History Museums & Sites

Freedom Trail

Boston, MA — We began with Market-area Research of Eastern Massachusetts residents’ perceptions, use, and recommendations of this historic Trail in Boston. That led to a three-season Post-Visit Study of Freedom Trail visitors, which systematically revealed patterns of use, differences between “seeing” a site and actually entering, and the relationship between admission cost and attendance, among other issues.

Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

Lynchburg, VA — PPDR conducted Visitor Research — including a visitor analysis, a post-visit focused on interpretive concept testing, and a study of comparable sites — to inform interpretive planning. Collaborated with the 106 Group and participated as presenters in workshops for staff, volunteers and board members. Funded by an IMLS grant.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Washington, DC — Our Summative Evaluation of the “Some Were Neighbors” exhibit focused on the messages perceived by teen school groups and how the exhibit relates to their lives. We implemented a multi-method study (qualitative and quantitative, one-site and post-visit), working jointly with MEM and Associates.

History Colorado

Denver, CO — PPDR began a multi-year relationship with this museum by creating an Audience Research Plan to inform exhibit planning and audience development for a new building, outlining short-term and longer-term strategies. We started with Audience Analysis, a systematic survey to define the existing audience at the Colorado History Museum in the last month before closing.

Then, our Research for Exhibit Planning included ‘front-end’ research for an exhibition called “Colorado Stories;” storyline testing for an exhibition called “Destination Colorado,” about an early pioneer town on the prairie; a ‘front-end’ study for “Nature Matters,” about the changing natural environment.

Next, for Audience Development Research, we conducted community/market -area research including a Potential Audiences Study of the Front Range and focus groups with Latino museum goers. We continued with additional exhibit-related audience research such as storyline testing for the Phase 2 exhibition, “Nature Matters,” mentioned above, as well as advising on other formative studies for Phase 1 exhibits.

Following the opening of this museum in 2012, we conducted the first Post-Opening Audience Analysis of the visitor audiences, discovering that all their planning to make this a family-friendly experience paid off (older adults, and families with school-age children are the two primary audience segments). Information about visitors’ reactions to the exhibits and programs informed decisions about management and future planning.

At the same time, Post-Opening Research for Exhibit Planning began with Formative Evaluation Coaching for the “Denver A to Z” exhibit. Having decided on the concept for a Denver exhibit, exhibit developer Shannon Voirol wanted to explore public perceptions of Denver icons, and we created the “buy a friend a beer” study to do some interviewing for that purpose. We also designed and completed a Storyline Test to examine visitor reactions to a proposed concept about aspirations of people moving to Colorado, notable as well as ordinary folks.

Later, we also conducted Exhibit Evaluation for this museum. Among the exhibits at this newly reinvented history museum was the story of Sand Creek, a massacre of Native Americans by US Army troops in 1864. Our Summative Evaluation was used in negotiations with the northern Cheyenne and Arapaho nations to discuss revisions to the title and messages of this exhibition.

Mesa Verde Computer Kiosk

Denver, CO — Crow Canyon archaeologists sought a partner to bring its Village Ecodynamics Project research (about the Mesa Verde region) to public attention, and with funding from NSF, Crow Canyon archaeologists worked with History Colorado and the Science Museum of Minnesota to develop a touch-screen computer program to be presented in the Living West exhibition at History Colorado. Our Formative Evaluation helped to clarify the audience to design for, and informed decisions about the interpretive structure of that interactive program.

Independence Seaport Museum

Philadelphia, PA — Our two-season Visitor Study helped this museum understand the characteristics of the visitor audience and their use of the two parts of the site (museum building and ship), and to assess interest in interpretive themes and future exhibit ideas, to assist with the master planning process.

The Hermitage: Andrew Jackson’s Homestead

Nashville, TN — We conducted a Member Survey of local membership to test and analyze reactions to potential programs within the “Engaging Our Neighbors” project (funded by IMLS). Conducted member Focus Groups to launch “Engaging Our Neighbors,” seeking input for programming ideas that could attract local audiences.

Brooklyn Navy Yard

Brooklyn, NY — Here, we conducted Community Testing about familiarity and interest in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard, focusing on gallery titles.

Texas State History Museum

Austin, TX — Our Front-end Research for “Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America through Galveston Island,” an exhibition about immigration to Texas through Galveston in the 19th and early 20th centuries, involved interviews with museum visitors as well as interviews in multi-ethnic community areas. We also conducted Formative Evaluation of elements for the storyline and proposed format(s) for interpretive labels.

Historic Deerfield

Deerfield, MA — To determine basic characteristics of summer and fall visitors to this indoor-outdoor historic site, we conducted an Analysis of Visitor Audiences, and also a Visitor Orientation Study to inform architectural programming and graphic design for improvements to the central campus. In addition, our Family Audience Planning Study investigated local families’ perceptions about proposed experiences for an educational activity building.

President Lincoln’s Cottage

Washington, DC — We did Storyline Testing to analyze visitors’ likely reactions to tours, including issues such as the absence of original furniture, the use of modern media for interpretation, length of the tour, and so on. Later, our Summative Evaluation of the tour experience included use of the post-tour Cabinet Room in the Visitor Center. Conducted for the National Trust for Historic Preservation (National Endowment for the Humanities grant).

Historic Hudson Valley

Tarrytown, NY — Using entrance interviews, two versions of a follow-up web-linked survey, and follow-up telephone interviews with non-responders, we conducted a Visitor Analysis of The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze — a large site-specific installation of pumpkin art with a rapidly expanding attendance, in its third year.

Old Sturbridge

Sturbridge, MA — We were able to assess people’s image of this site through Focus Groups with members, a thorough on-site Visitor Analysis, and a Southern New England Phone Survey. The assessment included their awareness, interests, and factors affecting their intentions to visit, to inform strategic planning.

Heritage Museum & Gardens

Sandwich, MA — PPDR provided Consulting related to master planning including a review of existing audience research reports, facilitation of a staff workshop, and a recommendation of key issues and steps.

Owens Thomas House

Savannah, GA — Our Front-end Visitor Research was used for the Reinterpretation Project, which was intended to reshape the content of the house tour to include interpreting the African slave quarters and a perspective that emphasizes whites and blacks together in the household (National Endowment for the Humanities planning grant).