By Katie Collins
My experience with the Tobacco Farm Life Museum is nothing but warm. The feeling the museum gives is something akin to flipping through the pages of old books and seeing a reflection of yourself in the pictures. Family, farm, and community.
Summer Intern Katie Collins
I have been helping with the Tobacco Farm Life Museum’s social media campaign for the summer. Honestly, being offered the opportunity to assist the museum in any way is a delight, and not something I expected when I applied. I’m the first in my family to be pursuing a Bachelor’s degree, and I’m the child of parents who grew up in the tobacco fields of North Carolina. As a history major and the descendant of farming families, I wanted to tackle bringing the history I know and mesh it with the history I ought to know.
I didn’t realize, however, how hard it is to bring history to a social media sphere. The tone must be professional, knowledgeable, and approachable. Posts have to be scheduled ahead of time and have to fit with people’s schedules. When do people like to check Facebook? When will posts have the most reach? It’s a million questions that must be answered before you can hit send.
There’s a certain difficulty in creating historical posts, as well. I’ve seen so many historical social media accounts that make posts that are only half-true, or completely made up to appeal to people. I’ve always wondered how, and why? Being behind the screen, I can see the appeal. Researching history on the fly for a post that people may or may not enjoy is a harrowing task. I’m very familiar with North Carolina history, but there’s also local history to take into account. Accuracy, too, is difficult. How am I sure that this fact is correct? What if this is only a half-truth? For a paper, I’m expected to research within an inch of my life to make absolutely sure that what I’m saying is accurate. For a Facebook post? I try my best, but there’s a lingering fear in the back of my mind that someone’s going to find a flaw in my research, and I’ll have never realized it until it’s posted.
There’s a certain difficulty in ensuring that social media posts are clean, concise, and most of all: interesting. I’ve always been interested in history and pursue it because I can’t get enough of all the facts and figures of the past. However, I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that what I find interesting and what the general public finds interesting are two entirely different things. The posts you see on social media are usually only a fraction of the story. It’s made to be easily digestible, interesting to the eye, and make someone go “Oh! I enjoyed that!”. If I were to talk about farmers from the Great Depression on social media, I’d probably talk about the difficulties in everyday life and the ways a whole generation learned to make everything last. If I were to talk about farmers from the Great Depression normally, I’d delve into the complicated history of agricultural revolution, farm waste and subsidiaries, and the politics that helped or hindered North Carolinians at the time.
So on one hand, there are interesting facts. On the other, I could write a book and still not cover everything.
However, I also take it as a problem museums face. How do you make history interesting? How do you show all the facts, and retain everything from that time period? History is complicated. History is messy. No one has the same view of the past, and that’s what makes it beautiful and frustrating all at the same time. How do you condense down everything you know in a way that is approachable to people? I’m not calling people simple, either. It’s the same way with science. When you know science so well, how do you explain to people who don’t how the world works? You can either complicate it too much or simplify it too much. The middle ground, I feel, is incredibly difficult to attain. I envy those curators who are familiar with that just right spot. As someone who aspires to do the same, I’ve found this internship opportunity to be incredibly enlightening, as well as much more difficult than I expected.
One of the things that I enjoyed most, however, was the interactions. Rarely can historians see and hear the ways in which people enjoy their works. However, when you curate and post to social media, you can see the delight people have in seeing their own history. The stories, the interactions, the way people engage. Sugar cookies and tea cakes, fond memories of the Bookmobile, being able to point at the screen and say, “I remember that!”, those are the things that I love to see.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum because it gave me the ability to see for myself how fun and how difficult it is to manage history. I’ve enjoyed the people, learning from the museum, learning from the workers, and taking the time to dig into my roots and see the generations that came before me. It’s humbling, working for your own past to bring it to the present. I hope in future to be able to do it once more.
Special thanks to Beth Nevarez, who offered me the opportunity to learn, and supported me the way through it. The Tobacco Farm Life Museum is a wonderful, informative place, and I’ll be back to visit – that’s for certain.