Constructed Authenticity at the Ohio Village

Imagine speeding along the interstate, catching a fleeting glimpse of a quaint village green where a baseball game is being played under the summer sun. Nestled in Columbus, Ohio, this isn’t just any village—it’s Ohio Village, a meticulously constructed historical town where the past comes to life. From Victorian parlors to Civil War-era baseball games, and from turn-of-the-century bakers to suffragists rallying for the vote, Ohio Village offers an immersive journey through time. Join us as we explore the stories, challenges, and triumphs of creating and maintaining this living history museum with Andrew Hall, the mastermind behind its educational programming.




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Show notes & links


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Guest Bio

Andrew Hall is the manager of Ohio Village’s educational programming at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Ohio. With a focus on planning and executing a wide range of educational content, Andrew ensures that both day-to-day visitors and large public events, like the annual July 4th celebration, are engaging and informative. Under his leadership, Ohio Village offers a unique living history experience, showcasing different time periods and evolving stories that reflect the diverse history of Ohio. Passionate about authenticity and community involvement, Andrew collaborates with dedicated volunteers and local community members to bring a variety of perspectives to the forefront, making Ohio Village a vibrant and dynamic resource for all who visit.

“Ohio village is this really great community space. That is a great example of what living history can and what I think should be. Ohio Village just being what it is gives us a chance to create this really fascinating cross section of individuals that then creates this great framework by which we can share all these stories.”

Top takeaways

  1. Ohio Village’s Purpose and Design: Ohio Village is a constructed historical town designed to showcase different periods in Ohio’s history. Built in 1974 for the bicentennial celebrations, it includes around 20 buildings in various architectural styles representing the state’s early history.
  2. Educational Programming: Andrew Hall manages Ohio Village’s educational programming, which includes day-to-day activities for visitors and large public events. The programming is designed to be flexible and cater to the interests and stories of the local community.
  3. Evolution of Storytelling: The stories told at Ohio Village have evolved over time based on public interest and relevance. Initially, it focused on early Ohio history, later shifted to crafts and heritage, and most recently centered around the 1890s, reflecting contemporary social concerns.
  4. Living History Concept: Living history at Ohio Village involves immersive education that prioritizes sensory experiences to make history feel alive. This includes both third-person (demonstrations) and first-person (role-playing) interpretations.
  5. Community Involvement: Ohio Village works with volunteers and community members to incorporate diverse perspectives and stories into their programming, aiming to reflect a wide range of historical experiences.
  6. Authenticity and Adaptability: The village’s buildings act as stage sets that can be adapted to different time periods and narratives. This flexibility allows Ohio Village to tell a variety of stories without being tied to a specific historical period.
  7. Challenges of Transformation: Changing the village’s theme or time period involves altering building interiors, signage, and props. While some events require minimal changes, others involve significant collaboration with experts to ensure authenticity.
  8. Muffin Baseball Team: The Ohio Village Muffins is a vintage baseball team that plays by 1860s rules, using original-style equipment and uniforms. This team is a consistent feature of the village’s programming and connects visitors to historical sports practices.
  9. Balancing Consistency and Change: Ohio Village aims to maintain a balance between offering new experiences and retaining familiar ones for repeat visitors. This approach ensures that the village remains engaging and relevant.
  10. Importance of Authenticity: Authenticity is a key focus at Ohio Village, guiding their decisions on which stories to tell and how to present them. This includes making efforts to represent historically marginalized communities and constantly re-evaluating their narratives to ensure they are accurate and inclusive.

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Ohio History Center

Transcript

Journey with Purpose: On the side of the interstate, which splits Columbus, Ohio, into two parts, there’s an antique village. You can glimpse it for a few seconds speeding along the highway. You might just see a village green and a baseball game being played. You’ve just passed Ohio Village, part of the Ohio History Connection sprawling site, which includes both the village and the Ohio History Center museum, which is this amazing brutalist square plopped down inside of this field.

I spoke with Andrew Hall about authenticity, affordances for storytelling, LARPing, and muffin baseball. You’re listening to Journey with Purpose. This is episode 24, and I’m your host, Randy Plemel. Andrew, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us where we’re speaking to you from and what you do?

Andrew Hall: My name is Andrew Hall. I am speaking to you from Columbus, Ohio, specifically from Ohio Village. I am the manager of Ohio Village’s educational programming. So, essentially, my job here at the village is to plan and execute all of our educational content, whether that’s day-to-day visitation when you just come out with your family, or if it’s a large-scale public program like our July 4th celebration.

Journey with Purpose: If someone’s not familiar with Ohio Village, can you describe it for us, please?

Andrew Hall: Absolutely. Ohio Village is a really unique space. It’s a historical town that was built back in 1974, partly in keeping with the nation’s bicentennial celebrations. It was originally conceived as a way for Ohioans to engage with their own history in a variety of different ways.

Being a constructed town, it was intended to be flexible in terms of different time periods, different interpretations, with the ability to tell different stories. Realistically, Ohio Village is a collection of about 20 different buildings that were all constructed here on the site. Almost nothing was brought here in terms of structure. We do have a small voting booth that was brought here that is an original structure, but other than that, everything was built here. The construction of the village itself even tells a story. Each of the buildings is built in a slightly different style, meant to showcase the different decades of early Ohio’s history.

So, you’ll see some early Georgian and Federal-style buildings all the way up to 1850s and early 1860s architecture. That was really the village’s initial intent: to showcase that first kind of 50 years of Ohio statehood. But it’s evolved over the years and has told a lot more stories than it originally had intended to. Ohio Village is this really great community space that is a great example of what living history can and, what I think, should be. Because it’s not just us as the staff members who are making decisions about what stories to tell. We work with a lot of very dedicated and passionate volunteers who bring their own expertise and stories to the forefront.

We work with members of our local community to see what stories they have to tell and what stories they’re interested in hearing. Ohio Village, just being what it is, gives us a chance to create this really fascinating cross-section of individuals that then creates this great framework by which we can share all these stories.

Honestly, in my opinion, it’s what a good living history site and really just a good museum should do. It should be a resource for its community. And I hope we can continue to do that moving into the future.

Journey with Purpose: I’m really interested in this idea of a constructed village and that everything was purpose-built with a story. But if they were all constructed here, someone had to choose and make the choice of the stories. And I’m super interested in how those stories evolved. So can you take us through that construction of stories and how that evolved?

Evolution of Time

Andrew Hall: The village is intended to showcase a variety of Ohio’s history. When it was first conceived, the village was going to reflect about 100 years prior in Ohio history. That was going to be the original thought: that at all times, Ohio Village would be 100 years behind where we are today, with the idea of being able to do regular and consistent reflection on how history is changing and how that change influences us still today. But as you can imagine, over time, plans change and the public desire for stories change. And that has really often been the main driver behind why Ohio Village has represented the time periods that it has, because we talk to our visitors, we talk to our constituents, and find out what kinds of stories they are interested in hearing, what resonates with them, or, sometimes an even better question is, what kinds of stories are you not hearing? What do you feel like is missing?

So, over the years, we’ve done a variety of changes. As I mentioned, when Ohio Village first opened, it was much more of a timeline of Ohio’s early history. And over time, we layered on a craftsman-style experience, where you would have artisans all throughout Ohio Village. And that was really connected to the extreme interest in heritage craft revival that happened in the 1970s. That was, again, tied very closely to the nation’s bicentennial. And with that renewed interest in heritage crafts, people wanted to see not only how they were done but also to be able to engage with the people who were doing them and purchase goods.

So, the village, for a long time, was a craftsman’s market, for lack of a better phrase. We taught the history and we made a lot of different things. Of course, again, times change. Jumping forward a little bit, we get closer to another major anniversary, which was the Civil War sesquicentennial. So, during that period, that was yet again another moment of reflection of realizing what we are doing, what stories we want to tell, and what’s relevant right now. So, during that time, we did move Ohio Village up very specifically to the period of 1861 to 1865, with the intention of following along with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War year by year. During that time, Ohio Village was a first-person experience, where you essentially were stepping foot back into a Civil War-era Ohio town, able to experience what life on the home front was like in those years as time progressed from the beginning of the war to the end of the war.

And while that was very popular, we came to kind of a decision-making point at the end: we’ve hit 1865, the sesquicentennial is over, do we decide to continue teaching the history we’ve been teaching, or do we try to reimagine ourselves and find something else that’s relevant?

And that’s what we ended up deciding. And that’s where Ohio Village is in its current state right now, where it’s set in this 1890s, turn-of-the-century time period. And again, it was all driven by relevance.

Reflection

Andrew Hall: We had a bit of time to reflect on the common social concerns in our modern day. We have things like mistrust of political authority, economic instability, technological leaps and bounds, and social movements moving and shaking all throughout the streets. The turn of the 20th century, that progressive era, late Gilded Age is just rife for relevant conversation.

So, that’s the main reason why we moved up to that time period: so we could have conversations with people in a way that helped them better understand why their world is the way it is today. We try to tell stories that help people have a better understanding of why our government functions the way it does, why our schools function the way they do. There are very good reasons for all of these questions. You just got to go back far enough to find the answers.

Journey with Purpose: I love this idea that there’s been three main curatorial epochs. It opened with this first 50-100 years of Ohio focused on crafts, then a Civil War era, and now this 1890s, before the turn of the century. How did we get here and why focus? I often think about what are the affordances that I can build into the experiences or the spaces that can either evolve or that are there. So, it sounds like you have these buildings that were constructed. It might be easy to change some of those things, but you’re not going to tear down a bunch of these buildings. But on the other end, there’s the scripts and the roles and some of the, for lack of a better term, bric-a-brac or stuff that’s around there that could change. What does it take to change? How hard is that?

Transforming the Context

Andrew Hall: That’s a great question, honestly. Your imagination of how this is pulled together is absolutely spot on. You can think of these buildings as almost stage sets or blank canvases. So, they’re providing a backdrop in which we are constructing these narratives to tell. For example, we have one space that has been, in my time, I’ve been with the organization since 2015, at least here at Ohio Village, we’ve got a space that’s been three different businesses since I’ve been here. It was a dressmaker’s shop, then it was a photography studio, and now it’s a bakery. We can go through these transformations by altering the interiors of buildings and altering exterior signage.

As to how difficult that can be, it really depends on, first off, what it is that we’re trying to accomplish, and then secondly, how thoroughly we want to do it. So, we have a number of events throughout the year where we’ll temporarily transform the village into a different time period. For example, we have a 21-and-up event that is a speakeasy. So, you get to go through a kind of 1920s version of Ohio Village, where it’s only for one evening. So, we don’t do a ton of transformation. We do update some of the decor. We’ll switch out, like you said, some of that bric-a-brac, change up the costuming, change up the information that we’re using, but we may not necessarily do a whole-scale change of the entire village.

But again, depending on the context, we have done… we’ve had Civil War reenactments here at the village, even since we’ve turned to the 1890s. And we’ve even had an event where we fast-forwarded the village to a 1940s town for an entire weekend. And during those, we typically don’t do all of that work ourselves if we’re making that kind of large-scale, temporary transformation. We work a lot with experts in the living history field in which we’re working because oftentimes they are able to help bring that material culture to us and help us essentially dress the stage. Because material culture is extremely important, and honestly, any time we’re transforming a space, that’s really what it comes down to.

More than anything else, of course, there’s the costuming and all of the information that our interpreters can convey, but you’re really pulled out of the context and out of the moment if someone’s dressed up in a 1950s poodle skirt but they’re standing in a Victorian parlor. We recognize the importance of that material culture but also recognize that just because we’re jumping, let’s say, up to the 1940s, it doesn’t mean every single thing in the village needs to jump to the 1940s as well because there is still continuity in history and we all have old things.

So, even as our normal time period in the 1890s, we still have objects in the village that span across the century because we’re in a time where people aren’t throwing stuff away nearly as often. They’re reusing things until it can’t be reused anymore. So, you get to see this kind of continuation of human interest and human culture through these objects.

And that’s oftentimes one of our best connecting points to visitors: that physical, tangible connection to the past. It’s really, honestly, for that reason that Ohio Village is a fully tactile site. Everything we have out on display, with very few exceptions, is part of what we call our education collection.

All of those items are ones that have a good representative in our permanent collection or are items that are so commonplace that we can easily find replacements for them. So that way, we can actually… in a way that’s very fearless, we can actually let visitors hold history without having to hold their hand and actually let them explore.

Journey with Purpose: That’s awesome. I just remember going there one of the times. We spent some time in the bike shop, and my kids just wanted to grab everything.

And I wonder, what’s that permissiveness, that hands-on, that’s both a good choice but also potentially it constrains what you can put on set, what is there? It makes me think about the curatorial decisions that sometimes constrain what we can actually do in an efficient way.

Andrew Hall: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. My team and I are regularly having to make decisions about what we can safely put out in a kind of static way, and what needs to be more observed. Do we want to let people ride bicycles willy-nilly around town, or do we need to have somebody watch them?

We’re constantly having to question ourselves about that. And it does lead to some challenges, including some of the most uniquely destroyed items that I’ve ever seen. We have a little saying that if you ever want to see the real way something can be broken, all the ways it can be broken, give it to a member of the public and they’ll find a way.

We also have to think about that design in terms of who is our audience because we have a wide array of people who come and visit us. We, of course, have our intended audiences. We look to build like families and younger folks, but we also have to take that moment of taking a step back and recognizing who are the people that we’re really serving on a regular basis and what are the best ways we can serve them? So, that also often informs what kinds of activities we develop, what kinds of special programs we put on, and things like that.

Living History

Journey with Purpose: I’d love for you to also give me a definition of what you mean by living history. You said that before, because I’d love to understand that. And there’s probably some tensions inherent in living history.

Andrew Hall: Yeah, no, I’m really glad you asked that question because it’s honestly one that I have asked myself a number of times over the years because it’s a term that especially in our industry gets thrown around a lot. But having a good understanding of what exactly it entails is important because there are a lot of different ways you can approach public education, and living history is just one of them.

So, if I had to define it, I would really just describe it as being a form of immersive education about the past that prioritizes the experience of learning, prioritizing the tactile, the auditory, the olfactory senses, trying to find ways to make history feel alive for people who don’t have the ability to experience it themselves. We do that in a couple of different ways. So, living history can be a form of conversation and education in a third-person perspective, where you’re using, “They did this, they did that,” but still demonstrating. It’s very similar to experiential archaeology.

Where we’re putting ourselves in the situations of the past in order to help ourselves and help our visitors better understand how the past worked and why it worked the way it worked. And, of course, we also can present living history characters through first-person, which is a little more challenging, but depending on the circumstances, can be quite rewarding.

Where we are saying, “I did this, I did that,” and putting ourselves directly in that historical time period, again, as a way to bring that history to life. Now, depending on who you ask, there are lots of different ways that you could kind of branch off with this definition. But I oftentimes think of living history as being the most educational and public-serving version of what we do because there’s also reenacting, which is oftentimes primarily connected to military history.

But it’s also a little bit more just about the show of show and tell. So, the depth is just a little lower than what we’re able to do, or a little shallower than what we’re able to do. Again, depending on who you ask, somebody else might have a very different opinion on how those terms work.

But that’s the standard we put ourselves to, of making sure that bringing that history to life and igniting a spark of curiosity is what our living history should do because if our folks are walking away from a conversation without thinking about what they talked about and thinking about, “Oh, maybe I’ll go and look something up later, I’ll follow up on this later,” then we’re not reaching people the way we want to.

LARPING

Journey with Purpose: One of the other things that I find creeping into my work and some of the work that I do, oftentimes I’m looking to Nordic live-action role-playing, to LARPing. And I wonder how adjacent or overlapping living history is with that, or do you see them as separate or connected? I’d love to get your point of view.

Andrew Hall: Yeah, that’s a great question that I feel like a lot of people in this industry and just in the kind of living history world in general are hesitant to tackle this type of a question. And in my opinion, I do see LARPing and reenacting and living history as all connected.

We’re all often being driven by the same interest: we want to learn more about usually a specific time period. We want to learn more about how did people live during that time? How did they dress? What did they do for fun? You’re looking for that common human connection. There are times where the various versions of living history and reenacting and LARPing all intermix in really fun ways.

That can happen a lot, especially when you’re doing a first-person type interpretation. Because there’s also a little bit of theater mixed in there, a little bit of role-play and I guess almost improv to doing first-person. But oftentimes where I see the distinction between live-action role-playing and living history is that more often than not, live-action role-players, they are doing what they’re doing for themselves and for their own community. They’re usually like-minded groups of individuals who want to do this role-playing so that way they can step out of our world and into the world that they all have a shared interest in. And sometimes that does cross over into the public world.

But more often than not, that kind of living history sector is more in the public-facing education, where we are still drawn to doing this because we really like it, but we’re also doing it because we want to teach other people about it.

Journey with Purpose: You said that there might be some hesitancy to either talk about LARPing or how it’s connected. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Andrew Hall: It comes primarily from a perspective of taking the humanities and the social sciences legitimately and seriously. It’s easy for someone who’s skeptical about the importance of history, living history specifically. It can be easy for them to look at live-action role-players who, at times, are very good at what they do. I’ve met quite a few LARPers who probably could have pretty good historian qualifications in and of themselves, but also sometimes those folks just want to dress up and have a good time. And at a time when we’re always trying to legitimize ourselves, putting the two side by side, some people are just not as comfortable putting them in the same box. But I just see it as yet another creative way of learning, another creative way of exploring our interests. And, if it’s another way

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to get someone learning, to get someone reading, and get them interested in the past, then I think that’s a great touch point for that.

Authenticity

Journey with Purpose: I think what’s interesting is what I hear is that there’s either a question of or a struggle with this idea of authenticity. I think that’s a really long conversation, but I wonder, does that sound right? Is some of this connected with authenticity? I think about some of the more infamous living villages that decided, “Oh, we’re going to give a time period,” and then we’re going to raze all the other buildings that don’t fit in this time period.

Andrew Hall: Sure. Yeah.

Journey with Purpose: And is that authentic? I don’t think I have an answer to that. I think my experience of going into Ohio Village felt like it was authentic to me because I’m a person. I walked around, my daughter met a suffragist and signed up to be part of the member and still has the membership card. And so for her, that was super authentic. And that was learning about history. Is that a bigger meta-conversation that is just always present, or is that something that you’re able to put away from time to time?

Andrew Hall: The topic of authenticity is something that’s always come up and it always will, and I think that’s a good thing because we should always be questioning ourselves to make sure that we are telling authentic stories. It can be very easy to fall into telling the same old stories time and time again or leaving stories out that are inconvenient to the narrative you want to tell. So in that way, authenticity is key.

It is important, like what you’re mentioning with Colonial Williamsburg, in identifying what are the stories that you want to tell. And once you’ve identified that, are you being authentic? I’ve seen plenty of examples of places where people just lack the resources and they may not realize that they’re not presenting authentic stories. I’ve experienced plenty of other museums where they may lack the resources and are unable to share all of the stories that would give them a full and authentic experience. And I’ve also visited places where they’ve chosen not to tell certain stories in order to deliver a more authentic and real experience for a specific community.

So I think a lot of it comes down to what are the goals of your museum or your living history site or wherever it is that we’re talking about. What are the narratives we want to tell? And who is it that we want to tell the stories to? Because that’s, I think, where the authenticity matters the most. For example, one of the major goals that we’ve had here at Ohio Village over the past three to four years, ever since we reopened from our pandemic closure, has been to tell more diverse and authentic stories. We recognize that in the past, our interpretation has not always incorporated all of the perspectives of the past, especially those of historically marginalized people. So we’ve been making a concerted effort over the last few years to put those stories more towards the forefront and show how marginalized communities had a major impact on the past.

Whether we regularly address that or not, these people were there, and we know that there are people who want to hear those stories. They want to hear about all of the people they’ve never heard about, battered over the head with certain stories over and over again. So when you finally get the chance to hear something new, especially if it’s something that you feel resonates with you, now you’re listening. I think that’s really where it comes down to from site to site with authenticity. And like what you were mentioning at the beginning, this is a topic that we necessarily have to come back to because I think my professional concern is that anytime we rest too comfortably on our laurels, that’s when we start making missteps. It’s good to be constantly questioning ourselves about what it is that we’re doing and what it is that we are hoping to do.

Journey with Purpose: That really resonates with me because I think if you treat Ohio Village as this armature and this set of situated places to tell stories, and you have the means and the methods to dress it up differently in different ways, then you’re able to tell the story. I’m trying to work this out. Is that any more authentic or not? If one day it’s set in the 1940s and then the next day it’s in the twenties and then it sets back in the 1890s, if it’s telling stories rooted in truth. Is that like the minimum viable authenticity? I guess I’m trying to work that out and I’m sure that’s a conversation you and your experts continually have.

Andrew Hall: It brings up a really excellent point about the importance of place when it comes to authentic conversations, because Ohio Village is in this really unique situation, this unique position to be able to be very quixotic in its decision about time. Since this village was never a real town, we are not beholden to telling a specific story of a specific place, right?

So we can very easily jump around to telling different stories, different time periods, because we’re not necessarily rooted in a specific time as opposed to, let’s say, Colonial Williamsburg. Especially knowing that their mission is to talk about the colonial experience, it would definitely feel much less authentic if they were to start opening up an 1860s wing of their town. Because it just really depends on what the mission of the organization driving the history is. That’s really where that question of authenticity comes into place most importantly, because you need to define for yourself and for your visitors what is this experience supposed to be? What should you be expecting? And then we can craft an authentic experience around that expectation.

COSI

Journey with Purpose: This makes me think of another example of situated storytelling in Columbus, which is at COSI. We went to COSI all the time when I was a kid. I was a member when we’re back in central Ohio. The kids go every time. There’s this installation inside COSI which is called Progress and it’s the same street shown two ways. The first version is 1898 and the second one is 1962. It’s the same town, but things have changed. The street has changed, the businesses have changed, and how people interact with technology at the intersection of Hope and Fear streets has changed. I always wished that there is a third version, which is the future street. We’ve got like deep past, middle past, and future. That, to me, could be super interesting. I don’t know if Ohio Village could do that, but I think about, man, this would be super awesome to do that.

Andrew Hall: I love that idea. And honestly, we talk about what we expect the future to be fairly regularly, partly on our own knowledge of the past. I don’t want to use the tired phrase, but history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it does move in cycles. We can see trends that cycle back and forth. We can watch the patterns of history as they start working their way back around. It can be fun to speculate on what the future might be. And honestly, in the village, we talk about that, but from the perspective of the Victorians, because if you look right at the turn of the century, a lot of us experienced pre-Y2K, everybody is imagining what will the 20th century look like?

And we actually do occasional programs about how did they imagine the year 2000, just like how did we imagine the year 2012 when we were watching Back to the Future. So they also were imagining things like flying vehicles and sidewalks that moved you instead of having to walk.

It’s fascinating, this topic that you’re bringing up, because it feels very contemporary for us to think about the idea of flying cars and what could the future hold? But it’s a very human belief. It’s a very human thought because we are just curious and we’re also a little nervous because we don’t really know what’s coming.

So that could be an interesting exercise. I don’t necessarily think Ohio Village is the best place for it, especially with that conversation about authenticity, but I do think that’s a conversation that someone else could have given the right context.

Ohio Village Muffins

Journey with Purpose: Tell us about the Ohio Village Muffins.

Andrew Hall: Oh, I would love to. The Ohio Village Muffins are a living history baseball team that plays by 1860s rules. So when I say the word baseball, it does speak to baseball, break into baseball, which is how they were doing it back in the 1860s. They play by the vintage rules, which means they are not using modern-day baseballs. They’re still using the original-style leather-bound balls. They don’t use baseball gloves or mitts. They’re just playing bare-handed. And they even use special bats that are still made in the original style.

What I find fascinating about the Muffins is that they are just one of a vast number of vintage teams that you can find all across the country. They play games just about once a week in the summertime. And at the end of the summer, here at the Ohio History Connection, they actually play a tournament game called the Ohio Cup, where they invite vintage teams from all across the nation to play in a competition, which is really neat to watch.

Journey with Purpose: What are some of the surprising things that I might see if I go see a Muffins game?

Andrew Hall: For starters, there’s the uniforms, because they look a lot more formal and stiff than you are used to seeing athletes in today. And then the other thing that I think is really cool about the Muffins is that, honestly, their composition of players is a really good representation of the types of people who were playing the game back in the 1860s.

It’s mainly middle-aged men playing. These are not folks that are trained athletes necessarily. They are folks who are doing this because they enjoy it. Which is actually where the term muffin comes from, because in the 19th century an amateur, especially an amateur athlete, was known as a muffin. So being the Ohio Village Muffins, they are just the Ohio Village amateur baseball team. So it’s actually neat to see just a bunch of average guys playing baseball and having a great time. It’s honestly a very different feel than the modern baseball that we are used to seeing today.

Journey with Purpose: I’m wondering, is that consistency with the Muffins and other things, is that one of the strengths of Ohio Village that there’s this consistency to it over the course of, say, a curatorial calendar of the year when it’s open versus some of the small changes you might make? Like, where do you play in that consistency versus uniqueness?

Andrew Hall: It’s an interesting mental exercise that we have to go through because we have a tendency to remember the people who come regularly. And those are the folks who we want to remember, show the new stuff to, that we want to keep everything fresh for. But when you look at our actual attendance numbers, the vast majority of our visitors aren’t visiting often enough for us to be changing too regularly.

We have to find our own balance of how much do we refresh on a regular basis versus what we keep consistent. And the Muffins are one of those really great consistent aspects of our program because even when we moved up into the 1890s, the Ohio Village Muffins chose not to. They wanted to stay playing by 1860s rules, partly because by the turn of the 20th century, baseball had become a very crass and violent sport during its transition out of amateur into professional. So they preferred to just stay where they were. There are plenty of folks who not only do they know the name of the Ohio Village Muffins, but to them, it’s a staple of the village. We recognize that people have a deep attachment to this space. But they tend to be very amenable to us introducing changes as long as we don’t do too much all at once.

Journey with Purpose: Which feels a little bit like a reflection on us as people.

Andrew Hall: Of course.

Outro

Andrew Hall: My name is Andrew Hall. I am speaking to you from Columbus, Ohio, specifically from Ohio Village. I am the manager of Ohio Village programs. So really, my job is to manage all of the educational content here at Ohio Village, manage our interpretive and education staff, and really anything from a day-to-day visit with your family all the way up to a large-scale public program. Those are the things that I manage.

Summation

Journey with Purpose: Thanks to Andrew and the Ohio History Connection for their time and making this interview possible. Ohio Village turns 50 years old this July 27th, 2024. So, if you are in the Central Ohio area, come down and celebrate 50 years at Ohio Village. Also, really important, at the end of the summer in 2024, Ohio Village will begin a year-and-a-half renovation to update the site for more storytelling opportunities, more places for food and drinks, and to update the connection between the wonderfully brutalist Ohio History Center and the village. The village will be open for some key events but is slated to reopen sometime in 2026.

The reason this conversation and this topic get me so excited is that everything we spoke about in this episode has a direct connection to the experiences I help design, both physical and digital experiences. We always try and understand what stories and activities people want to, or have to, complete in the services we design. Understanding what the audience needs in the experience and what they want, and how fresh it should be, is really a balance between that old favorite and fresh new content. I was working with a children’s museum, and this was a central problem since returning and new visitors need slightly different things. And a lot of times, the membership or returning visitors had old favorites that they always wanted to go to.

Not everything needs to be fully renovated or changed all the time. Some of it can be papered over or changed slightly. Some of the little accoutrements we talked about, the bric-a-brac, can really change the feeling and the experience. I get excited about tackling what is the acceptable rate of change for the audience? And how are we building it into the design?

We’re also oftentimes looking to see what affordances we can build into the experience so that those who serve the audience can do it in a flexible manner, meeting people where they are but not creating an infinite amount of service paths. I was working with a children’s hospital, and they were trying to figure out how they can create a smaller set of service paths but be incredibly inclusive. And it’s a hard tension to manage because people are different.

Finally, we constantly use role-playing and immersion to imagine harder into the future. In this case, Ohio Village is using all manner of things to imagine it backward in time. This isn’t true live-action role-playing, but if you go into Ohio Village, there is a bright yellow line asking you to “step back in time.” This is the magic circle concept in LARPing. This is the boundary between everyday life and live-action role-play. And one of the things we do in our work is try to understand and use some of these tools to help people imagine into the future, imagine a separate possibility. Sometimes that requires building a completely new space full of technology and full of people role-playing what that new future might look like. Other times we can use a clickable prototype on an iPad and we can get people into that world.

Now, this question of authenticity and situating in place is something I personally always struggle with because it talks about what the boundary is about what people will accept and what they want to do. Keeping people either inside their comfort zone or actively pushing them outside their comfort zone is an important consideration to take.

If you’re anywhere near Central Ohio, you absolutely should go to Ohio Village and the Ohio History Center and take a look. They’re both well worth your time. They’re all in one location; it’s one place to go. And if you have extra time, go to COSI. It is an amazing place. I grew up going to COSI. If you have kids, they will run amok and have an excellent time. I think both are really an interesting case study in how to tell complex stories and content at the intersection of history, science, technology, and sometimes politics.

So again, many thanks to Ohio History Connection and Andrew for a really great conversation. This episode could be many hours long.

That’s it for another episode of Journey with Purpose. A reminder that all opinions you hear from me today aren’t necessarily the opinions of our employer. We don’t speak for them, but you knew that. If you liked this episode, please go over to iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your fine podcasts from and smash that like button, give us some reviews, share with your friends. These sorts of non-monetary things help people find the show and give us a little boost, and we definitely appreciate it.

Please go to jwp.news to listen to more episodes. If you’re interested in how different historical sites tell deeply historic stories, two other episodes that we’ve done in the past pair well with this one. We have a story about the Edith Farnsworth House and another one around Philip Johnson and how his fascist support intertwines with the glass house that he built.

As always, we thank you for your time. We’ll see you on the internets. And be well.

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