institution: Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association/Memorial Hall Museum
category: Exhibition and Collection Extension
The “Impressions from a Lost World” project tells the story of a transformative but largely unknown event in American history: the early-19th century discovery of 3-toed fossil footprints–now identified as dinosaur tracks–in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts and Connecticut. The significance of this discovery extended beyond the region and the emerging scientific community and had profound effects on American religion, arts, and culture. The project tells this story to a diverse public audience through a variety of formats: an expansive, interactive website, a permanent museum exhibit, a traveling dinosaur-themed event called “Jurassic Roadshow” as well as numerous other public events and programs.
The project’s goal is to communicate the dinosaur track discovery story to a large and varied public audience. Building on the popularity of dinosaurs, the project seeks to engage public interest and then delve into history that introduces humanities themes such as the history of women’s contributions to science, class mobility in scientific authorship, the changing relationship between religious thought and scientific inquiry, to name a few. To successfully bring this material to a wide audience, the project employs many presentation formats and media: the website includes interactive activities, beautiful, historically accurate illustrations, explorable artifacts and documents, videos, narrative stories, and engaging biographies; the related public events allow people to handle real fossils and brings dinosaur-themed activities and historical re-enactors to people outside the museum setting. The varied formats and physical locations enabled us to reach this wide range of visitors.
We sought to communicate the website’s complex and detailed content as clearly and engagingly as possible. To achieve this, we relied heavily on large compelling visuals, appealing titles and quotes and interactive media where appropriate. The backbone of the site is six stories that relate the history content. These stories were illustrated by a local artist who did extensive historical research to ensure that her paintings were both beautiful and historically accurate. (please see Story Menu for thumbnail images of these paintings.) We made sure that all content was chunked into “bite-sized” pieces headed by fun, intriguing titles and sub-titles. We employed audio, video and interactive features and activities to more deeply involve the visitor.