A crucial part of New-York Historical Society’s mission is to make our exhibitions come alive for all of our visitors. The New York and the Nation app offers visitors an enjoyable, accessible, and cutting-edge way to learn about the major themes of our new series of permanent installations in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American history entitled New York and the Nation. The app provides additional interpretation as well as aids for those with disabilities.
At the heart of the app is a series of 16 videos that will help contextualize each exhibit area. The videos feature New York Historical staff including President and CEO Louise Mirrer and Valerie Paley, Historian for Special Projects who organized the Smith Gallery installations. Also featured in the videos are Harvard economics professor Niall Ferguson, Ken Jackson past N-YHS President and editor of the Encyclopedia of New York and artist Fred Wilson. Additional media components include a series of letters and documents from the federal period read by actors portraying several key founding fathers including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris. The app will also include audio descriptions and high resolution images for each of the more than 150 objects on display.
Taking advantage of Apple’s progressive “VoiceOver” technology, visually impaired visitors will be able to simply run their finger across the screen to find out what is on that page. So, if the screen features an image of the New York Rising salon-style wall, going from left to right the user would hear: “Painting—Eliza Beekman…Painting—Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, …Beekman Family Coat of Arms” and so on. When they come across an object that is of interest to them, they double click on it to hear a description of the object followed by its interpretive information. Never before has the New-York Historical Society been able to bring so much of an exhibition to life for the visually impaired visitor.
Apps are the perfect way for museums to extend the learning experience beyond someone’s 90-minute or two-hour visit. Rather than inviting a visitor to—after returning home—log onto their computer, navigate to nyhistory.org, and find the exhibition page where they can learn more about the topic or give feedback, we will provide them with an app that puts that capability in their pocket. A visitor might pull their phone out on the subway ride home, show it to a friend, or use it to plan additional trips to the New-York Historical Society for further learning opportunities. The App is available on both iPhone and Android platforms.