Public History Website Reviews

I am currently working on a research project concerning the relationships between the earliest English settlers of Dedham, Massachusetts (my hometown) and their Indigenous neighbors during the 17th century. I first learned about the history of the town in elementary school but the idea for the project originated from examining the public history offerings in the town. Currently, these Indigenous-settler relationships are not discussed much but the two museums in Dedham, the Fairbanks House museum and the Dedham Historical Society, have websites that serve as the first point of contact for those wishing to further explore the history of Dedham.

The Fairbanks House Museum 

The Fairbanks House Museum website is quite impressive. The website’s homepage houses a lovely video melding antique and newer photos of rooms in the house, while a voice over recites a poem written by a Fairbanks relative. The homepage also includes a basic overview of the history of the house, special events, the mission statement, and links to become a volunteer, become a member or make a donation. They also provide the address, and phone number of the museum as well as links to their social media pages. Overall, the website is very organized and has a sleek design. All of the logistical information that one needs to be aware of is broken up into three categories under the “Visit” tab. The website is further broken up under the tabs, “About”,  “Support and Membership”, “Gift Shop” and “Contact”.

To find the history of the house one needs to look under the “About” tab. There are categories called “Family History”, “The House”, “The Family” and “Board of Directors”. “Family History” explains the story of the Fairbanks family moving from England to Dedham and how the house passed through the family. “The House” explains the history of the construction of the house and once again briefly goes over the changes in owners throughout the house’s history. “The Family” provides photographs and brief biographies of famous descendants of the Fairbanks family. I think that the “The Family” tab should be renamed to something like “Famous Fairbanks'” to make it sound less redundant from the “Family History” tab. The information provided in “Family History” and “The House” is very similar and I feel that these two pages could potentially be consolidated. There  is a chart to explain how the house passed down through the family under “The House” but the same information is explained in words under “The Family”.  Both pages are quite wordy and might not hold the attention of  visitors to the website. The information provided in these tabs is very interesting but I think it could presented more generally and not so repetitively or in so many words. The website should provide an overview to peak the visitors’ interests so that they can receive more detailed information at the museum itself.

Overall, I do like this website. Aside from the issues that I mentioned above, the website is informative, and aesthetically pleasing. One of my favorite parts of the website is the use of high quality photographs of rooms inside the house and of special events that happened at the museum. This is a good starting place for people who are interested in visiting the house and would like more information regarding when and how to get there and what to expect.

Dedham Historical Society And Museum 

I do not know if I can truly make a fair assessment of the Dedham Historical Society museum’s website at this time as I know that they are actively modifying the content of their website. But it is the only other public history website concerning Dedham so I will evaluate it in its current state. The website looks pretty good. It is organized and the design of the website does have some color without being over the top. Like the Fairbanks House website, the homepage has a video showcasing antique and contemporary photographs of Dedham with a narration from the president of the Society talking about the importance of learning about and preserving local history. The homepage also includes information about events, hours, news and the current special exhibit. There are also tabs called “About”, “Research”, “Collections”, “Events”, “Membership”, “News”, “Tours” and “Shop”.  The “Research” and “Collections” tabs are especially helpful in learning what is in the library and on display at the museum. Under the “About” tab, the “About” page explains the history of the Dedham Historical Society and Museum and its overall goal. This page also provides a link to a general history of the town of Dedham. The text they provide is old, aand outdated and they are going to be reworking this. I would pay it no heed at this moment. The website also provides helpful, logistical information about the museum.

Although the website is generally organized, I find many of the pages to be cluttered with too much text. The homepage has a lot of information on it. Most of the same information can be found in other parts of the website. There are not many images on the website of the museum or its collections. Less text and more images would really help to make this a better, more interesting website. Again, they are in the process of improving the website and I am excited to see the modifications that will be made. The logistical information on the website is very good and I think that the website as it stands now has good bones which can act as a base to make it better.

 

Currently, neither of the websites provide any information about the Indigenous peoples of Dedham before or after English settlement even though this information is relevant to both museums. The Dedham Historical Society has been great in helping me with my research and will be posting an essay that I wrote on this topic soon. They are also allowing me to give a talk in April at the museum about these colonial relationships. Over the past couple of years the Fairbanks House has tried to include more Native American artifacts and stories about the relationships of the Fairbanks Family with Indigenous peoples. Progress is happening but unfortunately, in a town like Dedham, progress is typically pretty slow. I am also excited to see how broader, more inclusive, and less colonized historical narratives will be presented on these websites and at the museums in the years to come.

2 thoughts on “Public History Website Reviews

  1. The Fairbanks Museum site really was quite impressive, simple yet effective at getting it’s point across without being distracting or overly-flashy. I will say (and this may be more personal opinion than best practice, it is perhaps open to discussion) I did not like how the video on the home page began immediately. The quality of the video is not in question – I quite enjoyed it as an introduction to the history of the site and it is well produced and scripted. However as a banner it does not allow the guest to jump around in the video, there are no closed captions and it can be jarring upon entering the website to have a video start up when you are not expecting it. I would recommend a silent version of the film for the banner, and further down the page a proper video with these functionalities in tact and the option to press play. The Dedham Historical Society’s opening video fixes a lot of these problems, and while marginally inferior to the former video in terms of quality production it is still a well-produced introduction not only to Dedham’s history but the Historical Society and its mission, I was quite impressed really. The rest of the site is functional and not exceptional.

    1. Weird that the video started immediately for you. It took me a few clicks to actually get it to play with sound. It also looks like the video (or banner) might not be sized correctly because if you

      With that being said I did enjoy the Fairbanks Museum site and think that they have a pretty cool “all-encompassing” feel to the page.

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