Why I like my job
A few workdays ago I got to make an Excel spreadsheet of the number of clicks recorded for each image, link, and icon on this website: World Is Witness. I would highly recommend checking it out, especially if you have Google Earth; this is a USHMM-sponsored geoblog, meaning that each post is linked to a pinpoint in your Google Earth application.
The initial entries are from a Museum visit to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to learn about the legacies of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, and the most recent entries are from a Museum visit to South Sudan and a return visit to the Congo. Visit us again soon for more posts from the field.
The writing is stark, journalistic, never preachy. The blog is fairly new–only four pages of posts–so it’s a good time to start following it.
Anyways, it’s sort funny doing tracking-type work for something like World Is Witness. I used the tracking service Crazyegg to look at the concentration of clicks on each component of the site. You see how some people click on the textual part of links, while others click on the images. Some people click on “next page,” some people click on the number. But the most striking was the sorts of stories that people gravitated to. This child’s drawing got a disproportionate number of clicks. The most clicked-on item, however–by far–was a link to a story that had been hidden behind a cut for “sensitive material.” It was obviously about sexual exploitation–in this case, of a six year old girl.
To be honest, I was offended. It was rubbernecking, plain and simple. But then, I thought, at least people are clicking. At least I’m seeing a spot of red amidst this field of blue. And it’s hard to feel particularly outraged when you read a comment like this.
Reading this brings me much pain, I have an eight year old and can think of nothing else but protecting her. My heart cries for this child and I wish that I could take her from her world to a better one. No children no matter what age deserves this. [link]
At least people are responding, right? At least they’re looking. And they might email it to someone else. At least this story is moving. At least this is going somewhere.
Working at a department of USHMM that does not focus on more stereotypically museum-y operations has been a real learning experience in that I’ve discovered what it takes to market history, to advertise it and make it something to which people will want to return, later. Applications like Crazyegg, the discussion at last week’s department meeting about perhaps developing a sort of online game, checking demographics and referrals, uploading podcasts–I could see someone becoming a bit offended at the certain coldness of operation. But making a place like the US Holocaust Memorial Museum relevant means not focusing on the Memorial aspect and making it utterly sepulchral, but seeing history, this particular slice of history, as a living product to move, to promote, to sell as a concept and as something that merits a second, a third, a fourth look.
The reactions I get when I say I work at USHMM are sort of interesting–a lot of people take a sort of solemn tack, nodding sagely, furrowing their brows. It’s definitely not the same sort of reaction I’d get if I said I worked for Senator Klobuchar. And honestly, I was worried that I would find it too solemn myself. But it’s been an experience in recognizing the value of history as a sort of commodity, as cold as that may sound in print. It makes the era seem less fossilized.
And this attitude helps the museum to focus on (really sweet) projects like World Is Witness–its dynamic nature allows it to move outside the realm of history into something more modern and relevant, something we can fix. The museum goes–and should go–way beyond the glass cases and self-guided audio tours. And I get to help, which is awesome.