Digital exhibits can be tricky, expensive, and time consuming endeavors. So much work goes into the exhibit before the public ever has access to it. Even once an exhibit or digital project is up for the public to view, work on the project is not over, at least it should not be. Technology advances at such a rapid rate that historical and cultural institutions are tasked with updating their online presence to ensure they stay relevant. When creating an online project, sustainability should be part of the overall plan.
With the recent success of the film The Revenant, several institutions have attempted to capitalize on the film’s popularity including the South Dakota Historical Society, South Dakota Cultural Heritage Society, and Travel South Dakota. The Museum of the Mountain Man in Wyoming went so far as to create the digital project/website called An Unforgettable Man: Hugh Glass. The main purpose of the project is to separate fact from fiction by exploring the man, the myth, and the movie.
The website contains a plethora of information about not only Hugh Glass but the nature of grizzly bears in the 1800s and a bear attack on Jedediah Smith. Overall the project lacks images but utilizes a variety of primary and secondary sources, all of which are cited throughout the various essays. The site does include a helpful map detailing important places for Hugh Glass and Jed Smith as well as a detailed timeline of various events in the 1800s.
When thinking about longterm sustainability for the Hugh Glass project, I wonder if upkeep might wane with the public’s interest with The Revenant. Hugh Glass became a legend because not many parts of his life were well known. Stories were already being published about the bear attack only a few years after the event. Since then, stories have snowballed into tall tales as published fiction and nonfiction works become intertwined with one another. The simplicity of the Hugh Glass website cannot compare to the breathtaking views seen in The Revenant. There are also pages upon pages of lengthy essays. While I cannot predict the future, the website may need to find a way to abbreviate all of the information to make it relevant for a generation exceedingly familiar with short, quick bursts of information in 140 characters or less.
The website itself was created by an outside contractor and the Museum of the Mountain Man has a small three-person staff. Many of the essays written for the Hugh Glass website are not by museum employees. All of these things need to be taken into consideration when creating a sustainability plan. There may not be enough staff or time to update the website or the staff may have limited knowledge of the website’s content because they played little to no part in writing the content. While the recent release of The Revenant may sustain the popularity of Hugh Glass well into the future, the Hugh Glass website will need continuous work and updating to stay relevant for the foreseeable future.
*Images are from the Hugh Glass website