Through our online educational programming, participants form connections between their own experiences and the experiences of people of the past, highlighting Williamsburg’s relevance and providing an understanding of who we are today and the historical context of current events. Citizens are seeking experiences that are based on well researched, expertly curated content and they are turning to Colonial Williamsburg in increasingly large numbers, including 13.5 million views of video content and 110 million digital impressions so far.
The first objective of Colonial Williamsburg’s newly published Strategic Plan focuses on Historic Interpretation and Education. Goals that support this objective include expanding our national platform to increase awareness of the importance of American history in education; and making the name “Colonial Williamsburg” and its powerful message known throughout the nation and the world. Creating Virtual Williamsburg will become the most significant resource needed to accomplish these goals. Just as Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum, Virtual Williamsburg will become the world’s largest online living history museum.
While providing expanded digital content during the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that our student, teacher and general public audience has an intense desire to learn from Colonial Williamsburg. Our social media following expanded to more than 400,000 people, and we have continued offering live educational programs even as our onsite operations gradually return to normal and onsite visitation in the Historic Area increases.
Virtual Williamsburg will help us achieve another goal of the Strategic Plan’s first objective, which focuses technology on enhancing the customer experience and providing support for the efficient operation of Colonial Williamsburg. By leveraging opportunities realized over the past year and building on success, through Virtual Williamsburg we will create and curate media content, including materials for students and teachers as well as anyone hungry to learn about our nation’s history and government.
A dedicated staff is needed to ensure that this valuable content creation continues, flourishes and reaches an even broader audience. This thoughtfully assembled staff will also provide consistency and continuity while facilitating collaboration in the development of added content and the curation of existing resources with Historic Area and Museums staff.
In addition to enhancing and supporting staff directly involved with content creation, the center will support our Nation Builders and interpreters, extraordinary storytellers who possess unique abilities to bring our content to life, participate in historically accurate conversations and create experiences for our virtual audiences that pull them into our Historic Area.
To continue and broaden this work, dedicated studio space and production equipment for content creation are crucial. As this project began, equipment was acquired as funding was available. An opportunity to be thoughtful and intentional with equipment purchases will enhance production quality and efficiency and provide a sustainable model that will be necessary for growing our audience base. The current temporary studio setup is located in an original building in the Historic Area that lacks modern facilities. The historic nature and size of the space limit the number of presenters and types of filming that can be done. A larger dedicated space will provide flexibility and creativity.
Finally, a robust and easy to access content management and delivery system (CMS) for audiences to interact with resources will be critical to our success. The CMS will hold rich history resources and lesson materials to help teachers and students learn the diverse populations who interacted, shaped, and defined the American character and laid the groundwork for America’s enduring story. The content will include economic, social, political and cultural topics. By highlighting the diversity of the founding generation, teachers will enable their students to see themselves in these stories and imagine how they, too, might contribute to the continued building of our nation and their own communities.
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