Q&A posed to Dr. Fran Kaplan, America’s Black Holocaust Museum

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      semcdirect

      Question: What is the website architecture for ABHM? What CRM are you using (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress)? Is the site managed by volunteers or outsourced?

      FK: Our virtual museum uses a Word Press platform. For the first 10 years the site was managed by myself as a volunteer and populated entirely by volunteers (mostly but not entirely undergrad students). The original design for the site was done by a volunteer graphic designer and a web developer who gave us a substantial discount.

      In the last year, we migrated the old site to a new mobile-friendly redesign. Funds were raised to pay a professional web development company and to pay me to manage the migration and redesign process and add some new content. The scholar-griots who curate the history exhibits and the undergrads and community volunteers who maintain our Breaking News blog are all volunteers.

      Question: When you say that the website for America’s Black Holocaust Museum *is* the museum, can you talk about what makes a website a museum? Is it content, use, or other – and are there any technical differences you have experience in building your virtual museum?

      FK: Our virtual museum was developed in 2011 to replace a bricks-and-mortar museum that closed — and to keep the vision of ABHM alive and our educational mission going until such time as we could re-establish a physical museum. Ten years later that reborn physical museum is on the cusp of being opened. Meantime the virtual museum grew to occupy 3300+ online pages of educational exhibits and to sponsor public history programming for many hundred people annually.

      Just as they would use a traditional museum, teachers and students from all over the world use our exhibits in their research. Millions of people in general public nationally and globally visit each year to learn about the Black Holocaust in America from captivity in Africa to the present day.

      Our virtual museum is structured much like a physical museum, with galleries that are both chronological and thematic, containing a number of individual exhibits on topics in a particular time period or theme. We also have special exhibits and features. The virtual museum does display artifacts; these are generally photographs and digitized documents. Our museum’s educational mission relies more on telling stories, especially those that have been “hidden (often in plain site) from history.” To fully understand how a website can be a museum, it’s best to take a trip through our online galleries.

      Of course, building and maintaining a museum online are very different than for a physical museum. The great thing is that there are no virtual floors to clean or garbage to empty, and that people can visit 24/7 from everywhere and anywhere — and even in their pajamas. And, the museum is not limited in the number of stories it can tell; unlike a bricks-and-mortar facility, the virtual space can expand indefinitely to meet the growth needs of the organization and its visitors.

      That said, a virtual museum is not static. It needs maintenance (ex: updating plug-ins and contact forms, updating content) and building (ex: researching, curating and posting new exhibits and other content.) You need an interpretive vision and mission, a curator or 2 to manifest that vision, and various support people (tech support, web designer, resident scholars, and maybe a professional photographer, etc.)

      Be sure that, if you want to build a website that is more like a museum and less like a promotional brochure, you’ll need to find a web developer that understands how your virtual site will differ from a corporate site or an online store or…. This is not always easy to find or to explain, but fortunately more and more museums are exhibiting online so you can probably find some examples to share and to guide the builders of your virtual museum.

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