This post is part of a blog celebration of two-year anniversary of the #twitterstorians community, organized by the indefatigable Katrina Gulliver.

I’ve spent most of the past two years working on a very large automotive history exhibit. 80,000 sq ft, to be exact–bigger than most museums and probably the biggest exhibit I will ever have the opportunity to help develop. Besides vehicles, the exhibit includes 65 exhibit cases, which are thematic and put automotive history into a broader cultural context. I curated 21 of them.

To avoid museum fatigue and to try to ensure that visitors would read some of the text, we had very severe word limits. I found myself explaining the importance of the Erie Canal in 20 words in a caption to a commorative medal, the entire career of Andrew Riker in 40, the immense importance of kerosene in the 19th century in 20-some, and how a Stirling engine works in a frequently-rewritten 25. And while I was writing, I turned to my experiences—and community—on Twitter.

I’m often asked (and often asked on Twitter) if Twitter has changed my exhibit writing. It has. I live on Twitter and have become very comfortable talking about my own experiences—work, food, bike rides, friendships, religion—140 characters at a time. When I was stumped in label-writing–for instance on that kerosene paragraph, in an exhibit case about American experiences with petroleum–I started breaking my labels up into tweets. When I fatalistically believed I could never fit the content I thought vital for visitors into 45 words, I had to reframe my thinking: this label is three tweets long. I know instinctually how much content can fit in three tweets. These are constraints I understand, constraints that work. And it worked. The words and concepts fell into place in my newly-conceptualized mental space.

Besides reframing my writing into tweets, I benefited from my community on twitter. This includes stalwart historians who tend to use the #twitterstorians hashtag, as well as museum professional colleagues, but it also includes the scientists, writers, journalists and miscellaneous friends who found my process interesting and worth cheering on. Whenever I needed encouragement, syntactical help, or just to complain a little, someone from my extended Twitter community was available. This ambient support and critique helped make my writing possible. Thank you, Twitter, and thank you, #twitterstorians.


Disaster preparedness is necessary for cultural institutions.  When the waters rise, or the fire breaks out, does your museum know what to save first?  Who to call for conservation help?  May 1 is the international day of cultural heritage disaster preparedness awareness (I’m sure someone has developed a catchier title), and this year it coincided with the enormous floods we’ve seen affecting our friends and colleagues in Tennessee.  I thought I would share some disaster resources and do a roundup of reports on the health of Tennessee museums and archives after the flood.

Disaster Resources for the LAMs

SAA has a nice list of ideas for small tasks to do to increase your institution’s disaster preparedness.

AAM has compiled a document, Emergency Flood Recovery Resources for Museums (pdf)

Heritage Preservation + FEMA = Heritage Emergency National Taskforce

Tennessee Museums News Roundup

Flood reporting from the Tennessean.

Our colleague Gordon Belt of the Posterity Project lives in middle Tennessee and has been reporting on the flooding.  I am glad to hear that he and his family are okay.  He also reported that the Tennessee State Library and Archives avoided damage.  I’m going to quote this list he posted of affected heritage landmarks:

This list of major heritage landmarks in Tennessee damaged by the storm and flooding comes courtesy of Dr. Carroll Van West, Director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University

Grand Ole Opry House (1974), Nashville. Brenda Colladay will let us know next week if and how many volunteers may be needed to work with the collections.
2nd Avenue North and Lower Broadway Historic Districts, Nashville
Riverside Park, Clarksville
Historic Town Square, Lebanon
Dyersburg downtown historic district, Dyer County. Downtown Dyersburg is really being hit today with the rising water from the Forked Deer River.
Bemis Historic District (the old mill town), Jackson
Millington Naval Air Station, Shelby County
Bethesda Presbyterian church and cemetery, Purdy, McNairy County (tornado)
Hartsville historic district, Trousdale County
Kingston Springs and Ashland City, Cheatham County

The following are more open landscapes that have been impacted:

Mound Bottom/narrows of the Harpeth State Park
Bicentennial Mall State Park
Springhouse, Carnton Plantation, Franklin
The Hermitage grounds and cemetery
Old City Cemetery, Nashville
Historic cemeteries, Franklin
Nashville Greenway system (especially Shelby Park)
Germantown greenway (contains Fort Germantown), Shelby County
Pinkerton Park (Fort Granger), Franklin

An interview with Kyle Young, director of the  Country Music Hall of Fame.  Their collections were not affected (exhibits and storage are on upper floors), but their building was severely flooded.

The Hermitage received some flood damage to grounds and buildings, though collections were not affected.

A disaster recovery post from a Tennessee archivist.

A report on local libraries.

A flood resource page from the Nashville Public Library.  Always nice to see the library as a key community space in a disaster.

I would be happy to update this post with information from other cultural institutions or ways to help.

Talk about a museum as community hub:  the Wapello County Historical Museum in Ottumwa, Iowa, is also the Amtrak station and bus depot.

Wapello County Historical Museum, Ottumwa, Iowa