Microsoft Brings Tech To US Diplomacy Center - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Brings Tech To US Diplomacy Center

A $1 million contribution from Microsoft will help bring new technology to a museum focused on American diplomacy.

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Earlier this year, Microsoft announced a $1 million donation to assist in the development of a high-tech interactive exhibit at the United States Diplomacy Center (USDC). The Department of State will provide the space, staff, and security for the museum, which is intended to honor the history and significance of diplomacy in America.

There are plenty of museums across the United States dedicated to helping visitors learn more about the history of America and its military, but so far none that focus on diplomacy. This is expected to change with the USDC, an effort being driven by the Diplomacy Center Foundation (DCF). The DCF was created to support the museum project and has since raised $38 million for its cause.

The goal behind the museum, which is currently undergoing development, is to provide information and collaborative exhibits to teach more about a topic that isn't often discussed among the public. Visitors will learn about the history of diplomacy, details of diplomatic careers, and the current state of diplomacy. They'll also have the chance to communicate with experts in different parts of the world.

Working for the US government can be dangerous for Americans abroad, Judith Bryan, senior advisor for content at the USDC, told InformationWeek in an interview. "We want to honor them and explain what they do," said Bryan, who served as a Public Diplomacy Officer/Foreign Service Officer for 25 years before she began her work managing the museum's exhibits.

[ Tech history is still being made. Read: Bill Gates: Microsoft Turns 40 ]

As with many modern museums, technology will have a critical role in shaping how visitors learn at the USDC. "We hope that our museum will have either state-of-the-art, or in some cases next-generation, technology," said USDC director Kathy Johnson. She said she hopes that visitors will have access to a range of different technologies and, ultimately, an experience that is "informative, educational and highly interactive."

The USDC will be separated into four distinct halls. Two will revolve around themes including the history of diplomacy and diplomacy today; a third will serve as an education center, where students can practice acting in diplomatic situations. A fourth hall will contain visitor amenities such as a bookstore, café, and movie theater.

(Image: USDC)

(Image: USDC)

Johnson is a diplomat by profession and worked for the Assistant Secretary of State before taking on her current role as museum director. Though she said she's not a tech expert, she has been drawing inspiration from a variety of modern museums to determine which technologies the USDC should embrace.

She cited the New York-based Museum of American Finance as one that uses technology to engage visitors with a somewhat dull subject. One exhibition featured an interactive board containing the faces of people in financial history. Touching a face enabled the visitor to hear the voice of each person explaining who they were and what they did.

"It really was an effective way to bring technology to history in what might otherwise be a very dry topic," Johnson said.

Another source of inspiration is New York's National September 11 Memorial & Museum, an educational and historical center built to honor victims and examine 9/11 and its global significance. The museum contains an interactive exhibit focusing on the "Last Column," a pillar where first responders wrote their company name as they entered the building. Visitors can point and click through several layers to learn  about the first responders and their roles, she said.

Next Page: "Diplomacy is Everywhere, 24/7"

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 10:31:14 AM
Re: Technology

I agree. It's the behind the scene stuff that takes care of business, not the in-front pageantry the public sees.
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 10:00:19 AM
That's the aspect of technology that pleases and excites me the most. I can overlook some of the privacy invasions and over-interest in social networking for the fact that it has the potential to bring us together like nothing else. 
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2015 | 9:45:02 AM
Re: diplomacy
True, we're talking about a very complex area of expertise. I think that's how many people see it; well, adults anyway. Younger students might not even have a grasp on what diplomacy means, which is why I like that the current plans for the museum will help them step in a diplomat's shoes (on a simpler level, of course). I was kind of surprised to learn that a museum like this doesn't exist yet, especially in DC.
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2015 | 8:29:41 AM
to provide information and collaborative exhibits to teach more about a topic that isn't often discussed among the public.

Yes I think most people view diplomacy as something clandestine, behind the scenes and very quiet. I also see it as complicated, involving a lot of negotiation, which is why it is behind the scenes.
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