Written by Justine Rothbart
Food, archives, and social media. What better way to start my internship at the National Archives? I started as the Social Media Intern at the National Archives in September of 2011. This was when the exhibit, “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?”, was located in the O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It featured documents from the National Archives related to the government’s effect on food in the United States. Items included WWI and WWII posters, such as “Scuttlebutt Sam says, ‘Nobody likes to see good food go to waste’ do your share to save it!” The exhibit also featured nutrition charts in which one included “butter and fortified margarine” as an entire category. As you walked around the exhibit you could see the progression of food fads and nutritional “facts” of the time. You could see how national events shaped food and vice versa.
My job was to promote this exhibit on the National Archives exhibit’s Tumblr page. This was my first exposure to the new social media tool. I quickly began to realize how beneficial and influential social media is to cultural heritage institutions. It is not only a way to promote an exhibit, but it is also a great tool to connect with people who could otherwise not physically visit this exhibit. Anyway, what’s a better way to connect with people than with food? At first, I was intimidated by the number of viewers that could possibly see these posts and I began with simple captions. As I became more comfortable, I understood the tone of voice widely used on Tumblr. I also began to know my audience. I catered to their interests. As I saw the number of “liked” and “rebloged” posts rise, I began to find my voice. We had repeated themes such as “Frugal Friday” and “Wednesday Lunch Breaks.” I saw the number of “likes” and “rebloged” start with under five and it rose to over 300!
The post on Thanksgiving Day was one of the most popular. This featured WWI servicemen in 1918 eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day. This might have been popular because of the great photograph, or because Barack Obama’s Tumblr reblogged it! That was a very exciting day. Writing posts for this exhibit was one of my first experiences in using social media in a cultural heritage setting. And it was certainly not my last!
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend jumping on the social media bandwagon with your cultural heritage institution. And hey, you never know who will reblog your post!
Check out a few of my favorite posts I wrote for the “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?” Tumblr page:
You better watch out. I am the meanest, toughest wheat harvester this side of the Mississippi.
The cows go marching one by one, Hurrah, Hurrah,
Wednesday Lunch Break
Click here to see all the posts.