the United States, postcards required a one cent stamp from 1898 until 1917, when the price went up to two cents. It came back down to one cent in 1919.

The manufacturer of the postcard stock usually marked the back of the card, often in the block where the stamp would cover it. In Canada, so-called “AZO” postcards first appeared in 1904. The earliest papers (1904-1918) have four triangles pointed up in the stamp box. AZO papers with diamonds in the corners of the stamp box apparently were produced almost concurrently, and date from 1907-1909.

Understanding of this kind of evidence is increasing all the time. This is the reason that it is so important to collectors to see the back of the card, and why owning the original (and not just a scan of the front) is critical for an archive.

The heyday of RPPC’s is from about 1898 until the the mid 1920’s although amateurs continued to produce them as a hobby through much of the 20th century.

chromo-lith postcard

Chromo-lith Postcard, made from a photograph taken by a local photographer. Lennox and Addington County Museum N-00284

RPPC’s are labour-intensive to produce, making the profit small. Professional photographers quickly found that they could make more money selling their rights to publishers or manufacturers to print out their products in large numbers. The resulting commercially produced cards could be purchased very cheaply wholesale and sold for as much as the old RPPC’s. Moreover, RPPC’s were black and white. Postcard publishers could use colour lithograph processes (chromo-lithography) to produce a coloured card, which was very appealing to the customers.

Photo Postcard Not Strictly an RPPC

Commercial, black and white photographic postcard made between 1950 and 1970. Not strictly an RPPC. Lennox and Addington County Museum PCN-04275.

Postcards made by printing out on a photographic stock have been produced commercially throughout the twentieth century, in black and white and in colour. After about 1970, they include very glossy colourful photographic views. However, to the collector, the term Real Photo Postcard is assumed to mean a limited-edition, locally produced card, the product of the so-called “golden age” of postcards between 1898 and the late 1920’s. A card mass-produced by a commercial publisher using a photographic process is not an “RPPC”.

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Site Change

An American company is using the domain name “Newzeum”.   To avoid confusion, I will be changing the site to Noozeum’s Material Culture over the next few days.  Hope I don’t loose any followers.

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December on an Ontario Farm a Century Ago

Lucy Stover Davison (1867-1950) was a farmer’s wife, living north of Odessa in Lennox and Addington county.  Odessa is west of Kingston, east of Napanee.  On November 19th, 1903, Lucy recorded that the land had frozen too hard to continue with the fall ploughing.  On November 20th, she ventured out on the ice of Odessa Lake with a neighbour to fish, so it must have been very cold and a deep freeze indeed.  On the next day, which was Saturday, the family went to Odessa and Lucy bought underwear (“drawers”) and a shawl from Derbyshire’s General Store.  The following week she was stewing pumpkins and making pumpkin pies and baked apples, but her occupations were not limited to what we might consider female tasks.  She also went out to an old fence line to bring back wood for the stove and helped load their sow into a box to be transported to the pig.   On Saturday, December 5th, she and husband Arthur and daughter, Jennie, were in Wilton where Arthur bought her a Christmas present, “a china set of four pieces” at Neilson’s Store.  This may have been a dresser set.  Lucy added: “…cost eighty cents, I am very much pleased with them, you may be sure, for they just suit me.”  After several busy days, killing and plucking chickens for market, blacking the stove and other chores, Arthur left Lucy to await the appearance of a team of harvesters, described as “clover dressers” and she was therefore tied down at home for several days.  On Christmas eve, Lucy lamented that she had been unable to get into town so Christmas would probably be a lean one for daughter, Jennie.  Christmas was remarkable because their oldest horse died in her stall and had to be removed, a sad start to the day.  They went out to a neighbour, Alva Snider’s for Christmas Dinner.  Lucy hoped that there would be a Christmas service at her church, but there was none.  A different Christmas from what we might expect today.  From Lucy Stover Davison, Ernestown Diary, 1903-1904, researched and edited by Michael Rehner.  Published by the Lennox and Addington Historical Society, 2011.  Available at the Lennox and Addington County Museum, Napanee.  $23.95

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