[second post, travel course, Concordia University]

Monumental places are funny. One day, two men have a conversation on a street corner that changes the future for their country. The next day, it’s still a street corner…but the place itself marks the geographical point in which history was essentially altered. Is the site special? Well, no. It’s just a street corner. But it actually is special, or significant, because of what happened there.

For example, consider Boston’s Freedom Trail. 16 nationally significant historic sites are included in the trail– roughly a 2.5-mile walk through Boston’s North End and Charlestown. The sites include Old North Church (the location from which the famous “One if by land, and two if by sea” signal is said to have been sent), Boston Common (the nation’s first public park), Old State House (Boston’s oldest public building), Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, and Bunker Hill Monument (site of first battle of the Revolutionary War).

Today, some of the sites are surrounded by modern environments. The Old State House sits across from a four-story Borders. High-rise condos, corporate chain stores, and a handful of Dunkin Donuts line the streets bordering Boston Common. My first reaction visiting these sites was not one of awe or intrigue. Instead, I had to stretch my mind to imagine what the site was like 200 years ago.

Perhaps this places a special importance on communication at monuments. How can a historical society or national park service use communication to enhance visitors’ cognitive recognition of historical events? Signage, maps, and photos come to mind immediately. I think signage may be the most effective and reasonable means of communication in this context.

I was pleased with the signage along Boston’s Freedom Trail. Each location had at least one sign explaining why it was significant in American history. While the descriptions were brief and could obviously not provide a thorough recount of the site’s history, they were able to help visitors grasp the context of the historical event without requiring them to have any previous knowledge or experience in history.

This, I think, is a great challenge: writing briefly and writing to people with widely varying levels of education in American history. Perhaps this is why most historical locations switch out their signs every few years…it’s hard to truly believe you’ve done it right.

The Old State House’s signs helped me recognize its significance by enabling me to imagine what happened there. They were brief, but thorough enough to give me a decent grasp of what happened there. Standing in front of a sign mounted to its side, I imagined 7,000 colonial Americans standing outside the meeting house, anxiously awaiting news from the meeting inside (should Boston refuse the tea sent to the colonies by King George of England?). I imagined people becoming frustrated the meeting was taking so long, and that Boston Governor Hutchinson kept refusing to engage in such a protest. I imagined them slowly moving toward the Charles River to dump tea off the boat.

I’ll continue my theme from my last post by concluding “communication is the framework that supports our economy, society, and progress.”

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

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