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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Augmented Reality Brings Former Governors to Life

Have you heard about the hottest new couple? No, it doesn’t involve a Kardashian, but the duo certainly has a knack for turning heads. Their names are History and Technology. Wait — don't yawn and walk away yet.

Okay, it is true that History and Technology are always together, both sharply at odds and wonderfully collaborative (like any couple). But this pairing now has something to offer that has previously been inconceivable: augmented reality (AR).

Remember the View-Master? Put it to your eyes, point it toward light, and a magical, three-dimensional scene appears, bringing you right into it. Fast forward to today, and imagine the scene being in the Former Governors’ Mansion.

In the Mansion, portraits of governors hang on the walls.  The house includes a 1910 Steinway piano, architectural features such as a widow’s walk, and mysterious burn marks on the kitchen floor. What if you could point a device toward a governor’s portrait and hear his inaugural address? Or hear the Steinway playing “Bicycle Built for Two,” a song popular in 1893 when the first of 20 governors lived in the Mansion? Well, this summer you will be able to.

An app that features elements of AR allows visitors to point their phone to a “trigger” and watch or listen as history comes to life. Let me walk you through an example.

Augmented reality at the Former Governors' Mansion

Using a portrait of Governor Shortridge as a trigger, I can access his 1893 inaugural address (read by historian Dr. Barb Handy-Marchello) on my tablet (Johnathan Campbell).

Governor Shortridge, the first governor to occupy the Mansion, gave a memorable inaugural address in 1893. I would like our visitors to be able to hear it. Unfortunately, there appears to be no recording. AR to the rescue! This is how we make it happen:

Step 1: Take a picture of a trigger. In this case, Governor Shortridge’s portrait.
Step 2: Invite a voice actor to read and record a snippet from the inaugural address. Save the audio file.
Step 3: Find a few photos from the State Archives of Governor Shortridge and his family and the old Capitol from 1893.
Step 4: Using iMovie or a similar program, upload the photos and the audio file. Create a slideshow with the photos to match the length of the audio file.
Step 5: Upload and save this movie to Aurasma Studio, free web-based software.
Step 6: Visitors who have downloaded the free Aurasma app to their device can open the app and point the device to the trigger, Governor Shortridge’s portrait.
Step 7: Look at the screen of the device: The movie/slideshow with audio of the inaugural address begins to play!

But wait — there’s more!

Window lock

This original window lock dates to 1884. It is one of many objects that could be a potential “trigger” for your AR experience at the Former Governor’s Mansion (Johnathan Campbell).

That is a very basic Aurasma “aura” (projects in Aurasma are called auras). For something more exciting, what about the view from the roof? Johnathan Campbell, site supervisor and photographer, shot panoramic footage from the Mansion roof. After uploading it to my laptop, I obtained archival photos showing aerial views of Bismarck from the early 1900s. I arranged the video footage and photos in an iMovie file and uploaded it to Aurasma Studio. When visitors point their device to the trigger (an image somewhere inside the Mansion), they can enjoy a beautiful panoramic rooftop view from the past and today without scaling the 133-year-old attic ladder.

If you’d like to step inside the AR time machine (figuratively speaking) and catch a glimpse of today’s hot new History and Technology couple, you will be able to starting in July at the Mansion. In addition to the ones described, some of the AR adventures will include piecing together what caused the burn marks on the floor, watching the original Capitol fire from the Mansion back porch, and watching the demonstration in 1934 in protest of Governor Langer’s removal from office.

Johnathan interpreting

Site supervisor Johnathan Campbell interpreting burn marks on kitchen floor (Johnathan Campbell).

So keep your teleportation device at home and bring your phone or tablet to the Former Governors’ Mansion. We are finding ways for you to go back in time!


Guest Blogger: Kris Kitko

Kris KitkoKris Kitko is a teacher, children's performer, and an interpreter at the Former Governors' Mansion State Historic Site. In addition to giving tours, she enjoys developing programming at the Mansion, especially for young children.

Installing a Traveling Exhibit

Five 53- foot semitrailers. That’s what started arriving at 7a.m. on a recent Monday morning; five semis packed full of crates and carts and tools and equipment that, over the next week, our install team would assemble in the Governors Gallery of the State Museum into an impressive 5,000-square-foot exhibit on the history of chocolate. And despite the years of planning, the diagrams, the scribbled notes, the emails and conference calls, those semis were a daunting sight.

This project began over two years ago. Before the newly built Governors Gallery opened in fall 2014, we had begun looking for a large traveling exhibit to feature in this space, which had been designed for temporary exhibits. We considered a number of factors in our search. The exhibit had to fit the 5,000-square-foot space of our gallery. The exhibit topic and components had to be suitable– supporting our mission, following our code of ethics, and engaging our audience. We also looked at budget, optimal scheduling, and necessary staff.

After many meetings, our exhibits committee decided on Chocolate, an exhibit produced by the Field Museum of Chicago. It’s a topic that we believed could reach a wide audience (Who doesn’t like chocolate?), with a proven track record of success (It’s been constantly traveling for 10 years and multiple venues have hosted it twice), and developed by a respected museum.

Chocolate exhibit entrance

Entrance to the new Chocolate exhibit.

Next came negotiating the contract, developing a unique floor plan, adding insurance, developing new public programming and marketing plans, bringing in new store inventory, and hiring temporary staff. And then, there we were, staring at a line of semis. We had seven days and 10 staff.

Installing a traveling exhibit is akin to putting together a really big Ikea product. Everything on the trucks had to be unloaded, moved to the Governors Gallery, staged, unpacked, and then assembled in a particular sequence.  The Field Museum provided a detailed instruction manual to guide us through the process. Every component was assigned a unique letter and number designation that corresponded to their order on the semis and their final placement in the galleries.

Chocolate semi load plan

Semi load plan.

Chocolate install schematic

Install schematic.

We learned that installing exhibits of this size is physically demanding. The 54 carts that we pushed and pulled into place were 7 feet high and varied in length from 8 to 12 feet.  It took two to three people to move each fully loaded cart. A number of components took six people to unload and move into place.

Carts with chocolate exhibit components

Mark Sundlov and Geoff Woodcox of the Museum Division maneuver an empty cart on its ways to storage, while Genia Hesser contemplates unloading the next in line.

Over the next seven days it came together. More carts were in storage than were in the gallery. Twelve foot walls went up, dividing the gallery into intimate spaces. Media was installed, bringing the rainforest sounds of South America to our northern museum. Soon, we were down to the small final details, a little-touch up paint, wiping down the cases, focusing lights, and vacuuming.

Chocolate the exhibit will be open to the public through September 6, 2017. And then we start the whole process in reverse. I’m going to start my calisthenics program tomorrow.