The “Texas Story Project” launched November 2014 as a component of the Bullock Texas State History Museum’s website. The project was designed to expand the reach of the Bullock Museum, Texas’s official state history museum, by collecting stories from a large statewide constituency beyond its Austin, Texas-based geographic vicinity, serving 254 Texas counties and 1,784 communities throughout the state. With nearly 270,000 square miles to cover, the project was the most expansive digital undertaking the Bullock Museum had ever assumed. The goal was to promote Texas history, life-long learning, and the importance and relevance of museum education to Bullock Museum visitors and audiences who may never walk through the Museum’s doors.
Visitors discover prompts on pages throughout the Museum’s website, including on artifact pages, exhibition pages, events and calendar listings, and then submit stories—text, video, and audio submissions. Museum staff then works with “Texas Story Project” participants to hone their story and perfect it, with careful attention to preserve the original voice of the contributor. Based on what website prompt inspired the participant to enter the project, the individual’s story is automatically associated with other website content, including artifacts, exhibitions, programs and events, and other stories. If a story is entered through the “Texas Story Project” landing page or sent on email, Museum staff works with the writer to determine what associations should be made. Stories are then geo-tagged on an interactive map of Texas, where they appear alongside digitized artifact gallery entries created by the Museum.
People throughout the state have been inspired to share their stories, and, moreover, website and Museum visitors have been captivated by the rich, diverse stories added to the project – enabling them to be a part of history, connecting their personal narrative with other stories from their community, and discovering that history happens every day in every place throughout Texas. Visitor participation in this innovative, new digital community has been so significant that, in just over a year, website analytics report 738 new communities throughout the state, who had not visited the website before, now actively engaged with website content—the “Texas Story Project” itself, and other online content created by Museum staff. The success of the project prompted Museum staff to cross-pollinate online and onsite content by launching installations in the Museum’s lobby (March 2015) and in its core exhibition space (August 2015) with short films,produced by the Museum, that profiled “Texas Story Project” contributors displayed alongside artifacts discovered through their story contributions. The “Texas Story Project” continues to capture stories from visitors in the Museum and from communities throughout the state, localizing connections with their communities and bridging personal stories with the past, present, and future of Texas history.