Title:Visitor Interactivity Becomes Museum Exhibit
Authors:Billie Jones
Publication:MW2004: Museums and the Web 2004

Visitors to the Smithsonian Museum of American History's September 11 (2001) exhibit, which closed on July 6, 2003, were invited to record their memories of September 11 either in writing or in recorded telephone messages. Some of those written messages were displayed in several locations throughout the exhibit. All of these memories, written and recorded will be made available through The September 11 Digital Archive, where they join other writings prompted at that site. This intermingling of contributed memories, written texts and recorded messages, left at the physical museum and at the virtual site (not directly an arm of the Smithsonian), provides a rich field for study. In this paper, I will share a rhetorical analysis of writings left by visitors to the Smithsonian Museum of American History's September 11 (2001) exhibit, comparing these to memories recorded at the September 11 Digital Archive ( . These writings, private memories recorded to become part of public discourse displayed on a museum wall or an Internet site, serve as a memorial to the lives, and a way of life, lost that day. More than words, however, their visual presence and even suppositions as to the writers' exigency(ies), common yet very personal, and purposes for writing/sharing their memories are all fruit for rhetorical study. Beyond that I will explore the actual shift from the writings being created as a result visitor (physical or virtual space) to the writings becoming artifacts within the exhibit. More than simply an outlet for memories and volatile emotions, the writings become much of the meat in the digital archive, drawing more visitors. This sort of uber-interactivity makes the virtual museum space a constantly evolving exhibit, with visitors having a greater ownership than ever before.