Peaks and Pitfalls: Twitter and Chicago’s Historic House Museums

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Most (if not all) of the world’s top public history and cultural institutions maintain Twitter pages. The Smithsonian (@smithsonian) and its nineteen separate museums’ handles alone boast well over three million followers. Famous museums in Europe like the Louvre (@MuseeLouvre) in Paris and the British Museum in London (@britishmuseum) have followers numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Most museums, particularly smaller more local institutions, cannot realistically expect to achieve that kind of massive outreach; however, creative use of one’s Twitter page to publicize upcoming events, highlight unique collections, as well as connect the institution’s relevant programming to current events and social justice issues allows for these venues to engage with the public and attract visitors. Three separate historic house museums in Chicago characterize each of these traits.

The Driehaus Museum (@DriehausMuseum) uses its Twitter platform primarily as a venue to advertise its events and upcoming exhibitions. It appears that the Driehaus’ most popular collections, or at least the one’s that receive the most attention on their website and Twitter page, rely heavily on the topic of popular culture as it intersects with their area of expertise: the Gilded Age. Currently, the Driehaus Museum’s tweets comprise of various deviations on the theme of “Downton Abbey,” the hit period British drama that is now airing its final season. This is understandable given the topic of their upcoming exhibit, Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times. The barrage of Downton Abbey related content on their Twitter page and their website will undoubtedly draw large crowds of people to see the beautiful period costumes as seen on the very popular TV show. Unfortunately, their present obsession with Downton Abbey eclipses all other information about the museum’s permanent collections and other upcoming events. Although an excellent way of creating buzz about a certain collection, it would be beneficial for the Driehaus to diversify their future Twitter postings to draw attention to their lesser known collections, using the momentum from the web and foot traffic that the inevitably popular Downton Abbey exhibit will attract to engage more of the public with the rest of the house museum. Nevertheless, the Drieahaus shows one way house museums can use Twitter to draw in large audiences by advertising upcoming events.

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Downton Abbey fever at the Driehaus Museum 

Another Chicago house museum, Glessner House (@GlessnerHouse), uses twitter to create connections with their unique collections and larger “trending” hashtags on the social media site. For example they periodically employ the hashtags #OnThisDay to connect the current date with something that occurred on the same day during the nineteenth century. The creative use of these large trending hashtags on their social media outlets allows the Glessner to enter into a national discussion with users from all over the country while making the public aware of their various collections. The Glessner also uses this method to educate their followers on history relevant to the time period Glessner House was built. Rather than restricting their tweets to information about their collections, the Glessner opens up its postings to include lessons contextualizing the house into a larger historical narrative, making it more relevant to viewers.

Jane Addams Hull-House’s Twitter (@JAHHM) depicts the opportunities house museums have to intersect with issues of social justice visibly on a national (and international) stage. This is particularly relevant to the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s mission, as the museum’s staff works to not only preserve the memory of Jane Addam’s work, but also use the site itself as a venue to institute their own discussions of public policy and contemporary social issues.  As well as advertising the times for their free tours of the museum, Hull-House frequently updates their Twitter feed with re-tweets of partnered events that implemented socio-political themes. One recent post showcased a moderated discussion called “What is Protest For?” presented by Point Magazine at the museum. The marriage of Hull-House’s mission of facilitating important social discussions keeps the traditions of its founding alive and enriches the experience all the more for visitors and potential patrons on the internet alike. In this way the institution’s Twitter is a harmonious extension of the museum itself rather than a separate entity. The creation of a Twitter space that engages viewers and makes them feel compelled to visit should be the goal of all social media platforms used by museums and cultural institutions. Hull-House’s feed demonstrates a good example of how that goal can come to life. 

New (Media) Beginnings

Welcome to my blog, eHistory! My name is Ellen Bushong and I am currently a first year M.A student in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. In the past, I have worked on projects at a few different historical societies and archives. Currently, I am a graduate assistant at the Women and Leadership Archives (WLA) on Loyola’s Lakeshore campus, but I have held internship positions at both the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in Louisville, KY and the White House Historical Association in Washington, D.C. I am hoping my experiences working in education and outreach at these institutions will inform some of my work this semester in my Public History and New Media course.

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Hello. It’s me.

I am excited to delve into all the different aspects of digital history and learn more about how museums, archives, and other cultural institutions reach the public in our digital world.  I look forward to incorporating all the new and varied skills I develop this semester to make myself a better public historian!