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Old Economy Village

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BC: Conclusion Because of this last element in particular, I have concluded that the guided tour at Old Economy Village represented the ideal balance that such programs should strike. Specifically, while it resulted in a good deal of new knowledge, it also left me curious, wanting more information. | References Anderson, D., Piscitelli, B., Weier, K., Everett, M., & Tayler, C. Children’s museum experiences: Identifying powerful mediators of learning. Curator, 45(3), 213-231. Donnelly, L. (2010). Buildings of Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press. Hillier, D. (2001). A closer look. Edinburgh: Scottish Museums Council and Interpret Scotland. Retrieved from http://www.museumgalleriesscotland.org.uk/publications/publication/38/a-closer-look Johnson, A. (2009). Docent training guidelines. In Johnson, A., Huber, K.A., Cutler, N., Bingmann, M., & Grove, T. (Eds.), The museum educator’s manual: Educators share successful techniques (29-45). Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. Kalson, S. (2009, November 18). Old Economy faces uncertain future. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09322/1014293-54.stm Kane, K. (2010, April 13). Old Economy Village to reopen Friday. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10103/1050068-100.stm Spock, M. (1999). Elegant programs and conversations. In Pitman, B. (Ed.), Presence of mind: Museums and the spirit of learning. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums.

FC: O L D E C O N O M Y V I L L A G E | A Photo Essay by Kate Reilly Educational Programming for Museum Audiences April 15, 2011

1: Introduction to Site Founded in 1824 as "Oekonomie", Old Economy Village is the former home of the Harmony Society (also called the Harmonists), a Christian separatist group that immigrated to the United States from Germany. Despite success in agricultural production, textile manufacturing, and industrial investments, the Harmonists' commitment to celibacy (adopted in anticipation of what they believed was the imminent Second Coming of Christ) resulted in their veritable extinction by 1905. At that time, most of the village's 3,000 acres were sold, and today comprise the surrounding town of Ambridge, Pennsylvania (pictured above, at left). Old Economy Village was acquired by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1916, was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and today features six acres and 17 restored historic structures. Old Economy Village offers visitors an intriguing mix of old and new. Its Ambridge surroundings include streets that feature, alternately, Harmonist architecture and modern architecture. In addition, as shown by the photo above (at right), a four-lane highway runs literally inches from the village's surrounding fence and, just beyond that, the Ohio River wends past. And yet Old Economy today serves as an oasis, much as it must have for the Harmonists. The din of passing highway traffic is, interestingly, overpowered by the silence and stoicism of the village's nearly 200-year old buildings, and the stories they have to tell.

3: Introduction to Program The museum education program in which I participated was a guided tour, led by Pam, a volunteer dressed in period Harmonist clothing (as seen in the photo at left). Unfortunately, I was the only visitor on Pam's tour. Since state budget cuts in 2009 resulted in the temporary closing of Old Economy Village (it reopened in April 2010), attendance numbers have struggled to fully rebound. This was evident on the chilly spring Saturday that I visited. Not only was I Pam's lone tour-goer, but I only observed half a dozen other visitors doing self-guided explorations of the site. And, despite the fact that I arrived in between the established tour times advertised on the museum's website, I was immediately whisked out on tour, by volunteers who seemed thrilled to have an interested visitor. Being that I lead tours at the museum where I work and am passionate about the interpretation aspect of museum education, I was very excited to take Pam's tour, not just to learn facts about the site, but also to observe and analyze her technique. Therefore, although there were no other visitors to observe (and photograph) participating in the museum education program, it was still an illuminating experience. The tour was impressive in its breadth; it covered nearly all of the buildings on the site, including, most notably...

4: ...the Rapp House... | ...the General Store... | ...the Wine Cellar...

5: ...the Harmonists' Museum Building... | ...and the Feast Hall.

6: Tour Analysis It quickly became apparent to me that Pam is an gifted educator, and her tour met several of the requirements for good live programs as outlined by Spock (1999). On the next four pages, I will explore and analyze some of her techniques Enthusiasm From the time she greeted me until the time we said farewell, Pam demonstrated an infectious enthusiasm, not just for the Harmonists' story, but for her role in sharing that story. This was a practical outworking of one of the most salient lessons I learned during the Johns Hopkins on-site seminar in which I participated in New York City, about the importance of showing excitement about one's topic.

7: Conversational Tone While extremely knowledgeable, Pam did not employ an overly didactic interpretive style. Instead, she established a conversational tone with me from the outset of the tour. She demonstrated humility -- rather than a haughty sense of expertise -- which also led her to invite my questions, eagerly answer them, and observe either items or themes in which I was interested, and readily extrapolate on them. In this way, she succeeded in what Spock (1999) outlined as follows: "Rather than being passive receptacles, the visitor contributes to, constructs, helps creates (sic) the experience" (p. 147). Flexibility At the beginning of the tour, Pam inquired if I had ever visited Old Economy Village before. When I stated that I had, she adjusted her approach, glossing over some of the more elementary information and instead delving into more detail. As Spock (1999) pointed out, "...good programs and conversations are adjusted from moment to moment in real time. . .[and are] responsive to specific and evolving interests and needs" (p. 148). Acknowledgment of Pre-Existing Knowledge Pam also demonstrated great respect for the pre-existing knowledge that I brought to the experience. She seemed to understand Spock's characterization of a visitor as "not some poor soul in need of enlightenment, but a smart and capable collaborator" (1999, p. 148). She frequently prefaced her remarks with comments like, "As you probably know..." and "As I'm sure you are aware..." While I appreciated this respect, it was, at times, unwarranted, as I did not necessarily possess the pre-existing knowledge Pam thought I did. Since I, as an educator, often use the "As you probably know..." technique in an effort to put my visitors at ease, it was illuminating to observe this technique from the visitor's perspective, and to discover that it can actually lead to feelings of discomfort and, to an extent, incompetence. As Hillier (2001) pointed out, "'Knowing your audience'. . .means knowing how people relate to your subject matter and the ideas they bring with them to the museum"(p. 8). Clearly, I need to improve in knowing, not presuming, visitors' pre-existing knowledge. Complement to Other Educational Programming Pam frequently cited the orientation video that I was shown upon my arrival to the site, and at the end of the tour, she invited me to stay and do a self=guided exploration. This made for a more cohesive educational experience, while also reflecting a diversity of programming that would, I would think, appeal to visitors with different learning styles. Because I work at a museum that is actually one of three on the site, it was helpful for me to be reminded of the importance of drawing visitors' attention to other on-site opportunities that exist for them.

8: Direct Address Throughout the tour, when explaining aspects of the Harmonists' day-to-day lives, Pam used direct address to draw me into the stories she was telling. Admittedly, this is a technique that I typically dislike, and avoid using, as I feel like it tends to conflate the modern visitor with the historical time being discussed, which is not always appropriate.) However, in the case of Pam's tour, the direct address acted to heighten the immediacy of what she was describing, which led to a more effective experience. | Meta-Education Discussions Throughout the tour, Pam mentioned how she might interpret a particular item for visiting children, which I found interesting, as school groups are my favorite demographic to work with. For example, she described how she uses the rope bed (pictured at left), to explain to children the etymology of the phrase "Sleep tight". | Use of Anecdotes While scholars (notably Anderson, Piscitelli, Weier, Everett, & Tayler, 2002) have discussed the effectiveness of using stories in museum education for children, I have always found this to be an effective way of communicating with and engaging adults as well. Pam must subscribe to the same theory, for she frequently shared amusing and interesting anecdotes, about everything from the architecture of the buildings (every house's kitchen sink, for example, dumped right into a barrel on the exterior of the house, which | would then be used to water the gardens) to the topography of the area (the Ohio River -- today more than twenty feet deep on average, would, in the Harmonists' time, occasionally become so shallow that it could be walked across). These anecdotes ultimately proved more memorable than a long list of facts would have.

9: Recurring Themes Also contributing the cohesiveness of my Old Economy experience was Pam's introduction and subsequent revisiting of themes, a technique recommended by Hillier (2001, p. 4). For example, she postulated that the Harmonists were actually quite "green" and environmentally aware, as evidenced by the aforementioned runoff buckets, and the fact that every house's living room was positioned | Historical Context Pam was masterful at reminding me of historical context, a technique whose importance was emphasized by Johnson (2009). For example, in interpreting the Bake Oven (as pictured below, at left), she pointed out that, in the pre-oven thermometer days of the Harmonists, the only way to gauge the interior temperature was to see how long they could keep their | arm in the oven. Pam frequently used phrases like "Imagine back then"; this helped to continually highlight the historical context, while making her interpretation that much more effective. As Johnson (2009) wrote, "Part of interpreting history is to convince the visitors of the differences between then and now" (p. 31). | in the spot that would receive the most natural light. In addition, in the first building on the tour, she pointed out the transom window (pictured above), designed to look like overlapping fish, and the door (pictured above), designed to look like a cross atop an open Bible. Introducing these recurring items early in the tour gave me something to look for during the remainder, while helping to focus my attention. Sparking Interest As I mentioned previously, Pam's tour was an effective complement to the other educational programming offered at Old Economy Village. While she sparked my interest in lingering on the site for some additional exploration, she also sparked my interest in returning (by making mention of different festivals and special events that take place throughout the year), as well as in learning more about the history of Ambridge. Early in the tour, for example, she pointed out the aforementioned alternating Harmonist/modern architecture, which I then found myself looking for while walking the several blocks back to the Visitor Center.

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  • By: Kate R.
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  • Title: Old Economy Village
  • This photo essay chronicles my visit to Old Economy Village in Ambridge, PA.
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  • Published: almost 9 years ago