Mason PhD student works to bring museum experience to a phone, computer near you

When the hip-hop scene was just beginning to emerge in New York City in the 1970s, the records DJs lugged around in milk crates meant everything.

“As a DJ, you didn’t want people to see what you’d be spinning,” said Lindsey Bestebreurtje, who worked as a historian at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture.

It’s stories like these that Bestebreurtje is helping to tell through digital apps.

“What can fit within the museum is really only a fraction of the story,” she said. “With these online platforms, you are able to get so much more out there.”

As a contractor with the Office of Curatorial Affairs, Bestebreurtje, an American history PhD candidate at George Mason University, helped develop the museum’s app.

Her main project, the “Power of Place” exhibition, explores 10 case studies that highlight the experience of African Americans.

Pioneering hip-hop DJ Tony Tone donated his whole DJ setup to the museum, she said, and the app helps tell the story beyond what’s in the display case.

“It’s for a diverse audience; maybe they are not that into history, but it is the museum of history and culture,” she said.

Her research entailed finding the objects that would make the most sense on a digital platform.

She also worked with the Next Exit History app, a tool that allows museums to continue the historical experience outside museum walls.

Working with digital platforms was a natural fit for her after working at George Mason’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, she said.

Her doctoral focus is also on new media and the African American community.

“Working for the Smithsonian is an honor,” she said. “But add on top of that the once-in-a-generation opportunity to work to create a new museum, and the fact that the museum focuses entirely on the field of history in which I am an expert, makes the entire situation a dream come true.”

Bestebreurtje decided to leave her job at the museum after earning the Provost’s Award at Mason, a dissertation completion grant that will her allow her to work full time on her dissertation “Built by the People Themselves: African American Community Development in Arlington, Virginia from Civil War through Civil Rights."