Last time we looked at some of the interpretive techniques the folks at King’s Mountain National Military Park are using in their visitor center exhibit. Today let’s examine one of the tools they’re using out on the battleground itself.
The basic building block of King’s Mountain interpretation, like that of many battlefields, is the trailside sign. Anybody who’s visited a historic site is probably familiar with these things. Each sign has text describing what happened at that particular sector of the field, some images, maybe a first-person quote or two, and an orientation map.
Not too long ago, a new type of sign appeared along the trail at King’s Mountain. I first encountered them during a visit this past summer, and they were still there on my last trip a few days ago. Each one marks a stop on a cell phone audio tour. You just dial the number on the sign, press the key for that particular stop, and listen to the narration.
These audio clips are a little lengthier than the narrative excerpts written on the trailside signage, which makes sense, because most people will be more likely to listen while standing or walking than they will be to stand there and read a lengthy block of text. As I mentioned last time, “exhibit fatigue” is a real problem with long passages of text in galleries. Many visitors will get bored with the narrative and just browse at whatever pace and in whatever order suits them, which means the interpretive scheme and storyline will fall apart. An audio tour can incorporate more verbal information because visitors will passively receive it. It also has the advantage of including visually-impaired visitors into the experience.
Of course, audio tours at museums and sites are nothing new in and of themselves. What I find innovative about this particular application is that it utilizes a tool that visitors already have on hand. Since so many people carry cell phones these days, King’s Mountain can implement the advantages of an audio tour without the inconvenience and expense of distributing a bulky personal audio player with headphones to each guest, or setting up playback devices across the battlefield. It’s also unobtrusive with respect to the landscape, because all you need is a small sign.
Independence National Historical Park and Minute Man National Historical Park are two other sites getting in on the cell phone tour act, although the latter charges a small fee for it. Saratoga has a cell phone tour, too, in addition to audio clips which you can download to an mp3 players from the park website and listen to when you visit.
The times they are a-changing, and historic sites are rolling with it.